While most people would call writer/director Richard Linklater’s new independent movie Boyhood one of the film industry’s most ambitious projects, the Austin-based, two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker describes it a bit differently.
“It was just such an impractical and crazy idea,” Linklater, 54, said during an interview with the Current after Boyhood premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in March. “It sort of defies typical, organizational thinking.”
Linklater, best known for films such as Dazed and Confused, School of Rock and the Before trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight), shot Boyhood over the span of 12 years with the same cast. The approach allows audiences to witness the film’s lead character Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) grow up right before their eyes. The film also stars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason’s divorced parents who try their best to create a stable upbringing for Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), despite life’s mad curveballs.
Boyhood is sort of in the same vein as your Before trilogy except that you didn’t make three films out of this story. Did you approach the projects the same way?
You know, they are two very long, time-based projects, but they’re very different. The Before trilogy had some gaps in time. Boyhood was a constant thing. It demanded to be told this way and required constant attention. With the Before films, I didn’t have to think about the next one for seven or eight years.
The script was completed prior to shooting, but it seems like you were open to adding to it. I mean, you include a scene referencing Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run, which I’m sure you didn’t know would happen six years prior.
Yeah, one year we were shooting in the fall during the Obama/McCain race and I thought the moment was worthy of adding in. Even if it didn’t end up being a huge cultural moment, it was real. We were just trying to be honest about that moment. The film wasn’t trying to reflect on too much pop culture. I wanted to reflect on what it’s like as a kid growing up and having everything coming at you—from the culture to the way you pick up on your parents’ politics. Everything is sort of in your face.
You know, most directors would’ve simply cast three or four actors to play Mason at different ages.
I think I just have more patience. I thought there would be more beauty this way. I mean, it’s completely understandable to do it the other way. You cast an actor as a kid and then you cut to a new actor as an adult. It only makes sense.
Yeah, but then sometimes they don’t even look alike.
They often don’t! I mean, I had to watch Goodfellas a few times to believe Henry and Tommy as kids grow up to be Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci since Pesci is older than Liotta in real life. But it doesn’t bother me. It’s all about the storytelling. But, yeah, Boyhood was just a whole different methodology. I was just trying to get in touch with that maturation process and make it feel very real and organic.
I really got a sense of that. It feels like it becomes more and more Mason’s story as the film moves forward year by year.
Yeah, as the film goes on, it becomes less about Samantha and the parents. When you’re a kid, you’re just being dragged along by the family. You don’t have your own motor. I knew as they years went by, it would be his story and everyone else would become supporting characters.
The music you chose is such an important aspect of the film. Why did you decide to set Boyhood to a soundtrack rather than, say, a traditional score?
I had to work through so many ideas to get this film where I wanted it to be. You couldn’t really impose anything on this film, so a score really didn’t work. I wanted songs that would evoke that period and make them from the characters’ point of view.
Something that really struck me was how you capture how easily people come in and out of each other’s lives. One day they’re there, and the next day they’re gone.
Yeah, I mean sometimes people move and you never see them again. I wanted this film to feel like a remembrance of the present. You mean to keep in touch, but you never really do.
So, any chance you go into another 12-year production and return to SXSW 2026 and premiere Manhood?
(Laughs) I don’t know about that. I was sort of on this grid for years 1-12 for this one—like first through 12th grade. I’m not sure what the next 12 years would look like.
Would you consider revisiting the Before series and making a fourth film somewhere down the line?
You know, it would be cool to do something really conceptual and take 30 years off and then come back and do a fourth one. That just might be my fate.
Dir. and writ. Richard Linklater; feat. Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater, Marco Perella, Jenni Tooley, Zoe Graham
Opens Fri, August 1 at the Santikos Bijou
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