Ellar Coltrane Speaks Of Growing Up On Screen In 'Boyhood'

Film director Richard Linklater's latest movie, Boyhood, was shot over 12 years. NPR's Tamara Keith speaks with the star of the film, Ellar Coltrane, who spent over a decade shooting the movie.

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TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

The film "Boyhood," which opened last night in LA and New York, was shot over 12 years. The result is a time lapse of childhood. No special effects, just the sometimes dramatic changes that can take place from year to year - both physically and emotionally. We are joined now by Ellar Coltrane who plays Mason, Jr. - the boy of "Boyhood" - the main character who we see grow up on screen. And let's get something out of the way. This is not a documentary, right?

ELLAR COLTRANE: Yeah, that's correct. It does document the passage of time, in a way, but it is a very crafted story.

KEITH: I read that the director, Richard Linklater, didn't want Mason, Jr. to do anything on screen that you hadn't already done in your real life. So what was that process like? Did he call and say, hey, have you smoked yet?

COLTRANE: Right. I mean, he was never quite that direct about it, you know. He would kind of just keep in touch with me throughout the years between filming and I think just try and get a feel for where I was, you know. It's like there was a point where I, like, had a girlfriend so it was probably the case that I had kissed a girl before and that kind of thing. I mean, I think he tried not to put me on the spot too much.

KEITH: And so then you'd show up for your summer filming and, what do you know, you have a girlfriend who you're going to kiss on screen - is that how it worked?

COLTRANE: Yeah more or less. (Laughing).

KEITH: So did you ever find yourself doing things and then thinking, is this going to show up in the script?

COLTRANE: No, I mean, I'd have to do it in the movie. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, a lot of times he would even give me kind of assignments to sort of be thinking about and even taking notes on things that happened in my life to then use that material to, you know, supplement the character.

KEITH: Do you have an example?

COLTRANE: Well, the Sheena character, the girlfriend that - I mean, that conversation that I had with her was taken pretty directly from a similar conversation in my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BOYHOOD")

COLTRANE: (As Mason) I really like talking with you. I don't usually even try to, like, vocalize my thoughts or feelings or anything. Just, I don't know, it never sounds right. Words are stupid.

ZOE GRAHAM: (As Sheena) So, why are you trying with me?

COLTRANE: (As Mason) I don't know. I guess I feel comfortable.

GRAHAM: (As Sheena) I'm glad.

COLTRANE: He was, like, so next time you're, you know, he's going to have a girlfriend or he's going to meet a girl next year. So next time you're alone with a girl for the first time just, you know, think about what you say.

KEITH: Did that affect your conversation with girls?

COLTRANE: Probably so. That's something I thought about a lot. I mean, I was already a pretty introspective person but being tasked to take notes on my social interactions, I'm sure, added a new level to that.

KEITH: You're 19 years old now. You were 6 when you started this. Did you have any idea what you were getting into?

COLTRANE: As much as I could. You know, I mean, I was a pretty alert kid and I, you know, I was very interested in arts. So I understood, you know, how kind of strange it was and how big an undertaking it was. But there's also absolutely no way to understand, like, how long 12 years is. I mean, it's hard now to wrap my head around the next 12 years. But when you've been alive, you know, half that long, it's a very abstract kind of concept.

KEITH: So all of us growing up, we have bad years or years where we were awkward or looked terrible or had lots of zits or whatever it was. And most of us are lucky enough not to have that particularly well documented.

COLTRANE: Right. And I've got a whole movie.

KEITH: You've got a whole movie. So what is it like to look at those sort of early teen years? Was it hard to watch your awkward years on screen?

COLTRANE: Yeah, I mean, it can be awkward sometimes but seeing it put together like that it kind of puts it in context and makes it - kind of makes it easier to go easy on myself. And also it's just - I think if I let myself worry about, like, being embarrassed, you know, I would lose my mind.

KEITH: Do you have any sense at this point of how this experience is going to write itself in the narrative of your life? Is this going to be something you did when you were a kid or do you think this is going to be this thing that changed the trajectory of your life?

COLTRANE: I think it absolutely - I mean, it's a very large part of who I am. I mean, you know, having this very long-term and very focused, like, guided kind of outlet to throw myself into art and the creation of something was a really incredible therapeutic thing to have - especially as a teenager. I feel like it kind of showed me what I want to do with my life.

KEITH: Ellar Coltrane stars in the film "Boyhood." He joined us from our New York bureau. Thanks for joining us.

COLTRANE: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

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