There are many coming-of-age films, but few are as special or singular as Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. The drama, now playing in theaters, was filmed for a few days each year starting in 2001, tracking the gradual growth of wide-eyed adolescent Mason from first grade to high-school graduation. What makes this portrayal of youth so unique is that the same actors were used each year. You literally watch Mason mature in front of your eyes.
Linklater struck gold when he cast unknown six-year-old Ellar Coltrane as Mason. (The success of this project did hinge a lot on the rookie actor’s shoulders.) Thankfully, Coltrane gives a remarkably natural and nuanced performance and, during the later years of this 12-year project, collaborated with the writer/director to include some of his own life experiences into Mason’s journey. The result is a candid, vivid, intimate portrayal of growing up.
We Got This Covered recently joined a roundtable interview with Ellar Coltrane in Toronto, where he discussed working with Linklater, which elements from his life he incorporated into the screenplay and his first reaction to the final cut.
Check it out below and enjoy!
When did you realize the scope of the film that you were making and who Richard Linklater was?
Ellar Coltrane: I had seen a lot of his films, even when we started. Waking Life was one of my favorite movies as a kid. It dawned on me gradually. But, as far as the scope of the film, I didn’t think about it that much when we were filming.
Isn’t it all eerie or strange to watch yourself progress and grow up in the film?
Ellar Coltrane: It’s incredibly surreal. I think that passage of time and the way you change and mature is really elusive. It’s something that a lot of art is trying to get at and something that almost everybody wonders about. You wonder how you’re changing from day to day. You can look in the mirror and look at pictures, but you can’t see it. To see it all together like that is very eerie, but beautiful.
What did you want from acting then and what do you want or don’t want from acting now?
Ellar Coltrane: I can’t exactly tell you from the six-year-old point-of-view. I mean, I liked it. I think all kids love pretending. It was something that I was good at and I was excited to work with directors and be treated like an equal. As a kid, you’re used to being talked to like a pet or something. Richard always just spoke to me candidly, like I was a person. A lot of it was just being a part of something and I didn’t really like being treated like a child.
Now, my interests have changed. For a long time, I really lost interest in acting. I always enjoyed this project very much but this was different. I didn’t pursue it for a long time. But looking back and in this process of talking about [Boyhood] so much, I’ve just seen how incredibly satisfying and beneficial it was to have that project to throw myself into and how much I enjoyed that. The opportunity to lose myself in the creative process – that’s what I want from acting.
To what extent was it easier or difficult to get away from the film as you were growing up? I know it’s only a few days during the year, but Richard was in contact with you and asking you about things that were going on to incorporate into the film.
Ellar Coltrane: I really didn’t have to think about it very much. It wasn’t invasive in a direct way. But it’s true, I was constantly being asked to analyze my own life and my interactions and my personality to then use in this script. It was very introspective. I stopped really talking about it at a certain point. With my first girlfriend, we had actually been dating for a year and then I had to go off and do this. And she’s like, “What?” I was like, “Oh, shit. There’s this whole piece that I have to do every year. I forgot [to tell you].”