Maybe you knew a guy like Finnegan in high school or college: smart, charming, funny and irritatingly good at everything from nabbing pop flys on the baseball diamond to picking up young women at a night club. He's a jock, for sure, but not the kind of bro that turned house parties into an instant toxic dump of XY-chromosome douchery. He could get away with faux-worldly affectations like a pipe or quoting Kerouac at keggers. Even among alpha males, this guy was admired as a cut above the rest. If you're a filmmaker like Richard Linklater, you remember this character from your younger, wilder days and you put him in a movie like Everybody Wants Some!!, his free-form, loosey-goosey look back at his experience as a collegiate baseball player. And if you're as lucky as the writer-director, you get a guy like Glen Powell to play him.
"Rick kept saying this character was the hardest one to cast," the 27-year-old actor says via phone from Arizona, where he and his costars are killing time before a screening. "Finnegan can seem self-righteous and come off like an asshole; people have to listen to him talk a lot and they're going to get sick of hearing his voice. The key to him was ... everybody looks back on their past with a certain type of nostalgia. Most folks go, 'Oh, I was the best player on the team, I dated everyone, I was great!' Rick has no sentimentality for that; he's the kind of guy that would say, Well, that just wasn't the case. The guy has an incredible memory — we called him 'Rickapedia.'
"Most people are just bullshitting," Powell continues. "So Rick said, play him like the person everybody says they were in college. The bullshit version of their story? Make him that guy!"
Though Everybody Wants Some!! is most assuredly an ensemble movie, and Finnegan is only one of several older ballplayers who take the rookie pitcher Jake (Glee's Blake Jenner) under their wing. But he's undeniably the film MVP: the charismatic smooth-talker with the shit-eating grin and the infectious let's-go-have-some-fun attitude. Linklater referred to this long-in-the-works comedy as a "spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused" — and Powell is the movie's Matthew McConaughey, the sort of scene-stealing performer that leaves filmgoers shaking their heads and saying, who was that guy?
A native of Austin, Texas, he started as a child actor, racking up credits in movies like Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and The Great Debaters. As a kid, he gravitated more toward football and lacrosse (his uncles were MMA trainers, so he also "learned how to fight competitively early"), although it was a particularly fateful baseball game that endeared him to his future Everybody director. "When I was 16, I'd been cast in Fast Food Nation," he says, referring to Linklater's 2006 adaptation of Eric Schlosser's polemic on food production. "And while I was playing in a charity baseball game, I ended up breaking my arm about a week before filming was starting. I had to call him: 'Um, Rick, I broke my arm … can you please not fire me?" I was waiting to get the axe. Then he said, 'Wait, do you have cast? There was always a guy in high school that had a cast, you gotta keep it! It'll be great.'"
Years later, after he moved to Los Angeles, Powell ended up getting a script from his agent — the first iteration of what would become Everybody Wants Some!! "This was about seven years ago," he says. "It ended up taking this long to get made. But I remember thinking, Finnegan ... he's the Otter from Animal House character. Rick wrote a jock-poet, and I've never seen that kind of guy in a movie."
When Linklater finally did get the go-ahead after coming off of Boyhood, Powell had a few more films under his belt, notably a role in the third Expendables movies. (Asked whether the aging-action-hero franchise's set was more testosterone-filled than one replicating a collegiate jocks' pad, he jokes, "Are we talking natural testosterone?") He still had to go through what everyone has admitted was a grueling audition process. "Everybody auditioned for every role the first time," the actor says. "Every. Role. Then you went back and he had you read different parts of some roles. Then you had to go do a baseball audition. And I was brought in again to do a chemistry read with Blake [Jenner]. Usually, Rick would bring you in before and talk to you for 30 minutes, just shooting the shit. It wouldn't be about the role, or roles … he just wanted to know what you'd been up to, how you felt about politics. And then you'd read. It was nuts."
Once the cast had been assembled, they spent several weeks bunking up at Linklater's house in Austin, getting to know each other and workshopping the script. "You wake up, you have breakfast, and you meet in this vast library," Powell says. "You start reading through the script — but Rick would go, don't say any of my words. Whatever you feel, say that. Anything you wanna pitch, pitch it. We'd do that twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon: just dicking around and talking. And that's where a lot of where we'd find who Finnegan was — the stuff that was just us spitballing."
One off-the-cuff remark that a frustrated Powell made about his teammates acting like "jealous asshole crabs, just trying to pull me back in the pot" ended up in the movie, as did an impromptu card game based on Canadian tropes. "Someone was late to rehearsal, so we just started making up this game that we kept trying to one-up each other on," he says. "I suggested that one loser had to, per traditional players' law, fellate a moose ... suffice to say, I won. And it ended up in the movie." He starts laughing. "It was as competitive an environment in that house as the fictional one you see in the film ... life definitely imitated art."
Though they all met Rick's old baseball buddies from Sam Houston State University, he says Finnegan isn't based on one real person; he's more of an amalgamation of guys the director new, plus "a product of Rick's healthy imagination, and a lot of me." Asked to clarify, Powell adds one last thing before he signs off. "Normally, you don't get to use those bullshit years of growing up for anything ... those years when you figuring things out and acting like a meathead, asshat idiot. But thanks to Finnegan, I got to put it into a movie and make something of it. And I can't thank that guy enough."