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Interview: Richard Linklater on his groundbreaking film ‘Boyhood’

“I still haven’t really processed this film being over. It was such a long term thing. I guess a year, after the first time we don’t shoot, it will be, ‘I guess we’re done with that,” says Richard Linklater, talking about his groundbreaking new film, “Boyhood.”

Shot meticulously over 12 years, with the same principal cast throughout, “Boyhood” charts a fictional kid’s life from the age of 6 to 18 in as literal a fashion as possible: casting a 6-year-old and then filming him a couple of weeks every year, for a dozen years.

This radical, never-been-done-before idea came to Linklater in a kind of eureka moment. He tells me he had been struggling with how to render artistically the scope of “growing up.”

“I had kind of given up on the idea of it as a film. I wanted to write something, because I wanted to express all of this. Just as I sat down to write this – proving I’m not a novelist, I’m a filmmaker – I put my hands on the keyboard and I swear, boom. This idea comes to me. You could just film a little bit every year and then it would work and it would be this cumulative effect and flow. It was a new way to tell stories. Everything was right there: the 12-year grid, I call it. The institutionalized upbringing we all have, 1st grade through 12th grade. The tone of it. The transition. The feel. Everything kind of came in that one flash.”

The resulting film is a remarkable testament to the power of its premise, but it’s also much more than just that.

“I could explain it in those terms. Everyone will get older and we’ll play out all these years and then I’d say – well what happens? What’s the content? It’s just little moments of life. It’s not a huge, crazy, throttling narrative. It’s just this accumulation of time and so that was my other part that I didn’t talk about because that’s really the essence of the movie.”

Next to its ingenious premise, that’s what’s most daring about “Boyhood,” its low-key approach. Our lives growing up may be full of foreboding, for instance, but rarely does the worst come to pass. Mostly we just get on with life, and that’s what the boy, Mason (played by Ellar Coltrane) does: he puts up with his annoying sister, he camps-out with his absentee father, (played by Ethan Hawke,) and struggles with his step-dads. He confides in his Mom, (played by Patricia Arquette,) but also sees right through her.

Like all of us, he goes from being buffeted by life to, gradually, taking charge of it.

“I wanted it to mirror his perspective. When you’re young and sharing a bedroom with your siblings they’re in your face. They are such a part of your life and then you get a little older, they’ve got their own friends, they’ve got their own life,” says Linklater. “By the end it’s really just him. Less parents. Less siblings. It’s more just him, him, him. So I knew it would kind of peel off.”

Linklater says he especially enjoyed marking the year-by-year physical evolution of Mason/Ellar.

“It was fun for me to realize, ‘Oh, they’re going through and awkward age.’ The makeup lady would be like, he’s got some pimples on his forehead, should we cover them up? And I’d be like, ‘Hell no!’ That’s what it’s about. I want to see those pimples.”

Over the course of those long 12 years, did Linklater’s interest or passion for the project ever waver?

“You don’t allow your mind to go there. You’re committed. It’s like a long term relationship. You have your ebb and flow. I’m busy, I came off this thing I’m doing, and now, Ethan’s or Patricia’s schedule we have to shoot that in four weeks […] let’s do it. You man up. You’re committed. But no one really wavered.”

Now that the shooting is over, and the film is finally complete, how would the Richard-Linklater-of-12-years-ago react to the finished project?

“He would be greatly relieved. On all fronts.”

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