Years of playing baseball resulted in a spot in the big leagues for Ryan Guzman. The filmmaking big leagues, that is.
Guzman, a 2005 All-Pioneer Valley League pitcher for Sacramento’s West Campus High School and, later, a star for Sierra College, hung up his glove several years ago, after an unsuccessful arm surgery. But he’s still good enough to make a believable college baseball player in “Everybody Wants Some!!” the new coming-of-age comedy, set in 1980, from Oscar-nominated “Boyhood” director Richard Linklater.
Guzman, 28, became an MMA fighter, model and actor once he left the mound. He starred in two “Step Up” dance movies and opposite Jennifer Lopez in last year’s big-screen potboiler “The Boy Next Door.” He won his role in “Everybody,” which was shot in fall 2014 in Texas, through a series of auditions for Linklater, one of which involved Guzman making his own “skills” video demonstrating prowess on the field.
Guzman wasn’t sure at the time what his character’s position on the movie’s fictional college team would be. So he stuck with what he knew. He pitched and hit, on camera, and paid special attention to production values.
“I completely did the video 1980s-cheesy,” Guzman said by phone from Los Angeles. “I had a baseball card come up and then my face come up.”
Guzman’s baseball skills and personality won him the role of center fielder and resident ladies’ man Roper, Linklater said by phone.
“He is a good baseball player, and also kind of cocky,” Linklater said of Guzman. “Yet he’s really friendly, too. He just shows such natural charm and wit. His character is one of the team leaders, and Ryan has that kind of leadership quality.”
Guzman was a leader when he pitched for Sierra College, head coach Rob Willson said, though the performer he later would become was not in evidence then. “He was not our team clown or a prankster,” Willson said. “He was kind of quiet.”
“He led through his ability,” Willson said. Guzman had sat out for a few years, before returning after arm surgery to become “our best pitcher,” Willson said, compiling a 9-0 record in 2009. The team finished fifth in the state with a 31-20 record, he said, and “a lot of that had to do with (Guzman) being our pitcher.”
“He worked hard and he pitched hard, even though his arm was killing him,” Willson said. “That is what leaders do – they play through pain. At a certain point, you can’t play anymore. But if it was a playable pain, he played. … He couldn’t pick up the ball between throws, but on game day, he became a warrior.”
Most scenes in “Everybody,” which opens at the Tower Theatre Friday, April 15, occur off the field. The film unfolds over a few days, starting with fresh-faced first-year pitcher Jake’s (Blake Jenner) arrival at a tumble-down, fraternity-esque house on campus already inhabited by older players such as Roper and McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), the latter of whom sports a mustache evoking the young Don Mattingly’s.
Linklater, who based the film partly on his experiences playing on a college team, has said “Everybody,” named after a Van Halen song, is a “spiritual sequel” to his 1993 classic “Dazed and Confused.” Guzman said he’s a longtime fan of “Dazed,” which was set in 1976, titled after a Led Zeppelin song and also featured a baseball-playing babe in the woods (Wiley Wiggins).
“I think I talked about that film about a billion different times when I was actually playing baseball in college,” Guzman said.
“Everybody,” in which teammates hit the bong and on women far more often than they hit the field, offers fewer story lines than “Dazed” and nearly as much loquaciousness as Linklater’s “Before” film series with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. The chatty characters of “Everybody” sometimes seem more philosophical than befits their ages. Then again, there is that bong factor.
Guzman and Hoechlin, who also played college baseball in real life, look comfortable during the film’s few baseball scenes. But just as important, Linklater said, was their bearing in other scenes.
“What I was really looking for – and Ryan has this in spades – is that kind of swagger that goes along with being a good young athlete,” Linklater said. “The way society kind of elevates you, especially if you are a good-looking guy. If you are good looking and a good athlete, you are not the guy who got picked on. It’s hard (for an actor) to fake that at a certain point.”
“Everybody” already has opened in a few cities, wowing critics (it scored a 91 percent approval rating on the review aggregate site Rottentomatoes.com), most of whom are guys quite unlike those Linklater describes above. But nerds can enjoy “Everybody,” in which even our handsome, athletic heroes sometimes whiff with women at the disco.
The movie contains several dance scenes, seemingly giving “Step Up” veteran Guzman another leg up on the preparation process. But he had to learn ’80s dance moves alongside the other young actors. The cast spent three weeks together pre-shoot at Linklater’s Texas ranch, mastering the hustle and ground-ball scooping while also work-shopping Linklater’s script.
The time at the ranch “just created this cohesiveness between all the guys,” Guzman said. They still keep in touch. “We’re on a text thread that never stops. We are always making each other laugh.”
Linklater encouraged cast contributions during the work-shopping period, Guzman said.
“He’s the most trusting captain you can ever have as a director,” Guzman said. “I don’t know of any other director who has won a Golden Globe and been nominated for an Oscar who would be open to creating new scenes on the spot.”
But things weren’t entirely freewheeling, Guzman said. “If you come to Rick with an addition, it’s gotta be better than what he had, or it’s not going to stick.”
Guzman said he had to fight typecasting after appearing in the light-as-air “Step Up” films. “A lot of people see you in a certain area in the industry, and they want to keep you in that spot,” he said.
But with Linklater, “nothing I had done previously mattered,” Guzman said. The casting process “was all done based on who was best for the part. That is the purest you can be as an actor.”
Guzman is one of several actors in their 20s and 30s from Sacramento making waves in the movie business, including Jessica Chastain, Greta Gerwig and recent Oscar winner Brie Larson. He’s alone among them in talking about living here again.
“The dream is to move back in a couple of years,” Guzman said. “I kind of want to start my own conglomerate of little (businesses). With the new arena going up, it’s going to be a beautiful time to do such a thing. Right now, I am making sure I have all my business plans in order … and invest my money in the right areas.”
He would like to create MMA and fine-arts studios and maybe a breakfast restaurant. He would target Rosemont, where “there’s not much,” he said, or maybe “go further, to south Sacramento.”
Willson, Guzman’s former Sierra College coach, said the actor always will “never forget where he came from.”
He knows this because Guzman called him up during a Christmas visit home in 2013, wanting to catch up. “My daughter was playing JV basketball for Del Oro,” Willson said. Guzman came to the gym with “Step Up” DVDs for the girls on the team.
“These girls were like ‘Oh my God,’ ” Willson said. “It was like the ‘Brady Bunch’ with Joe Namath.”
Guzman said he wants to create jobs in his hometown. But he’s also just tired of traveling the world and encountering blank stares when he mentions Sacramento.
“We’re the capital for a reason, (but) we’re getting overlooked (for) L.A. and San Francisco and San Diego,” Guzman said. “We need to change this.”