I was jumping for joy last night when Patricia Arquette won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, not to mention when Richard Linklater won Best Director and Boyhood as Best Dramatic Film of the year. This unusual project, which took over 12 years to make, was my favorite film of the year and I thought that Patricia Arquette’s performance was extraordinary and a linchpin for the movie. As Olivia, the harried mother of two young children, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and the ex-wife of Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke), Arquette’s character ages and grows along with the rest of the cast. Shooting this film was transformative for everyone involved, and Patricia was so committed to her role that she never wanted it to end. I so enjoyed talking to the talented actress about this role when the film came out last summer.

boyhood-arquette1Danny Miller: I don’t want to sound like a lunatic, but I think this film is a masterpiece! And I don’t think I’ve used that word to describe a film since Robert Altman’s Nashville which came out in the 1970s.

Patricia Arquette: Thank you, I’m so happy to hear you say that — and I love Nashville, too!

Did you fully grasp what you were signing on for 12 years ago?

When Rick first called me about the idea of doing this movie — it felt almost like when love comes in your life and you just can’t say no. Every cell in my body said yes and it was only after we talked that I realized I probably should have found out what my part was! But it almost didn’t matter, I knew I had to do it.

How different was it working on this film than other movies you’ve made?

We never had a script all the way though. As an actor, you usually plot your character’s emotional arcs according to the script so this was very different even though Rick was very clear about the major plot points. We would start talking about what we were going to do each year a few weeks before the shoot. We’d meet up and workshop the scenes. Everyone would contribute different things and it would be this wonderful amalgamation.

Were there times you and Richard Linklater had different visions of your character?

Yes. There were a few choices I didn’t think Olivia would make — at least my concept of Olivia. Like when the stepfather saw Mason’s painted nails and made fun of him, I thought Olivia should stand up to him and say something. And Rick really didn’t. We had a conversation about that and I thought what he said made a lot of sense. My character had blinders on at that point. This could be a moment in Mason’s life where he would later ask his mother, “Remember when that happened?” and she might not even remember it. She would say, “Are you sure it happened that way? I don’t think so, because I definitely would have said something!” We all have these blinders at certain points in our lives. This was a woman raised in Texas in a certain family and she felt at that point that there are some things that you just leave to men to work out — and she may not have been in a position to take on a fight at that moment.


I talked to Lorelei and Ellar about what it was like to finally see the finished film. Lorelei seemed pretty traumatized about it, Ellar said it was therapeutic. What was your reaction when you saw the movie?

It was really, really weird. I chose to see it for the first time with an audience of about 1200 people at Sundance. The thing is, I was excited about aging on screen. Sometimes as an actor, people tend to freeze you in a certain period when they saw you in something and I think Ethan and I have been frozen in some people’s minds for a long time so I was looking forward to blowing that into a million pieces. I also wanted to age naturally for my own ego, for acting, for women, for everything. So I was excited about seeing that, but I somehow didn’t expect it to be that dramatic! Even when you’re looking forward to it, it still does a number on your ego!

Were there certain moments when you were watching through your closed fingers?

I was doing that through the whole movie! But here’s what was so interesting, Danny. We never had a full script. When you have that, you not only know what you’re doing, you know what everyone else is doing. And part of what moved me very intensely when I watched the movie was watching Ethan as Mason, Sr. My character and Ethan’s have so much resentment against each other for choices they made early on and things they perceived about each other. As far as Olivia was concerned, she had to shoulder all of the financial responsibility for the kids while he was trolloping around and being the fun dad. It was very hard on her, and she resented him for that while he thought she was this big ball buster. So when I finally watched the movie and saw all of those beautiful contributions he made as a father, I thought, wow, if only Olivia could have seen that. That was the weirdest thing — I felt like I was watching the movie but also that my character was watching it through my eyes and getting to see these private moments between him and the kids. If only she could have seen some of those moments over the years, she would have been able to release so much.

Which exactly mirrors real life. We don’t get to see those moments so it’s easier to blame other people in our lives for everything! Honestly, I think we could all carry this movie into our therapy sessions.

Yeah, I think it really helped me to process some of my own past relationships and start looking at them in a different way — with a lot more gratitude. I learned so much from this movie — not just as an actor, but as a human being. We had this incredible luxury over 12 years to weave this beautiful fabric. You start with a few strings, the next year you get a few more, and then you’re weaving sideways through those. We developed this cloth together, there was such a history. I also watched the movie on a third level: “Oh, that’s when Ethan got divorced, that’s when I got married. Oh, I had my daughter that year. Oh, I got divorced then, that was a tough year. Ellar’s sister was born then, there’s the year that Lorelei’s sisters were born.” There are so many layers within the layers.


It must have gotten to the point with Ellar and Lorelei where you felt excited about seeing your kids again!

Absolutely. I felt very maternal towards them. And let me tell you, we were so lucky that we all had the natures and personalities that we did. This was a really bare bones movie and you just couldn’t be a stinker about anything. One bad apple would have really spoiled the bunch!

There were so many things that could have gone wrong, including someone saying, “I’m done, I’m not coming back next year.”

Right. And you know, you can’t contractually hold anyone for more than seven years so someone could have said, “Yeah, I’ll come back, but I want $100,000.” And the fact that the main guy at IFC who was supporting the film was still in the same job 12 years later — that alone is miraculous in this business!

Did the long running time worry you at all?

I remember Rick saying early on that the movie was going to be over two hours. And me saying, “Oh, the movie theaters aren’t going to like that!” Just parroting this formulaic line that I’d heard. But Rick held firm and said, “Damn it, we took 12 years to make the movie, people are just going to have to take a little more than two hours to watch it!”

Let me just say that I’ve sat through 90-minute films that were excruciating and I never once looked at my watch during this film — I wish it were five hours! Were you surprised about the state that Olivia is in the last time we see her in the film?

I already sent my son off to college so I know what that’s like! Not to overdramatize it, but I think when you do that for the first time it almost feels like a death. I’m not going to have my child anymore, I’m not going to be a parent anymore, my child is gone. But about five days later you hear, “Mom, I forgot my insurance card!” Two days later, you get another call, “Mom, I’m sick, what do I do? What kind of Vitamin C should I take? Where do I buy it?” (Laughs.) It’s not a death, you’re still a parent. But it is an adjustment.

I love that nothing “huge” happens in this movie, just the hugeness of real-life experiences.

Nobody has this perfect life where pain doesn’t come. We all have scarring moments, we all have scary experiences. But I’m so impressed by Rick — to be brave enough as a filmmaker to carry this film through 12 years in your crazy brain and to avoid all of that formulaic stuff is quite an achievement. Rick stuck to his guns that life was enough, the human experience was enough.