Less than a month after premiering at Sundance to endless raves and the occasional “masterpiece” designation, Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” headed to the Berlin International Film Festival late last week, essentially finding the same reception from the European press — not to mention a Silver Bear for best director.
As is quite well known by now: “Boyhood” was slowly created every year since 2002, with Linklater bringing together a quartet of actors to shoot for a week a year, portraying a family that evolves over more than a decade. Those actors included Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as the parents, as well as Linklater’s own daughter Lorelai Linklater and Ellar Coltane (who was only seven years old when things started and came to the Berlinale a 19 year old) as their children. Very much an experiment that could have gone wrong, “Boyhood” instead is a truly remarkable portrait of family, childhood and adolescence that is unlike anything else that came before it.
Linklater chatted about the film in Berlin before he went onto win the festival’s director prize. Here are 10 highlights:
On whether or not he had the whole film in his head before they started shooting: “I had the architecture of the whole piece in mind. But then every year we got this gestation period of a year to think about each segment… It was great to have that time to think about it.
On the kind of family he wanted to portray in the film: “It wasn’t an extraordinary family. It was kind of a normal family. I didn’t want to show the biggest moments that we’ve seen in every movie about maturing. I avoided the first kiss and all that. I just wanted to kind of capture little moments. But I had faith that it would all end up because we had this time element of the structure of it. [I hoped] it would have a cumulative effect and play out over the time. So that’s really what it was all based on more than the events of the film… The film was trying to be very realistic. It’s all scripted and
rehearsed. Films are constructs, let’s face it. It takes a lot of effort
and a lot of work to make then. But with the tone of the film I was
trying to capture the way life kind of unfolds. Or maybe how you
remember you life. Or the way time works through our lives. That’s what I
was trying to capture… in a not too dramatic way.”
On whether or not he gave rules to his actors about what to do in the 51 weeks of the year they weren’t shooting: “I didn’t tell the actors too much about what to do with their lives because 51 weeks a year we weren’t shooting. But Ellar would call me sometimes, when he was thinking about cutting his hair or getting an earring or something. He would ask, ‘can I do this this year?’ So we were conscious of it, but I knew that it would develop normally and we would with whatever was happening. I don’t remember being too proactive.”
On the risks of taking on a project like this: “This whole thing was a leap of faith and there was a certain amount of optimism about the future. Just that, we’d be here 12 years from then and things would work out. It was a leap of faith on everyone’s part. You know, it’s against the law to even contract anybody to do anything over 7 years. Much less a kid, if you think about it. I mean getting a six year old to agree to do something for 12 years. That’s technically illegal, I think. But Ellar has very cool parents, I can say that… Lorelai’s parents I’m not so sure about.”
On whether he’d do a follow-up project to “Boyhood”: “The story I was trying to tell was this point in childhood. In the US, it’s like first through twelfth grade. Those 12 years you are stuck in the public school system and stuck in your parents house. I look back at my own youth and that’s kind of the prison sentence you’ve been handed as a youth. So it was about how to negotiate through that. Beyond that, I didn’t really have anything more to express about this. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t pick up in young adulthood and go forever… You know, so… Who knows? But we haven’t talked about it. We’re still recovering from this.”
On casting Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette: “I’d worked with Ethan Hawke before and I talked to him about it just as an idea. He agreed immediately to do it because it sounded so strange. He got this weird look on his face and said ‘yeah, that’s crazy.’ And then I was thinking about who could play his ex-wife. Who’s the mom? And I had met Patricia once before in the mid-1990s and talked to her for a little while then. But I’d always been a big fan and knew she’d been a mother rather young in her life and I just called her up and we talked for a couple hours. Patricia was the only one I’d thought of, and I asked her ‘what are you going to be doing 12 years from now? I hope to getting a film made, and you’ll probably be looking for a part.’ And here we are. She’s very brave and fearless that way. And that was the quality I was looking for.”
On casting Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater: “I met a lot of six and seven year old kids at that time, and it’s a huge leap. Ellar’s parents seemed very supportive. They’re both artists. And I though that would be the familial support to get us through. But he was also just a thoughtful kid and I liked talking to him. And he ended up growing up to be this really cool, thoughtful guy. So there were other ways it could have gone. He could grown up to be a 200 pound wrestler, and the movie would have gone in that direction a bit. And then Lorelei, as my own daughter, seemed to be interested in it at that age. But that ebbed and flowed over the years… I’m really proud of them, though. They worked so hard and really went through something unique with this. And I couldn’t be more thrilled with the young adults they’ve become. Obviously my daughter, I’m close to, but Ellar felt like the son I never had.”
On why it’s called “Boyhood” even though it’s about four people: “Titles are difficult. ‘Boyhood’ we just sort of fell into. It was the name on our call sheet every year. And we also called it ‘The 12 Year Film.’ But in the end, it’s the point of view of the movie. While it’s really about a family, it’s primarily from his perspective. So that was the name.”