Interview: Ellar Coltrane talks Boyhood
A unique masterpiece, Boyhood is a curious experience to watch, as 12 years of storytelling unfolds across nearly three hours, with the growth and maturity of actor Ellar Coltrane taking place at center stage.
While the viewing experience is indeed unlike any other, it’s something truly incomparable for Coltrane, who signed on to star in the film when he was six-years-old and took a few days every year for 12 years to return to the character and film.
“It wasn’t invasive in a direct way, but it is true that I was constantly being asked to analyze my own life and my interactions and my personality to then use in this script, so it was very introspective,” explained Coltrane while in Toronto to promote the release of Boyhood.
While the cast and crew reunited for but a week every year, Coltrane was not at all in the same situation as the veteran actors in the cast – Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette – or even that of the actress who plays his older sister Lorelei Linklater, as she is the daughter of director Richard Linklater. He was growing up on film, and the character of Mason Jr. often merged with his own sense of self, and the character was shaped at times by what Coltrane did in real life.
In the beginning, as Coltrane was six, e has few memories of those earlier shoots.
“It’s pretty spotty towards the beginning. I have a couple of memories of shooting the first couple of years but like solid memories don’t start until about half way through,” he explained “I mean, I liked it; I think all kids like pretending. It was something that I was good it. It was exciting to work with directors and be treated like an equal. As a kid, you’re used to being talked to like a pet or something. Richard always spoke to me candidly, like I was a person.”
Surprisingly – or maybe not so much, Boyhood led an enchanted existence, with basically everything that which was uncertain and unpredictable going according to plan. That is especially true for Coltrane, the most pivotal part of the film, who admitted that he wasn’t worried. It would seem that Linklater’s confidence trickled down to the rest of the team.
“We never thought that way, but when we got to year six, seven, eight, it was just like wow, not only has nothing gone wrong, everything has gone better than perfect, and it’s amazing,” said Coltrane. “The momentum just kept building and building up as the years went on until that final moment in the desert. One of the only things that did go wrong, there was a government shutdown, and we were planning to film at the National Park, and it was shutdown, and so we had to go to the State Park. But the place that we found at the State Park was even better, so it kind of worked out.”
There is a joke about Star Wars that is hysterical in retrospect. During the earlier years, Mason Sr. takes his kids to an Astros game, and not only do they win (something a bit rare), but Roger Clemens pitches an impressive game, and Houston wins with a home run that goes right down the barrel of the camera. What’s more, in one scene Lorelei bowls a strike and in another Hawke impresses with skipping rocks – all in the first take.
Equally as strange as it is looking back for Coltrane is looking ahead. As the cast and crew would gather in the fall to shoot, and that the last bit of filming was in 2013, he hasn’t yet hit the point in the calendar year where Boyhood would resume shooting. Come this fall, and beyond, Coltrane will not return to shooting for the first time in 12 years, and ostensibly the first time in memory.
“It hasn’t quite set in yet that it’s done,” explained Coltrane. “If we were still going, we wouldn’t have even done it yet [this year]. So I think come Christmas time, it will probably start to feel a little more real.”
“It is very bittersweet. It snuck up on all of us,” he said of finally wrapping the extensive project. “The goal of it actually being finished was so distant for so much of the project that we really didn’t think about that. There was no pressure about finishing it. We were just lost; we were just doing it because we were doing it. So when it did get there, it was like, wow, it’s done.”
Coltrane seems to be enjoying reflecting on the project a much as he does looking ahead to whatever is next. He never watched any scenes during shooting, but took in the film in it’s entirely for the first time alone, and has enjoyed chatting about the film which triumphs in its universalities, but is all the more personal for its star.
“I’m hanging on to the memory. It’s been a very therapeutic and incredible thing to have. I don’t want to get away from that,” said Coltrane. “This is a chapter in all of our lives that is coming to an end and it had come to mean so much more to us than we could have ever expected. I’m enjoying now, being done with it and learning everything that I’m learning now in the aftermath, but it’s something I’ll always hold dear.”