Richard Roeper Blog

Q & A with “Boyhood” Writer/Director Richard Linklater

Last summer, Richard Roeper had a dinner conversation in Chicago with “Boyhood” writer/director Richard Linklater just prior to the film’s release. Since then, “Boyhood” has achieved nearly universal acclaim, with a 100% rating among “Top Critics” on Rotten Tomatoes (and a 98% favorable rating among all critics. “Boyhood” appeared on more critics’ Top 10 lists than any other 2014 release, with A.O. Scott of the New York Times, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune and RR among those putting at No. 1.

Linklater won the Golden Globe for Best Director, Patricia Arquette won the Globe for Best Supporting Actress and the film was a Golden Globe winner in the Drama category. When the Academy Award nominations are announced Thursday, it will be a monumental upset if the picture doesn’t receive multiple nominations.

What follows is an edited transcript of Richard’s conversation with Mr. Linklater.

RR: We’ve seen documentaries such as the “Up” series that revisit people as they age, but in the fictional realm, this
is something entirely different. When did this idea first pop into your head?

RL: I was thinking about this starting in the late 90s and by 2001, I think I had my idea for how to tell this particular story. I wanted to tell a story about growing up, but when you’re (dealing with that age range), it’s not as simple as saying, “Oh now you’re 60, we’ll gray your hair.” My ideas were all over the map, and I kind of given up and then—boom—just at the moment I had given up, this idea hit. In my mind, I was sitting watching one film that felt very continuous, just one thing, and then just everyone just aged and grew up and it would be one film and I saw my narrative of how to make this movie.

RR: So this wasn’t something you went into and just said we’ll see how it goes year to year. You had pretty a clear construction in mind?

RL: It hit all at once—first through 12th grade…the whole public education…go off to college at the end. Older sister, mom with the empty nest…I had it all structured —the divorces, all of it. But the luxury was having all that time. That was our strong point, all the gestation time—those 4,000 days we weren’t shooting to just edit, and I would just watch everything we had done up to that point over the year in the interim and just feel my way through it.

RR: You knew Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette were pros and they were going to be able to revisit the characters every year and inhabit them again. The real risk was in casting the child actors—Ellar Coltrane as Mason, and your own daughter Lorelei as his older sister Samantha.

RL: That was the really volatile element in the chemical equation that could blow up, but it was also–you had to think of it as that was the fun thing, that was the secret sauce that would make it what it is. That would be a fun thing to look forward to. The film was just going to kind of gradually adjust itself to where the kids

RR: On year your daughter asked if maybe her character would be killed off. You also couldn’t know in advance if Ellar was going to be a good actor as a teenager—or if he would even want to continue to be in the film.

RL: Yeah, it was a huge leap of faith. You’re kind of casting the parents to a degree—his parents are artists and he wasn’t some kid off the street, he had been in a movie a couple of friends of mine had worked on, and they said “Oh, he’s a really good kid,” they liked working with him, so you know—little things. And kids like movie sets, there’s a lot of food, a lot of fun stuff going on, all these adults giving them their attention.

RR: Ellar was seven when you started shooting. There are so many things you don’t even remember happening to you at that age.

RL: He said when he saw the movie he didn’t even remember being there so much. My only hope was that he would kind of incrementally age into it and get a bigger understanding for what it was. He said about half way through for sure, he kind of thought like “Hmmm …wow …what a thing.” He could grasp it a little more at the halfway point.

RR: When we look back at your own childhood and teen years, it’s not as every single year carries the same weight. The film reflects that. Some years are more pivotal than others.

RL: Each year it kind of wanted to be its own thing. I wanted it all to feel like a memory of some kind, just some flowing thing.

RR: Then there’s all the pop culture stuff. Shooting in nearly real time, year by year, certain influences are pretty obvious. Other times, you’re guessing what will endure as a touchstone.

RL: Yeah, that was part of the collaboration with the unknown future. As it was happening you’re just kind of going, well is this significant? Would you remember this moment?
It’s funny how certain things age and how certain things get a laugh now. The Harry Potter scene, with the kids lining up for a midnight book party—they didn’t do that when I was a kid, they may never do that again. It’s kind of like the Apollo space program when I was as a kid. The stuff about the Obama campaign—we shot that before he won the election. But obviously no matter how it turned out, you would remember that election.

RR: Another thing I loved about the film was the big sister–little brother dynamic. At the beginning of the story Samantha’s a bratty little girl tormenting her brother with a Britney Spears song. By the time he’s a senior in high school and she’s off at college, they’re getting to that point where she knows she’ll be looking out for him for the rest of their lives. They’ll be friends.

RL: By the time she’s in college and he’s visiting she’ll lie for him. They had the same kind of dynamic off screen over the years.

RR: Did you ever show the kids the footage?

RL: No not the kids, they never asked. Patricia and Ethan were seeing it–Ethan a little more than Patricia. He’s more of a collaborator. I was thinking the kids might get self –conscious… it’s a unique position to see your physicality documented. It’s not a documentary about you, but it’s YOU, it’s how you looked at a certain place in time and it’s a trip for both of them.

RR: For the first time in a dozen years, you’re not planning the next round of shooting with these characters. Even though the reception to this film has been extraordinary, has it been tough to let go? It’s almost like you’re parallel with Patricia Arquette’s character in the film, having to say goodbye to Mason as he leaves the nest.

RL: As wonderful as the reception has been, it HAS been difficult to let go. I think I won’t fully let go until around the holidays.

RR: Seeing as how you returned twice to the Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy characters in the “Before” movies, I’m sure you’re getting the question: are we going to see what happens to Mason and Lorelei and their parents 10 or 15 years from now?

RL: That’s like asking a mother right after she’s given birth if she’ll have another baby way down the road. I haven’t even thought about that, but I would never say it’s never going to happen.

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