Perhaps best known for playing the title character in NBC’s Medium (2005-2011), Patricia Arquette co-stars in Boyhood (out today), the passion project that director Richard Linklater filmed in brief bursts over a dozen years so audiences could watch all its characters, but especially the two young children at its core, mature and grow older. The film takes place in suburban Texas, and Arquette plays the protagonist’s mother, a divorcee struggling to finish college while raising two children and balancing a love life, sometimes with rather frightening men.
Women and Hollywood spoke to Arquette about making the film over 12 years, and her return to network TV this fall.
W&H: When I was
watching the movie, I felt that as much as it could be called Boyhood, it could also have been called ‘‘Motherhood.’’ Your character Olivia evolves just as much as her son over the course of the movie. Could you talk a little about how she changes and
what seeing her grow meant to you as a performer?
PA: I think I’ve had a lot of
examples in my life of women raising their kids and being the primary
breadwinner and support system for their kids–somehow trying to better
themselves and discover who they were as women, to accomplish something, and to
make a better living for their whole family. So, Olivia goes back to school and
earns a degree. There were weird parallels in the movie–both Ethan [Hawke] and
Rick’s [Linklater’s] dad worked in the insurance business, and then my mom and
Rick’s mom both went back to school, got their degrees, taught, and were in the
psychological sciences. It was weird in that kind of way; there was a common
language that we had for these characters.
W&H: But Olivia makes some
really good choices for her career, and for the betterment of herself and her
family, yet has a real struggle with the personal choices at the same time…
PA: I have so many different
feelings about that. I agree with that, of course. I think, when you look at [the men she gets involved with] at the beginning, they really seem like great guys. They seem very
attractive to her also because she’s been doing so much of this heavy-lifting
alone, and I think when someone presents as a partner it’s very attractive when
you’re really exhausted and needy for that. The other thing is the dad, who has
the kids every other weekend. We don’t see his shitty relationships because
they’re not happening around the kids, because he doesn’t have the kids. He has
the freedom to have his relationships off-camera. I also think, on paper, the
marriage to the professor looks like a great idea. He seems stable. He makes
his own living. He’s a single dad. He has these wonderful children. It all
seems like it would be a great base for her family, and for herself, but the
truth is it’s not, because I think it takes a long time to get to know people.
W&H: Building on that, it’s
really heart-breaking when these kids who call your character Mom just
disappear after the relationship with the professor falls apart.
just said [to Rick], ‘‘I feel like she wouldn’t just abandon those kids.’’ But
this is the rule of the law; you can’t just kidnap someone else’s kids. It’s
crazy, it’s not necessarily always set up for the children’s best interests,
but you can’t break the law. At the end, we had talked about having them at [main character] Mason’s
graduation, and I don’t think Rick could track them down. He was like, that’s
sort of poetic truth because in life you often do lose people along the way.
W&H: Were there any moments
that you had a disagreement with the director about? Did you have other input
into your character?
PA: We all had a lot of input about
everything. Like in the last scene, my character has a really different
perspective on her son going to college than I did with my son. For me, it was
much more about pumping him up: ‘‘Are you nervous? Don’t be nervous. You’ve got
this, you can do this. It’s going to be fine, don’t worry. Everyone’s nervous.
Okay, great. I love you so much. You’ve got this…’’ And then I cried when I
dropped him off, for nine hours. But I didn’t want him to see that. So, it was
trickier to play her saying to him, ‘’I feel like I’m going to die. This is the
end of my life. Is this all there is?’’ But the producer had said to her
daughter, ‘‘this is the worst day of my life.’’ And Ethan’s mom had said something
like, ‘‘I feel like the next thing is my funeral.’’ So, it’s based on real
people. It wasn’t necessarily my perspective. It wasn’t always what I even
thought the character would do, but it was this human amalgamation of a lot of
different things. Now, if I’d had the script in advance, obviously I would have
known she was going to be saying these things, and I wonder if it would have
changed other choices earlier on. It was kind of an interesting organic process
working on it this way.
