Much of the film is inspired by Linklater's own life and he cast Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason's divorced parents, and his own daughter, Lorelei, as Mason's sister. All agreed to the unconventional project, which Linklater had mapped out but was never sure exactly where it would go.
The director sat down with Moviefone (while an exhausted Coltrane took a nap in the same room) at the film's Los Angeles junket to discuss how his own daughter wanted to bail on the film, forcing Ethan Hawke to wear Dockers, and waiting to see what kind of kid Mason was going to grow up to be.
Moviefone: How many actors did you audition for the part of Mason?
Richard Linklater: I forget the number of kids I met. A lot. Not like 500, but 30 or so.
Did you know right away when you met Ellar Coltrane that he was the right kid?
Not right away. A lot of callbacks. It's such a big decision. It was kind of weighing different types and I just had to think I'll go down the road of the more arty, ethereal, interesting kid. It was just clear Ellar wasn't coming from any mold or cookie cutter. There wasn't a lot of "he's going to be class president kind of kid." He was going to be his own guy, make his own choices.
Was there ever a point during those 12 years where you asked yourself "What am I doing?"
No, never. You can't ever really let your mind go there.
But your daughter, Lorelei asked you to kill off her character at one point.
Well, it's true. She asked me, "Can my character, like, die?" That was more father/daughter at that moment. When was it that she was wanted out of the movie? It was around the Harry Potter time. She didn't want to dress up [for the scene where they go to the midnight book store release]. Maybe she thought she was too cool. And she didn't get [to dress up as] Hermione, she got McGonagall. Harry Potter was so real to her, she thought I was kind of invading her space. She didn't like the idea that we were filming it. I only found this out like last week.
Did you ever consider making the movie about her and naming it "Girlhood" instead?
Well, I think it is. It's "Parenthood," it's "Girlhood." I just picked the young boy's point of view because that was my point of view. I was just gauging my own memories and ideas. But I think it's also about her. She's a really strong character, particularly in the first half of the movie where the older siblings do kind of dominate. They're a big part of your life for the longest time.
How much of this is based on your own childhood? Did you ever get a shotgun as a birthday present?
Yeah. That actually happened to me. And the Bible. You gotta put them together. That was my Redneck Bar Mitzvah year of 13. I was in seventh grade.
Did you have a firm idea of where the film was going to go, or did you just wing it?
Both. It was pretty locked-in, on one hand. It was the 12 years, it ends with him in college, that last shot. I knew Patricia would get divorced the second time, she'd take the job and move. I had it all planned out where he'd have a second family. It was all the physical, big stuff, moves and basic trajectories. That was all kind of mapped out. The little stuff of every year was kind of more loose. I had that year to think about it. This particular methodology allowed that, so it would be crazy not to take advantage of it.
Did you look at the early footage, or let it sit and come back to it later?
I edited it as we went. It was like writing, if you're writing a long novel. I'd edit, attach the new footage. Edit the whole thing again. Watch it. Go shoot a movie, do something else, come back, watch it. Think about whatever's coming up, what's working, what isn't.
You were locked in because you couldn't ever go back and reshoot those early scenes.
You can't ever reshoot!
So you never had a moment where you wished you'd done something different a few years back?
No. No. You don't allow yourself. It's not a practical, productive way to think. You have to just do your best in that moment. That's why you work so hard in the year before. I've always been one of those [directors] who plans a lot. I've never reshot, even on $30 million movies. I really work hard and rehearse a lot and plan it out and make it work. If you do all that, you don't need to reshoot.
You worked so many times with Ethan Hawke, who plays Mason's father. How has your relationship changed over the years?
We realized, when we were going over to Vienna, that we were there 20 years ago for the first time working together. What an interesting journey we've had. Wouldn't have predicted it [after "Before Sunrise"]. When it was over, it was "Are we ever going to work together again?" and I said, "Well, I hope so." You just don't know the future. Ethan's an enthusiast. He's a really gung-ho, restless artist guy. I threw out this idea to him and he was like, "That's a great idea. Yeah!" That's who I want to work with, the engaged, thinking, feeling person. That's Ethan.
How hard was it to get him in Dockers or whatever those "dad pants" are?
[Laughs] It was a sad trajectory. I was like, "Yep, here comes the minivan. It's comin'." We had a lot of fun with it, actually. That's my GTO [that Hawke drives in the film.] And I haven't sold it, by the way. [Unlike Hawke's character, who swaps it for the minivan once he gets a new wife and baby.]
Have you promised the GTO to any of your children (as Mason claims his dad did in the film)?
Never. Hell no. [Grins] Although Lorelei would very much like it. I'm like, "You're too crappy a driver to have my car."
"Boyhood" reminded me of "The Graduate," partly because there are all these scenes of adults giving Mason advice, most of it that he's never going to use. Did you get a lot of advice doled out to you at that age?
It seems like these older people were trying to manipulate me in some way. Looking back, they mean well. They're giving you their experience. But it made me feel like everything that was coming my way as a young person was for my future self. Like it was geared into molding me into a productive citizen, whatever that is. I just felt like everything was at the service of something else. You go back and you listen to the photography teacher who gives Mason a lecture in the dark room. There's a certain dickish quality about that guy. But then he's really sincere.
But if you could go back and listen to all those pieces of advice, you'd probably hear kindness, that people really were trying to help in whatever limited way they could. The world offers you a lot of opinions and options and it's up to you to develop a filter that can process and make your own choices. Most if it's rejecting. You gotta say no to so much. You define yourself more by what you're rejecting than what you're saying yes to.
That seems to be where we leave Mason. He knows what he doesn't want to do but he's not sure what he does want.
That's a good start. That's a really good start. Because then you're honing in on what you should be spending your time and passion doing. Were the photographs in the movie really shot by Ellar? Those were more coming from the art department, we had a really good set photographer, but Ellar was shooting through the whole movie. I would have predicted, around age 6, when I first met him -- because his dad's a musician -- that maybe he'd be in a band. But I was happy to see him be more observational. I was a writer/photographer kinda guy. Less extroverted. I wasn't an actor or musician.
So would you ever do this again?
This methodology? It's probably for someone else to jump on. I've had 12 years to think about it and I have come across other stories where it does jump in my mind, "Oh, let's just film this one scene and put it on the shelf for 10 years and then we can pick up... Oh, she goes into a coma for 10 years..." It has a certain narrative storytelling possibility, for sure. It's powerful, it really is powerful, I think. It's amazing no one's done it, but I understand why no one has. It's so impractical. You just don't know. It's that unknown. We're control freaks, we want to control everything, by allowing the big gap, you're giving up a lot of control.
One of your first films, "Dazed and Confused," has had such a long life, especially the Wooderson character. [Matthew McConaughey even did a music video as the character a while back.] Did you ever think that was going to be the case?
It's time for me to sue them for my end! And get some overages I never got. It just hits me whenever I talk about that movie. I'll have to look into that. They were so proud of how the soundtrack did. I picked every song on that album.
I know fans talk about a sequel. Is that something you've ever considered?
We had a 20-year reunion at the New York Film Festival last year. It was a lot of fun. Everybody's great.
Do you have any plans to work with Matthew McConaughey again?
I hope so. I've worked with him three times. I would like to do some more. He and I, we're friends and he's such a good actor, but we're not going to push it. We've floated stuff by each other over the years, but we're not going to do it just because we're buddies. It's gotta be right. It's almost like, you don't want to disrespect the friendship. I feel that way about Ethan, too. We float stuff by each other. It just works out sometimes, sometimes it doesn't. Who knows?
"Boyhood" expands to more theaters Friday, July 11.
Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP