Interview with Richard Linklater, director of the incredible, visionary film “Boyhood”

Published 11:02 am Saturday, July 26, 2014

by Lauren Bradshaw

“Boyhood,” written and directed by Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused” and the “Before” series), is not only the best film so far this year (with an unheard of 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes), it is also one of the most ambitious projects in Hollywood history. After all, the film follows the life of a boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), from the ages of 6 to 18 years old. However, instead of casting multiple actors to play Mason and his family at the different stages of their lives, Linklater shot the film from the summer of 2002 to the fall of 2013. This allowed the actors to age in time with the film and continue to play their characters themselves! How cool is that?!

An incredible coming-of-age story, “Boyhood” follows Mason, his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) through both mundane and important milestones in a child’s life. From going to a Harry Potter book-release party to leaving for college, Linklater is able to highlight the many moments one may remember about their childhood, some good, some bad. This isn’t just a film with an awesome concept, though. It is thoughtful art. Art with four of the best acting performances so far this year and will certainly be talked about when the Oscars roll around.

Because “Boyhood” is my favorite film so far this year, and is so incredibly ambitious, I was excited to join Lauren Veneziani and Matt Razak in a roundtable interview with Richard Linklater about his vision for the film. We talked about how he came up with the concept of the film, how the script evolved over the years, his ability to perfectly capture nostalgic feelings of childhood, and a lot more! Check out the interview below and make sure you go see Boyhood as soon as possible! Because it is opening in a limited amount of theaters, check local showtimes to see if it is playing in your area. If not, add it to your Netflix queue!

Lauren Bradshaw ( How did you come up with the concept for “Boyhood”?

Richard Linklater: It’s a big question. How long do we have? 15 minutes? In a nutshell, I wanted to just try and tell a film about growing up and I had a story I wanted to tell and it was all encompassing, the ideas were over all of the years. I had kind of given up on the idea for a while and then this idea hit me. It was like ‘Boom!’ I thought I could do it. I like those flash moments. I’ve had a few in my film life where it’s like, why couldn’t you make a film? Would that work? It’s a fun area to be occupying, thinking, ‘Could that work’ and ‘I haven’t seen that before,’ but I realized what I was doing was solving my narrative problem, that I could tell a story that encompasses a broader cinematic canvas about growing up. I just did it incrementally and that was the fun part. But the practical side, as you can imagine, is pretty crazy. It’s over 12 years, a lot of unknowns… how do you get something like that financed? But at its core, it was just a new way to tell a story that I thought would tell this story.

Lauren Veneziani ( I’ve never seen anything like this movie before, and since it was filmed over a 12-year period, when you are filming it, are you piecing and editing the movie together during the break periods?

Richard Linklater: Oh absolutely. To do anything less would not be taking advantage of the time. I’ve been on many a movie set and you are halfway through the shoot and you’re rolling and you wish you could take a few days off to just think… just hang out with my footage and the dailies and see how it’s going. So I got to do that. I got to film a few days and then edit and attach it to this ever-growing thing and each year it got bigger, and edit that whole thing again. You know, I was doing other movies. Maybe I would take three months and not think about it that much. But then I would come back to the film, watch the whole thing always asking ‘What does it need?” and “Is this working the way I want?” It was always subtle little changes. I have four cast members, some are growing subtle and some not so subtle.

Matt Razak ( Watching the movie, as the years go by, each year seems pre-cognitive in how it encapsulates that year and what was going on then. Was that the nature of the beast or when you were filming a scene, knew that you really had to capture the feeling here?

Richard Linklater: Well, film is a powerful recorder of the present moment, it really is. It didn’t take much effort. One of the many odd things about filming this movie, particularly in the early years, especially in the first half, it wasn’t going to be seen for so long, it’s a period film. I knew that that computer was going to get a laugh or a little smile, the first time we see him [Mason] in school, it was an iMac. I remember thinking, “Oh I’m going to put that in profile. That will be funny.” So you go through the world thinking about that. My daughter Lorelei, she is first-generation Harry Potter all the way and we had those book release parties and that was cool. That never happened when I was a kid and that might not happen in the future. I grew up during the era where we were always launching rockets into space, guys were orbiting the Earth, walking on the moon and I thought that would go on forever. Yeah, that is just normal now. It went away and as we think back on history, that was special. So I thought Harry Potter, in a whole different way, may never happen again and even if it does, I just wanted it to feel like a memory, like what things might you remember from these years. I grew up in the Vietnam era, so there was always a war on TV, you were just aware of it. The main thrust of the movie though, was this family and [their story] was important to be said in the real world, so if it reflects that nostalgically. That was the intention.

