'Dazed And Confused' Live Read: Nostalgia And Novelty Provide A New Look At Classic Characters

The great thing about Dazed and Confused? I get older and it stays the same age.

Twenty-two years after Richard Linklater's '70s slice of life film hit theaters, listening to it read by a group of actors still feels as poignant and relevant as ever. Maybe the music and references have changed a bit but a teenager's insecurities, rebellious nature and mischievousness are and will continue to be universal. In Linklater's script those ideas are delivered with an almost unfairly simple and eloquent precision.

At Thursday's Live Read, presented by Film Independent at LACMA, Jason Reitman brought together a group of actors to read the script and, yes, the huge cast of characters made things a little confusing. In back-to-back scenes, an actor might have to jump from nerd to cool guy to stoner, giving the whole evening an unpredictable energy. It was even more unpredictable as they were reading an earlier version of the script that had some huge differences from the final film.

Below, we'll break down those script changes, the cast, some of the crazy performances, and talk about how even in a form that's unfamiliar to most of us, Dazed and Confused remains as good as ever.

Dazed and Confused Live Read 1

(All photos by Araya Diaz/WireImage, used Courtesy of Wireimage and Film Independent)

Dazed and Confused Live Read Wrap Up

Okay, to start, here was the cast for tonight's Live Read, including two or three of their major roles.

  • Mae Whitman – Wooderson, Sabrina
  • Travis Tope – Mitch
  • Catherine Reitman – Kaye
  • Jason Mantzoukas – Mike
  • James Van Der Beek – Pink
  • Paul Scheer – Pickford, Clint
  • Whitney Cummings – Darla, Julie
  • Michaela Watkins – Jodi, Cynthia
  • Nick Kroll – Slater, Tony, O'Bannion
  • Jonathan Tucker – Benny
  • Eric Andre – Don

And those are just a few of the roles. Most of the actors had to double as the younger freshmen too, making it virtually impossible to nail down all their roles or explain every single thing they did. It was just too much going on at once. But here are a few of the highlights.

Dazed and Confused Live Read 2

Mae Whitman was originally cast only as Sabrina, the outcast freshman girl, but after a last minute cancellation (more on that in a bit) she also took on Wooderson, originated by Matthew McConaughey. Reitman didn't have a nametag on stage for the iconic role, so someone literally screamed out before the read began, "Where's Wooderson?" "Good question," Reitman said. "Who will be Wooderson? Place your bets." Once the role finally came into the script about halfway in, Whitman literally took off her jacket to get into that southern swagger. And for his most iconic line, the one about high school girls, she put a cigarette in her mouth just to make sure it sounded right. That, of course, got a huge cheer.

What's most interesting about Wooderson in this version of the script though is he doesn't have as much to do, suggesting Linklater saw something special in McConaughey and expanded the role. We'll talk more about those differences on the last page.

Film Independent At LACMA Presents Live Read Of "Dazed And Confused"

Travis Tope was the lone actor who had only one role, and that's because he was the lead – Mitch, the young freshman. Tope is a very interesting actor and took Mitch in a slightly different direction than Wiley Wiggins. His Mitch was a bit more stoic, a bit more relaxed, and a tad less flighty.

Catherine Reitman played Kaye, originated by Christine Harnos, which isn't a particularly big or significant role. (Though it is bigger in this version of the script.) Still, she handled it like a pro, really diving into the character and getting very animated with it. She was moving around her seat, interacting with the actors, it was one of the more stand out performances. In particular, her speech about Gilligan's Island being a male fantasy was a highlight.

Film Independent At LACMA Presents Live Read Of "Dazed And Confused"

Jason Mantzoukas and Paul Scheer were the everymen in this live read, picking up a lot of the supporting male characters. Mantzoukas' main role, though, was Mike, originated by Adam Goldberg. He's the super smart, insecure guy who likes to wax poetic and hopes for some real visceral experience. It was a role Mantzoukas was born to play, as he delivered the lines in a precise, yet flighty way, almost like Raffi from The League was stoned and had a higher IQ.

Scheer's primary role was the mostly forgettable Pickford, originated by Shawn Andrews. He's the guy who is supposed to have a party at his house only to have the kegs arrive too early. It's not much of a role, but Scheer did what he could with it. His funniest moments however were as Clint, originated by Nicky Katt. Scheer isn't a particularly menacing guy but his delivery was definitely forceful and intimidating.

Film Independent At LACMA Presents Live Read Of "Dazed And Confused"

When Jason Reitman introduced James Van Der Beek as Pink (originated by Jason London), he said he was correcting one of his small issues with Richard Linklater's movie – he was finally making Pink a real quarterback. Any veiled Varsity Blues reference is good enough for me and Van Der Beek was perfect as Pink. Calm, aloof, sure of his uncertainty, and with a dash of swagger, it was impeccable casting. Oddly though, Pink's role in this version of Linklater's script never calls him out as a quarterback.

Film Independent At LACMA Presents Live Read Of "Dazed And Confused"

This was Whitney Cummings' first live read but I think she'll be back. She had two small but memorable roles as Mitch's new squeeze Julie and also the senior destructor Darla, originated by Parker Posey. Darla doesn't have a huge role in the movie but Cummings, like Posey, made her count. She twirled her hair with one hand and delivered the obnoxious, but hilarious and perfect line "Air raid!" with full volume and venomous delight.

Film Independent At LACMA Presents Live Read Of "Dazed And Confused"

Mikalia Watkins also had two very important roles. Her main role, as Jodi the older sister of Mitch originated by Michelle Burke, was solid. But as Cynthia, the smart redhead friend of Mike and Tony, originated by Marissa Ribisi, she made the role all her own. She played it as if Cynthia was really smart, but sounded incredibly over the top nerdy. Like stereotypical, braces and glasses, nerdy. It gave the character unique dimensions, combining smart and funny.

