Temple Baker, BA’15, is not your typical Hollywood success story. He wasn’t a child star, shuffled from audition to audition by pushy parents, nor did he have much interest in becoming an actor during college. In fact, his only real stage experience was a fourth-grade production of Romeo and Juliet, in which all his lines were cut. But that didn’t stop Oscar-nominated director Richard Linklater from casting the 2015 Vanderbilt graduate in his latest film, Everybody Wants Some!!—a “spiritual sequel” to his 1993 cult classic Dazed and Confused—about a college baseball team in Texas in the ’80s.
Baker began playing baseball at the age of 3 and spent every summer on a travel team. He was on the football and baseball teams at Austin High, in his hometown of Austin, Texas, and by junior year had committed to playing baseball for Harvard University. Yet, when he was offered the prestigious Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship at Vanderbilt, Baker decided to give up the sport in exchange for a full ride. “During the last recruiting visit I took to Harvard, it was 10 below the whole time, and I was like, ‘I’m supposed to play baseball in this?’” he recalls. “So I sort of bailed on that, and I couldn’t be happier. I thank God every day.”
Making unexpected choices suits Baker, whose middle name happens to be Maverick. Had he gone to Harvard to play baseball for the Crimson, he likely would have still been playing ball the summer after his junior year rather than working and studying for the LSAT in Austin, where he first learned about Linklater’s film. A friend from the University of Texas forwarded Baker an email from a casting director who wanted to find “18-to-23-year-old handsome, charismatic young men with a background in baseball,” Baker recalls.
Intrigued, he convinced his Kappa Alpha pledge brother and friend Zach Dubrof, BA’15, to audition with him as a lark. Dubrof grew up in San Antonio and also played high school baseball, so with only a few weeks remaining before senior year, the two Texans decided to go for it.
“I walked in and they asked me, ‘What’s your name? How tall are you? Do you have any funny stories from college?’” recalls Baker. “I said, ‘Actually, I have a lot of stories!’ So I just started going off and one story led to another. About 45 minutes later I looked around and said, ‘Well, I am out of stories.’ So I walked out and my buddy was waiting there, and I told him, ‘It’s so easy, Zach. You’re gonna kill it in there. Just crush it. It’s fun.’ Zach walked in and walked back out three minutes later, and said, ‘All they did was ask me about you.’”
Despite the casting agency’s apparent interest in Baker, and their implicit instructions not to cut his hair or shave, Baker assumed he would never hear from them again. “I had a life and people to impress,” Baker recalls. “I couldn’t just look like a shaggy dog all the time.” So when they called and asked him to come in and read lines, Baker initially forgot all about that request. “I was just so excited, but then they said, ‘You didn’t cut your hair, did you?’”
Fortunately, neither his clean-cut look nor his lack of experience stood in his way. Nor did the formal audition, for that matter, which Baker thought he’d bombed. “I did a bad job. I could feel it,” says Baker, who had never read lines before in his life. He promptly headed back to Nashville, moved into a house with his buddies off Demonbreun Street, and began the first semester of his senior year in the fall of 2014. Two weeks later, while he was sitting in class, the casting agency emailed, asking him to return to Austin for another line read.
“It was so surreal,” says Baker. “The email said, ‘There’s a new character that Rick thinks you’d be right for.’”
Before he could leave Nashville, Baker had to let his professors know what was going on, as well as the deans. And he had to make sure his scholarship would not be affected if he did land the role. “Everyone at Vanderbilt, every step of the way, made things as easy as possible … once they believed me,” says Baker, laughing. “At first one of my teachers said, ‘This is the worst excuse for a lie I’ve ever heard.’”
Vanderbilt Professor of History Thomas Schwartz, who taught several of Baker’s classes, says, “If Temple missed a class, it was never because he overslept. Things happened to Temple, like a car accident and a knee injury. I was skeptical at first, but then I came to believe. I decided if it’s Temple, it’s probably true.”
Schwartz says he came around because Baker was so likeable, smart, and such a good student. “Temple was part of the history honors program, which is kind of an elite group,” Schwartz explains. “He’s got brains and talent. He doesn’t come off intellectually—that’s not his style—but the intellect is there.”