Lauren B.: Building off of the nostalgia aspect, I feel like the music in the movie was another character, a lot of those songs were from my generation. Did you pick those songs as you went?

Richard Linklater: The music, I was able to do that toward the end and was able to see what resonated. Music means so much to you when you are ages 6 through 20 and you can tell if it when you were in 8th grade or that junior year high school dance and now I’m like, ‘Oh, Coldplay, yeah…they are kinda new, they’re a recent band,” (Laughs) And now anyone young, they’re like, “No, that’s first grade!” It’s very vague as you become an adult and get older. It can never be the same. I was very aware of that and music is a real memory trigger. Music and smells are the two biggest triggers for emotional memory. I just picked a lot of music that I liked. I also had interns, usually there were a little bit older than Ellar and Lorelei or about that age, and I had them write stories about… ‘what these songs from this year?’ They would write ‘Oh yeah, this was on all summer long,’ because I’m out of it. I don’t know. So that helped me on some of the music. A lot of it is stuff I liked naturally, especially later. Some of the stuff when he’s young, I wasn’t listening to some of those bands.

Lauren V.: Britney Spears? (Laughs)

Richard Linklater: Yeah, well some things are just funny. My nephews… if they were obsessed with a song that registers, like “Soulja Boy” (something like that) if it percolates up to me, then it’s registered. But that didn’t necessarily mean anything good, usually the opposite. Whether to include it in the movie was something else, but that was fun. So I got these little narratives from people… even the very last song “Hero” by Family of the Year, I had a guy Ben working around me office and he turned me on to that song. I said, “Well, what do this mean to you?” He said he had broken up with his girlfriend or something and he was feeling kind of crappy about everything and that song came on and he had this feeling that everything was going to be okay. I was like, “awww that’s kind of sweet.” The fact that one person could feel that way, it means something to me.

Lauren V.: Your daughter [Lorelei Linklater] plays Samantha in the movie, what was it like for you to direct her and see her grow up on screen like that? Not a lot of parents get that opportunity!

Richard Linklater: Yeah, we all have home movies, but to be in a narrative, it was bizarre and beautiful and a fun part of our lives and very natural. It sounds like a big deal, but it kind of wasn’t. Once she [Lorelei] realized there was an older sister role, I never auditioned anyone else. She was like “Yeah! I am playing that!” That was her at that age, so it was a different thing with her and Ellar.

Lauren V.: You know that you can get her to commit!

Richard Linklater: Yeah, well I liked that because I knew where she was going to be every year, at least I hoped! (Laughs) It was one less volatile, unpredictable thing I could seemingly have control of in the unknown future. was a natural thing for us and it was fun, I’m really proud of her. But she could also fluctuate, the daughter-father permission, she would ask things that an actor would never ask a director. (Laughs)

Matt Razak: Ellar was fantastic. He fit right into the role so well.

Richard Linklater: He sort of is the role. It was designed to kind of become him.

Matt Razak: Yeah! Since you didn’t know who he was going to become, how much did he change the role as he grew up or was it basically nailed down throughout.