Film Independent At LACMA Presents Live Read Of "Dazed And Confused"

Jonathan Tucker is an actor who has been around forever, but who we sometimes forget about. I won't make that mistake again after this performance.. The star of Sleepers and The Black Donnellys put his heart and soul into his roles. His lead role as senior Benny (originated by Cole Hauser) was intense and edgy. His side roles were more of the same, with the actor's face regularly going beet red with pent-up emotion. More than anyone else on the stage, Tucker threw himself into his roles and made a mark. He also got many of the biggest laughs.

Don, the overall-wearing womanizer originated by Sasha Jenson, is one of the most memorable roles in Dazed and Confused and Eric Andre was a great choice to play him. The character is kind of a creepy and Andre put that into it, infusing him with some very off-putting comedic energy and a kind of over the top verbosity.

Film Independent At LACMA Presents Live Read Of "Dazed And Confused"

I purposely waited until last to mention Nick Kroll. Kroll was undoubtedly the MVP of the evening. Not only did he crush his main role as O'Bannion, originated by Ben Affleck, he also had to do two of the other most memorable roles in the movie – the stoner Slater, originated by Rory Cochrane, and nerdy Tony, originated by Anthony Rapp.

Honestly, you can't come up with three more different characters in Dazed and Confused. They're the jock, the stoner and the brain. And of course the man with his own sketch show simply annihilated each one. For O'Bannion, Kroll went big, with a take slightly similar to Affleck's, but even more mean. For Slater, he just went with a straight impression, which is the only way you can go with that role. Then for Tony, he somehow put those two characters behind him to stand tall with Watkins and Mantzoukas. He also bounced between the three for scene after scene, sometimes swapping personalities right on a dime. He was perfection.

Next, we'll talk about the changes from this version of the script to the final film.

Film Independent At LACMA Presents Live Read Of "Dazed And Confused"

The script read by the cast at LACMA Thursday was dated February 20, 1992. From then until the release date of September 24, 1993, there were many additions and subtractions.

New additions

  • As the soon-to-be freshman boys talk about being scared of the seniors, the camera pans to a group of black kids who laugh at them. Apparently, the seniors only mess with the whites. There is a lot more talk about race in the script.
  • There's another friend with Mike, Tony and Cynthia. We see them play poker, talk about presidents and then the trio drop him off at a black dance club. But they drop him off a few blocks down from the club so he doesn't get beat up.
  • There's a full scene of two "nerds" spying on the freshman girls getting hazed. They are discovered by Don and Benny, who eventually get them to spill the beans about where Mitch is going to be that night. It explains how they find him pitching.
  • Sabrina is still dropped off at home by Jodi, but her home isn't a house. It's a trailer in the backyard and her mother is a drunk.
  • It's not one of the guys who asks Mitch to buy him beer. It's an older man named Elvis who is pool-sharking for a lot of money.
  • Jodi and Michelle (maybe?) share a final moment, after the party, at the Moon Tower. They look out at the town and discuss life and their futures toward the end of the movie. Many of the female roles are bigger here, with more talk of insecurities and philosophy.
  • Don and Pink are both arrested for stealing Ronald McDonald. However, earlier in the film they come up with a common explanation in case this happens. The cop asks Don if they found the statue face up or face down and he randomly guesses face up. When they both get released Pink says to him, "Face up?" And Don replies "Face up!" And they high five.

Film Independent At LACMA Presents Live Read Of "Dazed And Confused"

What's Missing

  • Wooderson. Yes, the character is in this version of the script, but he's cut back considerably. He's not the one who really organizes the party. He doesn't really show up at the party. He doesn't have the flirtatious scene with red-head Cynthia, and he's not the person driving to get Aerosmith tickets. My guess is Linklater saw something in McConaughey and decided to give some of Pickford's role to Wooderson.
  • Pink. Again, yes, he's in the script and is a main character. But he's just one of the guys. He's not in any way different from the others except that he's more laid back. In the final movie, he's the quarterback. That's not mentioned here. The movie has a whole subplot with a pledge the football coaches want him to sign. That isn't there. He doesn't talk to an old man about the team next year. In fact, there's very little about him questioning his role next year, especially on the football team. The only glimpse of this is he tells Tony he doesn't want to be the sports editor for the newspaper next year. Perhaps Linklater thought the film needed an outright rejection of authority, and so expanded the character to fill that role.

Film Independent At LACMA Presents Live Read Of "Dazed And Confused"

Conclusion

As you can tell, Jason Reitman's latest live read at LACMA, presented by Film Independent, was a good one. Really fun performances of a great script that definitely illuminated some of what Linklater did and had to do to reach the movie we know and love today. As a live read, even having 11 people to read wasn't sufficient. The way actors had to switch characters made the story difficult to follow unless you were a super fan of the movie.

At the same time, even with that confusion, one thing became abundantly clear. While the Dazed and Confused we saw in theaters was about 85% of what was in this 1992 script, the heart and characters were all there. Everything is perfectly defined, beautifully written and amazingly distinctive. Linklater's dialogue is more than just conversational, it's musical. But not in a Shakespeare way. He conveys thoughts and interaction in a way that sounds completely natural but remains beautiful. It's the Linklater way.

Last thing. How did I know the actor who was supposed to play Wooderson was a last minute cancellation? Well, I've been covering the Live Reads for a long time but, for this one, I was talking to Jason Reitman for two weeks, getting constant updates on what it takes to put together an event like this. And next week, you'll read about all the behind the scenes drama, work and excitement that goes into creating a live read.

Film Independent At LACMA Presents Live Read Of "Dazed And Confused"

Thanks to Jason Reitman, LACMA and Film Independent at LACMA for another great event.