Interview: Richard Linklater talks about his family drama Boyhood
This Friday marks the culmination of 12 years of work, an ambitious and unprecedented film production 4,000 days in the making.
Richard Linklater’s family drama Boyhood comes to theatres in Canada, having been triumphed in Sundance earlier this year while opening last week in the United States and previewed to TIFF members amid much excitement and acclaim.
“I’m already pretty-process oriented, so even though this movie was kind of epic in its ambition over time, it’s still a humble, little film,” said Linklater during a conference call with reporters in Canada. “It’s a collection of little intimate moments, and like anything it just becomes taking one little step at a time.”
Boyhood follows Mason from age 6 to 18, from lying outside on the grass in front of his elementary school to his first days of college. It is indeed a fictional story, a universal one at that, but it retains the same actors, including lead Ellar Coltrane, across a 12-year period for the utmost authenticity and intimacy.
“You have to be able to give up that sense of control and just admit that you’ll be dealing with elements in the future that you can’t totally predict,” remarked Linklater. “You can have your hunches, and you can have your intentions, but the reality of it will be something else.”
“The methodology kind of came out of a way of telling this particular story. It was really always a way for me to express my feelings about growing up and parenting.”
While the film has had an enchanted existence, going just about according to plan, the most important decision was the choice of the young star. He would be six-years-old and ostensibly making a decision that would obligate him for a week or so every year. His life would be documented, at some point he would become like the character, but he future would be completely unknown – like anyone else’s at that age.
“[Coltrane] was also just the most interesting, most ethereal, most mysterious kid I met with,” said Linklater. “I liked the way his mind worked. We could sit down and have real conversations, and I think most of all he wasn’t people-pleasing. I think a lot of times with kid actors, they can try too hard to be people pleasing, and they want to be cute or whatever they think adults want from a role.”
“Ellar didn’t really care what anyone thought of him,” continued Linklater. “He really didn’t. He would just say, ‘I’m into this band’ or ‘I’m watching this movie’ and ‘here’s what I’m excited about.’ He had this curiosity about him.”
For Mason’s older sister, Linklater enlisted his daughter Lorelei, a decision that was less of a gamble but still important. Two years Mason’s senior, Samantha is precocious and sweet, annoying at times and independent. She and Mason spend most of the time with their mother (Patricia Arquette) as she struggles with working and raising children, while the father (Ethan Hawke) wanders in and out of their lives.
Hawke and Arquette were gung-ho for the artistic and innovative opportunity. Casting children was decidedly trickier, but with Lorelei, the film became all the more personal for Linklater.
“[Lorelei] because while she was getting older, I was still getting to just hang out with her nine-year-old self and eleven-year-old self in the editing room, and I would go home for dinner at the end of the day and she’s sitting there as an eighteen-year-old,” said Linklater. “It was fun! It was very much a life project for all of us. And she had grown up around movies; she really wanted to play that part too, so it wasn’t a big deal in our lives.”
“It was just something we did every year; this film and this part. It was a natural thing in our world. It was a very different thing for Ellar, though, because this wasn’t his normal life.”
Coltrane did in fact start to shape his role as his interests and identity stated to take shape in later years, but above all, it’s a story that all those watching can relate to on some level.
“It speaks to everyone, it doesn’t scream out with benchmarks or items,” concluded Linklater. “It’s the kind of film that really necessitates you to observe your own life and your own trajectory wherever you are, whether you’re a parent, a child, or just an adult. It runs the gamut as to what the most specific element that people can pull from. I’ve been deeply and incredibly touched by the fact that it’s not just one thing.”