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Boyhood – 12 years of filming for Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane

Writer/director Richard Linklater’s new movie Boyhood is groundbreaking. The unique premise tells the story of Mason, portrayed by Ellar Coltrane, who literally grows up on screen before the audience’s eyes. Ellar plays Mason from the age of six to eighteen – yes, it took 12 years to make this film.

Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason’s parents, newcomer Lorelei Linklater plays Mason’s sister Samantha, who is two years older than him. Adolescence, road trips, family dinners, marriage, divorce, are all captured in this fascinating movie.

I spoke with Ethan, Patricia and Ellar at the press conference for the film, which opens on July 11th.

Ellar, you were six when you agreed to do this. When you’re that young you don’t have a concept of the passage of time. Was there a moment where it hit you what you were doing and how the outcome could affect your life?

Boyhood - Ellar Coltrane
Boyhood – Mason (Ellar Coltrane) ©2014 IFC Film

Ellar: That’s still happening now. The object of it being a film on a screen someday was kind of removed, well, it was for me. Twelve years is a long time. I don’t think there was any one point, but my understanding of the project grew a lot [as I got older].

I never saw any of [the footage] throughout filming, so it was just a distant goal of it being a movie.

It’s very different to see it now, looking back and wishing I’d done things differently. But that’s kind of the beauty of it, that I was only halfway aware that it was actually a film, so I [wasn’t] crafting myself to be some character.

What they got was what they got and to look back I’m forced to accept these more awkward parts of myself.

Twelve years is a long time. Did you have any fear taking on such an ambitious project and that it might not get completed?

Boyhood - Lorelei Linklater and Ethan Hawke
Boyhood – Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and Dad (Ethan Hawke) ©2014 IFC Film

Ethan: Knowing Rick, I never had any fear that we wouldn’t finish it. Jonathan Sehring at IFC really believed in this project and supported it. But he could have gotten fired, that happens to executives all the time. IFC could go under, most independent film companies do go under.

I thought if that happened we’d hustle another way. But the fact was that Jonathan kept his job, and he kept hiding a little bit of money every year for us.

How did you choose which pop culture incidents to use to show the passage of time in this?

Patricia: We talked about it, the war, mortgages and houses going under, the economy, technology, because it is part of the fabric of this time period that we’re living in. But it was very secondary to what we were doing. We were breaking down scenes, talking about how we felt.

The weird thing is, if you removed all of the iPads and old computers from this movie and the conversation about Obama, you would actually be disingenuous to this time that we’ve grown up in.

What was it like watching yourself grow up on screen?

Boyhood - Ellar Coltrane
Boyhood – Mason (Ellar Coltrane) ©2014 IFC Film

Ellar: It’s incredible. [Lorelei and I have] changed the most drastically I guess, but one of the most amazing parts to me is just how much everyone changes. There’s this idea that when you reach a certain point you stop [growing] and you’re an adult, but everyone grew up a lot. It was very interesting.

As actors, what was the benefit of doing the movie with the same kids growing up rather than using different children of different ages to play Mason and Samantha?

Ethan: It’s just fun to tell a real story about a real family. So much of the problem with most movies is they create a false narrative so that it has a beginning, middle and end that all takes place over six months. But our lives never feel like that.

We have moments of grace, or moments where we feel something deeply, but it’s because of 90 million other things that happened before it, not just that moment. It’s so enjoyable to tell a story without any lies in it like that.

Boyhood - Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane
Boyhood – Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), Mom (Patricia Arquette) and Mason (Ellar Coltrane) ©2014 IFC Film

Patricia: Acting and making a movie is an intimate process hopefully, but to actually have these years of coming back together and growing together, getting married, getting divorced, babies being born [was great].

The parents we were playing of 33, 34, that’s who we were, we were 33, 34. By the time we were 45 our choices and reactions are different.

Ethan: Time is so much a part of what makes you close to people. Time is what creates trust, so we got to do that with each other and we got to do that with the audience.

The audience starts to believe these characters, because they’re watching them experience time with each other.

I asked Richard Linklater how much of the movie was scripted and how much was improvised. Click below for his reply, with a little help from Patricia.

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I asked Ethan and Patricia to talk about the process of coming back to the same movie each year, and if they kept in contact with Ellar and Lorelei when they weren’t shooting. Click below to listen to their answers.

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