Patricia Arquette discusses her role in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, shot over 11 seminal years in a young man’s life.
Patricia Arquette discusses her role in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, shot over 11 seminal years in a young man’s life. As Olivia, Arquette (True Romance, Medium, Boardwalk Empire) is more than just your run-of-the-mill movie mum. Arquette talks shaping and shifting her character over the decade spent in production. Boyhood is stunning for so many reasons, particularly the scope. How did you react when that was explained to you? I was so excited when I first heard about it. Immediately, it was so exciting as an artist to get an opportunity to work on a project like this; to document a boy starting first grade and graduating from 12th grade… to watch these kids grow up and watch me and Ethan [Hawke] get older… You can’t contractually oblige someone for over seven years in America, so it really was just that everyone really wanted to return to make this movie. How far ahead was it scripted? When Rick [Linklater] first called me about this idea I said, “Oh yeah, great, I wanna do it! I should read the script!” and he was like, “I don’t really have a script.” But he did tell me in that first conversation all the main changes my character was going to go through and the family was going to go through… But it was a weird mixture of keeping things open to see… who [the kids] became, and what the world was like in 12 years, and a structure. So we never were improvising. There’s only one scene that’s improvised on set. All the rest of the scenes were written the year before that year we were about to shoot. We would then workshop it and improvise and then Rick would re-write everything. Your character Olivia isn’t just a ‘clothes horse’, or a plot device for the kids’ characters to rebel against. How did you go about building her? Some of it I pulled from my own mum. There were weird crossovers too in this movie. Like Rick’s mum and my mum had both gone back to school, they’d both taught, they’d both gone into therapeutic sciences. Ethan’s dad and Rick’s dad had both gone into the insurance business and had happy second marriages. So there was this weird crossover we were all pulling from. Parts of it were friends’ of mine experiences, my own experiences, my mother – remembering her – and some of it was just fictitious. Building a character, pulling from all the different resources that you have. But there’s not really anything in the movie that wasn’t from someone’s real experience. Part of what is beautiful, and Ethan pointed this out, he said, “This is a woman you pass on the street every day, that you see in your own life. She might be your sister, your cousin, your daughter, somebody. Your mother, your friend… but it’s not really a person that people take a lot of time to see in a movie.” To explore. While [Boyhood’s] definitely about the kids, I think all the parents are really fleshed out. How does this character differ to other roles you find yourself being offered right now? Well right now I’ve been working on CSI: Cyber and my character doesn’t have kids, and a lot of my character in Boyhood, she’s very maternal. That’s a big part of her life, is being a mother. That in itself is really a big difference. The weight of responsibility to other people is a different thing to carry in your life, and also the joy that comes from parenting is a different thing. I mean, I’m sure right now if I wasn’t working I’d be getting offered a lot of ‘mum’ parts [laughs]. It’s funny how people don’t have that much imagination in casting, often. But I’m glad I really got to reach in because I became a mum at 20 myself, so I’ve been a parent my whole life pretty much. More than half of my life. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t been a mum. Do you ever wonder? Well my dad said when I was two or three, he asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up and I said, “Be a mum.” I think it was just such a critical part of me, I don’t think I could have not been a mum in some way or other. What impact did the length of the shoot have on you as a performer, while dipping in and out, working on other stuff in between? The first conversation I had with Rick, he told me about this idea, I said I wanted to do it… then we spent several hours talking about parenting and our parents, people we know who are parents, and really that’s the same movie that he made. The weird thing is, I felt like I got that character from that first conversation. Part of the process of coming back every year, Rick would write that year’s work, we would come, we would all read it together, we would workshop it, improvise it, he would re-write it. That in itself was such a re-bonding and another layer of exploring the character that, weirdly, it wasn’t that difficult to come in and out of it. I think I really felt this woman from the first conversation I had with him. I think a lot of actors would be afraid of the way that process was. Often as an actor you really depend on your script to be able to chart your character and to be able to make a performance where the high and lows are, and how they change. But in life, we really don’t know what’s going to be happening in five years, who we will love, who will be living with us, what our job will be, where our health will be. These are things that reveal themselves and we all just surrender to the adventure of discovering the changes. That’s so cool. What was really cool about it was playing blind spots. A lot of times when you have a character and you have a whole script, you eliminate a lot of the blind spots, or the script does, or the writer does… There are blind spots we all have and they’re all different. We don’t even know that we’re making these mistakes or these habits we have or things we don’t see in our own lives. To be able to play those things; how, even as you’re growing, you’re still holding on to certain blind spots, that was really interesting. That was really nebulous territory. Do you feel like the experience changed the way you look at parenting, or perhaps your life outside of parenting? I really looked at this movie as such an artistic, human experience; a beautiful, artistic experience that I wish for everyone, to work with other people that you respect and care for. We all had a very similar feeling about how to work, about what human beings mean to each other. It’s really changed me, or moved me in a very profound way, and really enriched my life, the experience of making it. The hardest thing was finishing making it. I’m still really trying to come to terms with not shooting it anymore, because it was really incredible. But I had some epiphanies in watching it. Because we didn’t have a full script at the beginning, there would be a scene where Mason says he’s going to sleep at his friend’s house and then he goes and does something else. So in the course of watching the movie, my character was also making discoveries watching the movie. She got to see what he really went and did and what conversations were had. My character got to see how Mason Sr., Ethan’s character, really was with his kids. Maybe she had a lot of understandable resentments against him for not being there and not contributing equally. Still, he was an incredible dad and what he did give those kids was incredible. That made me think that we resent a lot of people in our lives without seeing the full picture of what they’re contributing. In light of all this, how do you personally think we can best encourage young people to flourish? I think it is important to give them space to figure out who they are individually, and also to give them rules and boundaries that are safe and loving for them while they’re maturing and their brains are coming to a point of being able to make logical choices and seeing the ramifications of things. But I think a lot of it has to do with loving them, who they are, and letting them grow to their interests and supporting that. One of the last moments in this film that looks like a documentary, Ellar looks right into the lens at one point – breaks the fourth wall – and smiles right at the audience like ‘This is our movie! This is a movie about human beings!’ This is yours too. Boyhood is in cinemas now