Clearly, Linklater was also a fan of Baker’s, because he brought him back to read for the role of Plummer, a freshman catcher who wasn’t in the original script. The two hit it off, in part because most every graduate of Austin High is convinced that Dazed and Confused is based on their school. During the audition process, Linklater let Baker know this assumption isn’t true—Linklater grew up in Huntsville, Texas, and in Houston, not Austin—but Baker promised the director that he would continue telling people that it was. Linklater also may have seen a bit of himself in Baker. After all, the director played high school baseball and football and, like Baker, was offered a scholarship to play college baseball. The movie itself was based on Linklater’s experiences at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.
Baker felt pretty confident he had gotten the part, but returned to Nashville and resumed classes while he awaited confirmation. Once the call finally came, late one Friday night in September, he was ready to go, having already laid the groundwork with the university and received his parents’ blessing. “It was much easier for my parents to be OK with it, knowing I could roll my scholarship over into the following year,” says Baker, who packed up and headed to Linklater’s ranch in Bastrop, Texas, for three weeks of what he describes as “adult summer camp”—bunk beds, slack line, skee-ball and all.
Linklater was eager to find 12 actors who could bring his former teammates at Sam Houston State to life. He knew that creating chemistry between them—and a little friendly competition—was essential. In addition to rehearsals, the group practiced baseball and dance, mixed in with pool, shuffleboard and hoops. In 2005, Linklater penned a column for Texas Monthly, writing, “When you’re a team, you practically live together. You care about each other. You’re a platoon.” Baker soon realized he was the only member of this particular platoon who was “doing the thing that’s in the movie—going out and having the stereotypical college experience. I think I brought a fun energy to the set as a result,” he says.
Stephen Feder, senior vice president of production and development at Annapurna Pictures and executive producer of Everybody Wants Some!!, says Baker wowed him. “Once Temple is in the room, your eyes go to him. You are drawn to him,” Feder says. “He’s a natural storyteller and has one of those dynamic personalities.”
Linklater also wanted to cast actors who were believable as athletes. “If you’ve played a sport at a higher level, in college or even high school, there is a swagger that goes with that,” Feder says. “Temple has that. And even though his role on screen is the most simple of the crew, Temple is deceptively smart. He has read pretty much everything and loves to talk about movies. He has this acumen and interest in business, and this insatiable desire for creative material,” he says. “We would sit on set between takes, and he would ask me questions about the business that most people don’t care to know and actors don’t ask. He has such a desire to learn and make himself well-rounded, and I think it’s why he is going to succeed in this business.”
Baker’s also a film buff. He boasts that he’s seen Dazed and Confused 500 times and Linklater’s music comedy School of Rock even more. But he never aspired to be an actor, and is equally comfortable discussing the upcoming presidential election, Lyndon B. Johnson’s national security plan during Vietnam, and the similarities between Nashville’s economic growth and Austin’s.
When filming for Everybody Wants Some!! wrapped in the fall of 2014, Baker returned to Vanderbilt for the spring semester and then spent the summer in Hollywood, interning at Annapurna, before completing his final credits in the fall. “I have never seen someone read a script or book as fast as he did,” says Feder, who greenlit Baker’s internship. “He would rip through the material and ask tons of questions. For Temple to dip his toe into an industry he had not anticipated, he is going to try to get up to speed as quickly as possible.”
Sam Girgus, professor of English, who taught Baker in his America on Film: Art and Ideology course, agrees, saying, “Temple was always a self-starter and had considerable initiative to work on his own.”
After graduating with a history degree last December, Baker took the LSAT in between interviews with GQ and Entertainment Weekly, screenings, and Austin’s annual film and music festival South by Southwest (SXSW), where the film premiered. For his Vanderbilt friends, like Dubrof, seeing Baker on the big screen was surreal. So is the fact that their pledge brother is being approached by strangers in bars who ask to pose for pictures with him.
“People—myself included, and even Temple for that matter—didn’t quite grasp the gravity of the situation,” says Dubrof. “We almost didn’t believe him, until the trailer started appearing on television.”
Baker moved to Los Angeles in May and now has an agent, a manager and a lawyer. And while he is ready to dive into acting, he knows he has his Vanderbilt degree and nearly perfect LSAT score to fall back on.
“I just want to do cool stuff. Movies or TV,” he says. “I got to work with Richard Linklater, so that was a dream come true. But I’ve got to lower my sights a little bit because I don’t have a background in acting, and come to terms with the fact that I’ll never have that much fun again.”
And yet, talking with Baker on Hollywood Boulevard, you almost expect him to stumble into something even better.