As the titular boy in Boyhood, Ellar Coltrane has spent the past 12 years working on the same movie – having his every haircut, pimple and adolescent Facebook rant captured on film. Director Richard Linklater cast him at age six with the loose concept of blending fact and fiction to create an authentic coming of age story. The result – co-starring Ethan Hawke (the dad), Patricia Arquette (the mom) and the director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater (the sister) – is being hailed as a masterpiece, almost certainly bound for awards-season glory. Here, Coltrane talks about his home-schooled past, his newfound fame and what he was really smoking on screen.
What’s the more arduous undertaking – shooting a 12-year movie or the ensuing press tour?
Ha. This is the hard part. Of course it’s incredible to share the movie with people and have it be appreciated, but everything I gained from being involved in this process, I gained from making it. This side of things is very strange.
Is there a question you are so incredibly sick of answering?
Well, the one that’s difficult is pretty logical: What does it feel like to watch yourself grow up on screen? It’s such an abstract thing – emotional, surreal. I don’t know how to answer except it feels really, really weird.
Two of your co-stars are very high-profile actors, and yet I don’t think I ever heard anything about this project. Was there an effort to keep it under wraps?
To some extent. Somebody did talk to Variety after the first year of filming, so there was a little piece on it. It was up on IMDB. If you researched it, you could find out, but really I don’t think most people cared. [Even the people I know] kind of lost interest. You tell someone you’re in a movie and it’s like, “Cool,” but then you tell them it comes out in 10 years and they’re like, “Oh, good luck with that.”
Boyhood is kind of the epitome of a sum being greater than the whole of its parts.
That’s the amazing thing. Storytelling in general [these days] is so focused on these hyper-dramatic moments, these big set pieces, huge tragedies, heroes, moments of profound character development. Life just isn’t really like that. It causes a lot of people, maybe especially people my age, to feel like their life is invalid, because it’s not full of [all of these profound moments], because you’re not Harry Potter, no one’s trying to kill you. Just having all of these little moments all together. It’s comforting.
You signed on when you were six years old. How could you be so sure that you weren’t going to, say, lose interest at 10?
Legally, you can’t contract anybody past seven years, especially a kid, so I think really they just hoped for the best. If I had wanted to stop, they couldn’t have really done anything. It was just always a positive experience, so that just never really became an issue.
Linklater has said that one of the reasons he cast you is because most of the kids were trying to please him and you just “didn’t give a shit.” Do you remember being like that?
Vaguely. I was going to a lot of auditions at that point in time – you would do maybe three auditions and then you would finally get to meet the director and he’s wearing designer clothes and he doesn’t look you in the eye, but then Richard was wearing a T-shirt and he spoke to me like a person, not a pet. I guess I was a pretty [different kind of kid]. I was home-schooled. My parents are pretty freaky people.
Linklater has also said he didn’t want your character, Mason, to experience anything before you had experienced it in real life. So, I guess you weren’t afforded a lot of privacy?
He wasn’t interrogating me, or anything. It was more like if I had a girlfriend, then he would know it was time to have Mason kissing a girl. He’d ask me about my life – you’re hanging out with your friends, what sort of stuff are you guys doing? Are you drinking a beer?
You were filmed through a lot of experimentation. In the scenes were you were experimenting with beer, pot – were you actually drunk or stoned?
No, not … no. That was basil and ginger ale.
Okay, time for some rapid-fire questioning. Who has better taste in music: Ellar or Mason?
I do. I don’t really know what Mason listens to, but I’m going to say me.
Who had better luck with girls: Ellar or Mason?
I think Mason. I’m very awkward.
Which one of you is more likely to be president?
Me. I can be ferocious. And it would probably be weird to elect a fictional character president.
Who was more devastated by the buzz-cut scene: Ellar or Mason?
Definitely Mason. I was happy. It’s hot in Texas and they had asked me to grow my hair out for several months, so I was excited to have it cut off.
You’ve seen the movie several times now. Is there a part that always makes you cringe?
I guess most of high school. I was a cocky, little [jerk], so it’s a little bit embarrassing, some of my rants. A lot of things [Mason] talks about were things that I was talking about and thinking about at the time. He has a lot of thoughts on Facebook and the evils of social media, which I agree with.
I was watching an interview with Ethan Hawke who said, “If somebody doesn’t like this movie, I feel active anger toward them.” Do you feel the same way?
Actually, no. It kind of makes me happy when people don’t like it. Everyone loves it so much. It’s this weird ego thing that can be very uncomfortable. It’s good to hear that somebody doesn’t like me.
Has anyone actually said that? I’ve heard nothing but heaps and heaps of praise.
There’s been very, very little [negative response]. I think Armond White [noted New York film critic] wrote a scathing review, but that’s what he does. There was a French publication that didn’t like it. On Twitter, Women’s Wear Daily posted a very critical article about my physical appearance.
Welcome to Hollywood, baby!
I know. I drew a picture [based on their unflattering description] and posted it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.