IAR INTERVIEW: Director Richard Linklater, Patricia Arquette, and Ethan Hawke Talk 'Boyhood'

Wednesday, 09 July 2014 08:50 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Director Richard Linklater, Patricia Arquette, and Ethan Hawke Talk 'Boyhood'

The most groundbreaking movie of the summer is also, in many ways, the simplest.

Boyhood is a drama that looks and feels uncannily like real life, a story that eschews superheroic slugfests or city-leveling spectacle, yet is also undeniably huge.  It follows one Texas family over the course of more than a decade, charting the victories, losses, and the maturation of all four family members.

Writer-director Richard Linklater (Dazed & Confused, Bernie) approached Boyhood in a totally unique way, however.  In 2002, he cast six-year old unknown Ellar Coltrane as Mason, the boy of Boyhood.  The writer-director then shot this film a little bit at a time over the course of twelve years, following his lead actor through childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood onscreen.

While Coltrane is the central figure, the rest of the family also grows and changes around him, helping to form him as a person.  Patricia Arquette (True Romance, NBC's Medium) and Ethan Hawke (The Purge, Before Midnight) play Mason's parents, with the director's daughter Lorelei Linklater (Waking Life) as Samantha, his sister.

IAR was recently on hand at the Boyhood press day in Los Angeles, where Richard Linklater, along with Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, discussed the process of making a film piecemeal over twelve years, working with Coltrane and Linklater as they grew up, how Boyhood captures the rhythms of life as it's actually lived, and the possibility of a sequel years from now.

Unlike most productions, which wrap up after several months at most, Boyhood was a commitment that informed the lives of all involved for more than ten years.

"This movie was just a life project for all of us," said Linklater. "We were committed for all of these years and you could just have your antenna out. That’s a good way to go through life. ‘Oh. That could feed into this.’ Or ‘That would happen to a friend of mine.’ Or ‘This memory I hadn’t had in all these years just came to me about something from my own childhood.’ It was all in play all these years. That’s what made it kind of the fun life project it turned out to be."

The filmmakers convened once a year, Linklater explained. "We’d end each year and kinda talk about the next year a little bit, what I felt was coming next year. Given everyone’s schedules and busyness, this was everyone’s side project – my own included. I was doing a lot of other films in these 12 years and everybody was busy," he said. "But we would always talk about it. It was always on a burner; it was something to think about. Ellar and I would often get together and talk about next year a bit, and Ethan. We would talk on the phone, whatever, but it would get real intense once it was around time we would shoot."

Arquette ran through the process from an actor's point of view, saying Linklater "would talk to us a few weeks before about sort of the specifics of that coming year. ‘Okay. You guys are going to have this scene in the coffee shop and he’s about to go here and you’re doing this. And you’re talking about a garage sale or whatever.’ And then I’d fly in. We’d all do our wardrobe fitting in the corner with a bunch of stuff they picked up at Goodwill. While we were talking about our ideas about what we thought our character might say or experiences someone had had or their mother had had or their brother had had or their friend, then we’d incorporate things and [Linklater] would decide. Sometimes we’d be up until two in the morning, all of us."

"When the kids were little, they weren’t really participating so much in that writing aspect of that," she continued. "Except [Linklater] would ask them, ‘Hey, you guys. What would you do if blah, blah, blah?’ And they’d say, ‘Oh. Oh that’s cool.’ But when they got older, they started bringing a lot to the table."

Hawke added, "We got so lucky. Mostly the biggest luck of all, in a lot of ways, was Lorelei and Ellar. Their contribution – we could have never predicted that they would contribute on the level that they both did."

As an actor, Hawke has appeared in plenty of genre fare that far more divorced from reality, but it was the verisimilitude of Boyhood that struck him immediately.  "It’s just so fun to tell a real story about a real family. I mean 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 6 months," he said. "But our lives never feel like that. We have moments of grace or moments where we feel something deeply or something but it’s because of 90 million other things that happen before it, not just that moment. It’s so enjoyable to tell a story without any lies like that, to get to tell a story about a family. Time is so much a part of what makes you close to people. What’s the expression? You don’t make any new old friends? 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 gets to believe these characters because they are watching them experience time with each other."

