Hamish Linklater plays Miranda July’s counterpart in her new movie The Future, and with his slim frame, brown halo of hair, and eccentric neuroses, he’s a striking mirror image for July herself. Linklater would be happy to hear that, because convincing July to cast him in the movie was not an easy task — though now that it’s happened, the former The Old Adventures of New Christine actor has parlayed his higher profile into something even more unlikely, a role in Peter Berg’s megabudgeted Battleship opposite Alexander Skarsgard and Rihanna. In a funny, freewheeling conversation, Linklater told Vulture just what he had to do to win over July, how jarring it was to go from her movie to Berg’s, and why Gwen Stefani had better watch out.
I know that Miranda was unsure whether she wanted to cast veteran actors or unknowns in this movie, so I’m curious, what did you have to do to get this part?
I had to do everything! We had the same agents, and they said, “She’s got a new movie,” and I said, “Give it to me!” And then the script was so amazing, and so I was like, “Before now, I’ve never asked you for anything in my life, agents, but this is the thing that I want.” I didn’t have a very good reel because all my stuff had a laugh track behind it, so I didn’t know if that was going to convince the Queen of Indie Filmdom to put me in her new thing. I had a couple of short films I sent, I had some unpublishable memoir that I sent her some chapters of, I was considering getting friends to write letters, and she eventually agreed to meet me for coffee, and it went fine and she let me read. And then it went away. And my agents had promised me on their lives that they would get it for me if I did my part, and I felt like I had, so I fired them. And then about a year ago before Christmas, I was flying back to Los Angeles from New York saying and I sent her an e-mail, “Hi, how are you, did you ever make your movie?” And when I landed, she’d written, “Funny you should ask, we were about to but the lead guy dropped out and I just looked at your tape. Can you audition again?” Then I finally, finally had worn her down and she let me have the part.
I heard that the two of you made mixtapes for each other as sort of a relationship-building exercise?
I hadn’t made a mixtape since back in the day when there were tapes. I actually didn’t even know how to burn a CD, so I had to get technical support for making her mixtape. But Miranda made a mixtape for me that was just, like, outrageous. It was so filthy!
What other things did you do to get in that couple mind-set?
We had about two weeks of preparation to get to the point where you’re four years into a relationship and it’s kind of stale and you’re tired of each other. So we did this one exercise which I think her husband, Mike Mills, had used while preparing for his movie, Beginners, with Ewan McGregor and that gorgeous … what’s-her-name, Laurent …
Yeah, so Miranda was like, “I’m going to set up a timer on my phone for five minutes, and we’re just going to stare at each other in the eyes.” And so she set it up and we just looked in each other’s eyes for five solid minutes, and we got to the end and I was like, “What is this exercise supposed to do?” And she said, “Oh, it’s supposed to make you fall in love.” [Laughs.] She was very tricky.
Was it a difficult shoot?
It was tense and intense. There were lots of tears, lots of shouting. But we had such a good foundation in the preparation and the material that was on the page that you could give yourself over to it and hope that the work you were doing was enough. It’s like when you’re doing a play and you feel like you’re giving a shitty performance and you’re unbelievably bad, but really the margins of variation in a performance are much narrower than they are in the performer’s imagination.
Is there a bit of hipster satire here, and is that whole scene something you’re familiar with?
Miranda and I actually live within five minutes of each other in Silver Lake. I moved from Williamsburg to Silver Lake right at the dawning of the hipster era, and I brought my trucker hat and my wife beater and my Air Force Ones and my cardigans with me, so I may be responsible for those becoming hipster gear. Of course, now you go to the farmers’ market and all these hipsters have their kids, so it’s like hipster dadwear, all those clothes. The high-waisted jeans are like Spanx for dads to wear over their pot bellies.
What is it like to go from something like this to something like Battleship?
It was like totally flipping the coin. I’d sit down with Miranda July and it’d be like, “The script is perfect, every comma is perfect, do the script.” I’d sit down with Pete Berg, who’s doing Battleship, and he’d say, “This script is a blueprint! I want it all improvised, and whatever happens on the day is what we’ll shoot.” Also, instead of a less-than-$2 million budget it was a $200 million budget, and instead of shooting on one digital camera for Miranda’s movie, on Battleship, we’d have four cameras burning film all the time. It was like, “The aliens are coming! The aliens are coming!” and I had all this science talk that I was supposed to improvise and I don’t know science talk! It’s going to have some of the craziest pseudo-science ever improvised for four cameras running 35-millimeter in the history of film.
Did you get along well with Peter Berg?
He’s incredible. It was super visceral all the time, and he’s talking through the scenes, like, “What if you said this? Oh, oh, I just thought of something for you to say! Oh, it’d be so kick-ass if you said this. Say it more kick-ass! Say it more kick-ass!” And he, like, throws things at you. It’s, uh, yeah.
Can you explain your IMDb photo to me? It’s you cradling this giant trophy or cup thing, and you’re in ski gear?
Yeah, doesn’t that look like I’m a championship skier? It was some Bobby Kennedy/clean the water/celebrity skiing event that Julia Louis-Dreyfus took me to, and I was the worst celebrity skier in the history of the event save one, thank goodness, because my team got to the finals and they matched people up based on their skill level, and I got matched up at the bottom of my team’s skill level with Gavin Rossdale, Gwen Stefani’s troubadour husband. And I fucking smoked him! I won the trophy! And I was so rude, like I skidded across the finish line and I was pointing to him up the hill, all in his face. Yeah, that’s me with the trophy, even though all I did was snowplow down the bunny hill.
Still, triumphing over the lead singer of Bush is nothing to sniff at.
And that’s what that trophy is for. “Beat Gwen Stefani’s Husband. And How.”