Boyhood is one of the best films of the year for a number of reasons and so I was thrilled to speak with star Ellar Coltrane about his unique leading role. You can listen to the full interview by clicking here.
Matt: How old were you when filming commenced?
Ellar: I was 7 when we first started filming.
Matt: Can you remember a lot of the casting process? How did director Richard Linklater find you in the first place?
Ellar: Yeah, a little bit. I went to an audition and I was auditioning a lot at the time. He knew very much what the film was going to be but he didn’t have a script written so it was kind of just a conversation. He just wanted to get to know kids I guess and so he asked me about my art and my parents and my family and what I was interested in. It was pretty lengthy process. I think there were 7 or 8 call backs and then eventually he chose me.
Matt: Was there a broad script that stayed the same through the filming process or were changes made as you all got older and the story developed?
Ellar: It’s a mix of both. Richard had a very specific structure for the film and the changes that the family would go through. However, the dialogue and the more specific situational elements of each year were constantly being invented as we went along through a workshop process.
Matt: I’ve said this about Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy and I can say the same thing here – the dialogue seems so natural between the characters – such as the interaction between you and your father, mother and sister. Was it all scripted or was it a little looser?
Ellar: It was definitely always scripted on camera… but the dialogue was built through a very organic, collaborative and spontaneous process. He would come to us with an outline of the scene and some dialogue written. We would then kind of talk about it, improvise bits of dialogue, share our experiences and put some of our words in. Richard would then take all of that and turn it into a final draft which in some cases, was only being typed up a few hours before filming.
Matt: How long did it take to film each “year” of footage so to speak?
Ellar: Filming would be 3-4 days usually. The rehearsal and writing would be about a week before that.
Matt: It’s a long film at 2 hours, 45 minutes but like a few fellow critics have said, I could easily watch another 3 hours because I was so interested in the characters. Was there a lot of stuff left on the cutting room floor? Subplots that were deliberately left out of the final film?
Ellar: No, there isn’t much. There are a couple of scenes here and there but the reality is that we didn’t have a lot of time and so everything we shot is pretty much up there.
Matt: Were you able to talk to anyone about the project across the 12 years or did you have to keep it a secret?
Ellar: No, I wasn’t sworn to secrecy. They wouldn’t have wanted me to talk to a magazine about it but I was allowed to tell my friends and everything. There was a point when I stopped talking about it because it’s hard to describe and people didn’t really care.
Matt: One of the nice touches in the film is how it uses events to get a perspective of time – like when you’re buying a copy of the Harry Potter book and when you’re posting vote for Obama signs. How much thought when into picking just the right event for each time frame?
Ellar: That would be more a question for Rick I guess. I think it just happened naturally and they were things that were going on when Richard was writing the story for that year. Harry Potter was a huge deal at that point in time and it just seemed like something very specific. There hadn’t been anything like that before around a novel series. The same thing applied to the Obama election which is what was in the air at that point and something that you would remember.
Matt: Your hairstyle changes a lot in the film too to help let us know when we’ve skipped forward in time. Was that your own hairstyle or did you have to have it a certain way for Richard Linklater?
Ellar: No, most of those are just my haircuts.
Matt: The soundtrack is so diverse too! Did you get a lot of say in the songs your character would be listening to?
Ellar: No actually. The soundtrack is similar to what we were just talking about. It’s a time stamp to bring you back to that period of time. We used the songs that were in the air and were on the radio as things to remind you of that year. I never really listened to much current music as a kid and so I wasn’t much help on that front.
Matt: Did you get to see any of the film as it was being shot or did not really get a chance to see it until the very end?
Ellar: I didn’t see any of it until it was done.
Matt: Wow. What was your first reaction?
Ellar: It was intense and very emotional. It was a lot to take in at once but I thought it was really beautiful and comforting to be seeing yourself in that way. I felt vulnerable but seeing it all together in context like that made it very easier.
Matt: Most films take 1-2 months to shoot but spread over 12 years, what was it like when you shot the final scenes? Is there a tinge of sadness because it’s all over or is it something that you’re kind of relieved to finally complete?
Ellar: Both I think. It was a huge sense of relief but it was also quite sad. It was a very tender and dear process that we’d all come to enjoy and we also really cared about each other so there was a bittersweet-ness to realising that that would be the last time.
Matt: What’s it been like since the film’s release? Have you had a lot of reactions from friends and family? People actually recognising you on the street?
Ellar: Yeah. I have had a lot of people recognising me on the street over the past few weeks. Most of my friends and family have seen it and they all appreciate it and like it. But having people recognise me is kind of surreal.
Matt: The film premiered at Sundance but has since gone around the world. Have you had a chance to do a lot of travel with the film thus far?
Ellar: I’ve been travelling quite a bit. I went to London after I was in Sydney and other than that, I’ve been all around the United States. I also went to the Berlin Film Festival earlier in the year.
Matt: I guess the promotion of the film has been taking up a fair chunk of your time since the January premiere. Have you had to put your regular life on hold so to speak?
Ellar: Yeah, I definitely have. I don’t have much of a regular life right now. My whole life is promoting the film which is great. It’s incredible to be able to share it with people. It’s really inspiring to see people connect with it in such a genuine way. I feel comfortable expressing that so it’s been really great.