Richard Linklater: I think the eternal mystery is how much did the role shape him and how much did he shape the role? How much did being in this film affect his life? He speaks very eloquently about it. He’s such a thoughtful 19-year-old. I always say that’s not him at the very beginning. He doesn’t dress the way Ellar dresses. He’s really cool, very charismatic. I met him when he was 6. He was about 7 when we were shooting. He had rips in his pants. We unearthed an interview from year one, just before we started shooting when we were rehearsing, and I said, “What are you listening to?” I was interviewing him for about 15 minutes and we hadn’t seen this since we did it. It was unbelievable. He was 7 and his favorites bands were Tool, Rage Against The Machine, System Of The Down… he was already watching R-rated movies. His taste was not helpful when I was wondering what kids were listening to. He wasn’t the norm and neither was Lorelei. They were both odd. She knew Britney Spears but she didn’t really know the song, believe it or not. She was a big Marilyn Monroe fan and loved Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” I have a take of her doing that. If I never got the rights to the Britney Spears [song], I could try to get the rights to that other songs. I have that somewhere. Maybe it’s a DVD extra. Did that answer your question? Ellar, yeah, the movie would merge with him. I told him that… at some point it will become more you. I think that probably happened halfway through but he was always bringing himself to it. I had him put dialogue in his own words, it was very collaborative. By the end, that probably is him sitting on the mountain up there. It will be interesting to see how he feels ten years from now.

Lauren B.: Did you have a straw-man of the script and it sort of evolved over time once you got to know Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, and Ethan Hawke or different events in your life that helped shaped the script? Or did you know from Day 1 that this was the beginning and this was the end?

Richard Linklater: I knew the beginning, end and big stuff, like the family moves, mom gets a new job, stepfather/step-siblings come into the picture. The big architecture I knew but it was both macro and micro. The little things… that’s where I had that year to think of things. But a lot of its my own childhood, it might be specific to me, but by the time you adapt it to modern times and the actors, it becomes a big collaboration. But I don’t think there is anything in the movie that wasn’t from my life or one of my collaborators’ lives, it was all kind of real.

Lauren B.: So it was more of a collaboration, like if Ellar had an idea…

Richard Linklater: Yeah, by definition. Them sitting around the campfire in the weeks leading up to that and he was talking about that Star Wars game he was playing and theorizing about the future movie. It was like father-son bonding over Star Wars. Ethan [Hawke] is a big Star Wars guy.

Matt R.: You kind of hit the nail on the head. (Everyone laughs)

Richard Linklater: Yeah, four more years go by, that was filmed back in 2008 and five years later they announce the movie. But that came from him [Ellar Coltrane] that was something in his life. I gave him yearly assignments, like ‘here’s the challenge, I need a realistic conversation between you and a girl you meet at a party and need you to show more about yourself and vulnerability.” Boom, that’s his year assignment. Anytime you find yourself in that stiuation, go home and write it down. I want specific dialogues. He had this living art project with him at all times. It was fun. He came up with a bunch of stuff, but at the same time we had to be of like-minds. I wouldn’t put it in the movie if I didn’t think it was any good. He brought so much to it, but then so did everybody else. That is kind of how I work with actors. I believe in a good structure, clear storytelling, but within that you’re kind of loose to capture something that is real to the people, if it applies.

Lauren V: Patricia Arquette is one of my favorite actresses and my favorite scene in the movie was near the end when Mason [Ellar Coltrane] is moving out and she starts crying. In that moment I just felt that she was his mom and they has such good chemistry together.

Richard Linklater: I know! She kind of felt that way too. When she saw the final movie, she was seeing all of these things that her character wasn’t around for, like the camping trip scene. She goes, “Why did you lie to me?” (Laughs). Who’s that old guy? I don’t like him. She was having all of these maternal feelings as she was watching the movie. But that’s how into it she is. But she is amazing and the most vanity-free performance imaginable. She would say, “Oh it’s Saturday morning, I don’t have to go into work today, I don’t need make-up in this scene. I’m a college teacher, not a Hollywood star.” A lot of people would be like, “No, I want to look my best at all times. I’m on film.” She’s the opposite. She wanted to see herself age and she was just real. I had an instinct about her. I only met her once and I called her up (six years after I met her) and we talked for two hours about the movie, about what it could be. She remembers me saying, “What are you doing the next 12 years?” I said, we’re adults and in 12 years you’re probably going to be looking for a part and I’m going to be trying to make a movie. We can predict the future if we’re still lucky enough to be around.

And at the end, that’s where we are. But we still haven’t quite processed it all being over either. It’s unusual and it hits notes and we hear its coming out soon, but we don’t feel like we’ve finished making it. We won’t believe it until a full year goes by when we haven’t filmed.