Linklater’s life through a lens

Boyhood is like no other film you’ve seen. Shot over 12 years, it chronicles the life of one Texan boy from six to18. ‘We were making a period film in the present tense,’ says Austin-based director Richard Linklater

Fri, Jul 11, 2014, 11:04

Get ready for the most amazing experience you’ll ever have in a cinema. Seriously. Shot over 12 years, Richard Linklater’s time-lapse epic Boyhood is all that its title suggests. Every year since 2002, the Austin-based auteur has gathered together the same cast – including Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette – to shoot scenes for the film. The results make BBC’s ground-breaking Up series – which has periodically dropped in on 14 different Britons since 1963 – seem rather half-hearted. This is as close to the human experience as film-making can get.

“Ultimately, it’s a pretty big collaboration with everyone’s sense of reality,” says the 53-year-old Linklater. “I see myself in the kids. I see my own kids. I see myself in the parents. To me, it was always a film about bumbling through parenthood. It’s a portrait of trying to figure that out. And I think Ethan and Patricia see the same things. So we were all feeling it from all these different directions.”

It’s a multi-faceted narrative masked by a singular trajectory. Boyhood comprises a series of episodes in the life of Mason, starting when he is six and continuing until he enters college at 18. Throughout, Mason is played by Ellar Coltrane, a local Austin actor. Despite his youth and inexperience at the start of the project – Ellar had only appeared in a few commercials before Linklater cast him in Boyhood’s central role – the director describes the star as “the rock” of the hugely ambitious project.

“I always thought that one time I would call Ellar and he’d say: ‘You know, I don’t really want to do this anymore’. But that never happened. He was always ready to go. It was kind of amazing. Patricia and Ethan were professionals. They served. They worked hard and came in and did everything possible. But they weren’t local. I couldn’t just call them up come see them and talk about what’s going on. By the end, Ellar felt like my nephew or something. He was part of the family.”

That sense of family was compounded by the presence of Lorelei Linklater, Richard’s daughter, who plays Mason’s older sister. As with Ellar, Lorelei was seven at the start of production and is 19 by the time the credits roll.

“Once it was clear that the older sister was within her age range, there was no way she was going to allow me to cast anyone else,” laughs the film-maker. “I never even looked at anyone else. She just told me: ‘Oh well, I’m playing that role.’ And I thought: ‘Well good. Because I know where you’re going to be every year.”

The Slacker-Philosopher But what was about Ellar that sealed the deal? How did he know that the six-year-old he cast in 2002 would grow up to be, well, a typical slacker-philosopher Linklater character?

“Looking back, meeting him was the moment that made the film,” says the Oscar- nominated writer-director. “He was the interesting, arty, mysterious kid, you know? Kind of poetic in his own way. A lot of charisma. Other kids were more quote-unquote ‘straight’. They might have been the class president or the really popular guy at school. In a way, I was the other kids. I was the kid who played sports and did all that. But I think Ellar was almost like the more interesting part of myself. He’s the part I’d rather make a film about.”