RICHARD Linklater, known for movies about underachievers, takes on a starkly different challenge in his new film about Orson Welles.

Linklater ("Slacker" and "Dazed and Confused,") directed "Me and Orson Welles," a snapshot of Welles as a wunderkind, staging a legendary version of "Julius Caesar" in 1937 New York at age 22.

Linklater has said that anyone who looks at the energy and accomplishments of young Welles is bound to feel like, well, a slacker.

"When you look at what he was doing in theater, in radio, and in film, the way he transformed three mediums before his 26th birthday, it's incredible, but you can go back even further, and look at books he was writing on Shakespeare when he was 16, complete with stage designs, you wonder where on earth that sort of drive and talent could come from," he said.

Linklater has specialized in developmentally arrested protagonists like those found in "Bad News Bears" and "School of Rock," but he himself showed a little more drive and focus in formative years.

He staged his own version of "Julius Caesar" in sixth grade (with the assistance of a teacher), and was barely 30 when he'd finished the career-making "Slacker."

And despite his easygoing personality and soft Austin, Texas, drawl, he says he can summon his inner Welles - his own version of the manipulative tyrant that Welles was capable of becoming.

"I think I'm probably 178 degrees the other way, though there is always that moment during every movie where you really do have to kick ass. If the ensemble is taking it way too easy, sometimes you have to raise your voice. You have to make it clear to everyone they're working for a leader who cares about what's going on," he said.

That was never a problem for Welles, who, as we see in "Me and Orson Welles," found ingenious (and sometimes diabolical) ways of pushing everyone to the limit.

The movies focuses on the interaction between Welles (Christian McKay) and a young cast member (Zac Efron), an ambitious, naive innocent who learns that when it comes to fulfilling his vision, Welles is capable of just about anything.

It's sometimes a bitter lesson.

"Until you are slapped down by the adult world, you don't really know that it's not a level playing field. On the other hand, I've found myself defending Welles a lot. It was his theater, his play, his own money. He was entitled to do it his way."