W&H: And you got the script
each year as you came to the set for the certain amount of time that you worked
PA: Yeah, the first year he told
me all of my character’s major changes. So, I did know that main architecture,
but the specifics of what the scenes were and what exactly we were talking
about would come a few weeks, sometimes a few months, before that year’s work.
W&H: Was there any point
during the twelve years that you were thinking, ‘‘I don’t want to get back in
the saddle again?”
PA: No, I loved going there. From
the first second I ever heard about it, I loved it. The only time I ever wasn’t
happy on this movie was finishing it.
W&H: It seems very special.
Whenever I’ve told people about it, they’ve asked me whether it’s a documentary
and I’ve had to tell them no, it’s a fiction film filmed over twelve years–and
they find that amazing. Is that how the reaction has been generally?
PA: Yeah, people are pretty
excited about the movie, and moved–deeply moved–by it. I think because it’s a
very human movie, and it’s weird how few of them there are. I think maybe
because all the choices that were made for all the characters were based on
some human’s truth, there’s a resonance of human beings. Also, we forget we’re
an organic species, so when you start seeing these changes going on rapidly [on
screen] you’re reminded of how fast it goes. We’re all looking at the world
like, ‘‘oh, when I get married,’’ or when whatever big event happens, but life
is really the moments in between those big moments. We forget to experience
those, or forget to appreciate them.
W&H: Was there anything about
your character that surprised you along the way?
PA: There were just those choices
that I had to figure out how to play. Because we didn’t have a script so far in
advance, I had to figure out how to play them basically the night before. And
my character was very different than me in a lot of ways.
W&H: So, you were on TV for a
while (in Medium), and now you’re going back to TV in CSI Cyber.
What made you want to get back into another TV series?
PA: There’s something I really
like about network TV. You have this humongous audience, tens of millions of
people, and you really can be in a little hut in Thailand; you really can be in
the middle of an apartment in Dubai. There’s something about public
entertainment that I always liked. I like smaller movies, and I like public
entertainment. My great-grandparents were in vaudeville–very affordable
entertainment for the masses–and there’s something I like about that structure.
And you also get very fast in TV, and you have to trust the other actor in the
room. There’s a different skill-set that you start to hone. The weird thing is,
in the course of making this movie my daughter was born and my son went off to
college; I had my own family at home; I had this satellite family on this movie
that really felt like my family, and then I had a third family on Medium for seven years, with kids, and I
felt like a lunatic businessman with three families!
sister made this documentary called Searching
for Debra Winger about what happens to women in Hollywood as they age, and
I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the parts that are available for
women, and issues related to how Hollywood treats women?
PA: I think a lot of the stories
that are financed are the male/female falling in love story, and a lot of the
time that’s a younger story, or how it’s told is a younger story. I’m hoping
that experiments like this, if it’s successful, will show the bankers–who are
basically making the decisions at this point–that they can be a little more
adventurous in the stories that they tell. I wanted to transition out of being
a young ingénue as fast as I could anyway because I wanted to have a long
career and I didn’t want to get stuck in that. Also, I didn’t want to look the
way they wanted me to look because I didn’t want to lead with beauty. I didn’t
feel like that was my responsibility as a woman, or the story I necessarily
wanted to tell, or what was most interesting about being a woman.
W&H: I’m waiting for the next
movie called ‘”Girlhood“! I thought
that the daughter character was just as rich as the son, and I will look
forward to us seeing how a young girl grows up on screen too.
PA: I also thought she was great.
I thought they were great together because he was sort of daydream-y, and she
much more a realist. There’s one point when the dad says, ‘‘come on Sam,
remember all the fun we had: we went camping, we did this, we did that’’ and
she says, ‘‘not really.’’ She was holding him more accountable for all the
things he didn’t show up for, and all the times he wasn’t there. I think she’s
a really strong female character.