"And we had that fabric. We had that time together," Arquette agreed. "Making a movie is an intimate process to some extent but actually have these years of coming together, growing together, getting married, getting divorced, having children, people having breast cancer, more divorces, babies being born. So recording all of that! And we got older and who we were playing – parents at 33,34, that’s who we were. We were 33,34 and that was our perspective on life and that was the lens we saw those things through. And by the time we were 45 it was like your choices are different. Your reactions are different and the kids, it was just rich in all of that."

The unusual timetable of Boyhood also meant that the editing process was quite different, Linklater said, explaining, "It was a living, breathing thing, like what you would do for a film. We would edit that year’s footage, attach it to everything that came before, this ever-growing thing, go back and edit the whole film up to that point again. It was always in flux. It was such a luxury. Most films you have to do all your thinking in the buildup. Once you start production, say you’re shooting six-day weeks, or even five-day weeks, it’s a hustle. You’re in the manufacturing phase up to the end. Then you have this reflective editing era to maybe go back in and tweak the story like that."

"This was the complete opposite. We’d shoot three days on average, edit that. Then I’d have a year to just think what’s next. We all did," he continued. "The gestation time was so incredible. I really wanted to take advantage of that because that’s what film usually doesn’t give you. It’s a hustle. You have to think on your toes during production, which I love too. That’s the way it is. But we were outside of that practical reality. This thing didn’t even feel like a film. We didn’t have a release day. We didn’t really know what the future would be."

Twelve-year production aside, Boyhood is also unusual in that it nimbly avoids narrative contrivances, instead presenting an identifiable look at ordinary life.  Still, audiences tend to expect big dramatic happenings, and Linklater, for one, has been surprised to find that moviegoers often expect sudden turns that they'd find in other movies.

"We don’t make films about ordinary. Why watch a film that reflects real life? I want to watch something that does have the car wreck, does have the thing, because normality, why make art about that? We’re really conditioned in films particularly to have the big moments. It’s fun to see audiences, even so far into this movie when they know kind of the vibe of the movie, like the campout scene in eighth grade, they’re throwing those blades around, you can just feel it. I never anticipated that. It was never in my conception. It never crossed my mind anything bad would happen," he said.

"Most of that stuff doesn’t happen. Most of us do survive childhood, he said with a laugh. "Not all, but most, amazingly. So everything about this movie fits into the statistical norms. You do survive. You do get through that. There’s all these little bumps and bruises along the way, but it was never about the big stuff, and we don’t show a lot of that stuff because it was really like a memory, the things you remember from your life. It’s not the big moments. That’s not the best."

With Boyhood hitting theaters in select cities this Friday, July 11th and expanding to more locations in the weeks that follow, the filmmakers are currently receiving a rapturous response from critics, a continuation of the ecstatic response Boyhood earned at Sundance earlier this year.

Does that mean Linklater might employ the same technique for another film? "Yeah, it is a storytelling possibility that is now demonstrated I think in a way that, yes, film, you can use time in this way. I don’t have any other story immediately that would require this. This was unique to tell this story. So I think maybe someone else could run with it. But I don’t currently have a story that would...It’s a fun thing to think about," he said.

While Boyhood was being made, Linklater and Hawke also ventured on a trilogy that kicked off with Before Sunrise in 1995.  Hawke starred alongside Julie Delpy as a pair of young people who fall in love over a single night in Vienna.  An unexpected sequel, Before Sunset (co-written by Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy) picked up their story in 2004, and last year's Before Midnight returned to the same characters almost twenty years after their introduction.

The Before Sunrise model could conceivably apply to Boyhood as well, continuing years from now, perhaps, with a Manhood sequel.  As for that possibility, Linklater said, "This is so new. This isn’t even over for us yet. I mean, it doesn’t even feel like we’ve finished the movie. It’s been less than a year since we stopped shooting. I just haven’t even thought of that at all. Just the way Ethan and I, twenty years ago in Vienna, it took us five or six years to even think, 'Would we ever revisit those characters?' So way too fresh to have any ideas, but anything’s possible. But you don’t know where your thoughts will take you in the future. You just don’t know."

"I don’t think that’s even possible if it doesn’t make any money," added Arquette. "Get people to see this movie and then maybe someone will give some money."

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