Boyhood: Patricia Arquette Talks Momhood and Armpits

Boyhood Patricia Arquette

Boyhood sort of implies there will be Momhood and Dadhood too. While the subject of Boyhood, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) come from a broken home, both mom (Patricia Arquette) and dad (Ethan Hawke) are still in the picture. Richard Linklater shot the film over 12 years to portray the gradual growth of Coltrane from a child into a man, and the supporting cast along with him. We got to sit down with Arquette to talk about the magnitude of this project, and a few of our favorite Patricia Arquette movies.

Related: Watch An Exclusive Ethan Hawke Interview from SXSW 2014

CraveOnline: There is a version of this movie that’s shot like any other movie, maybe take three months to shoot it, cast two sets of kids, age up the parents periodically. How special was it to wait in real time for real events to happen?

Patricia Arquette: I mean, I got so excited when Rick first told me about the project. I wanted to do it so bad. Then I was like, “What is my part?” That was secondary to the experience of it. The other day, I was thinking you could do a film like that over three months and you could age up, say we were 33 when we started it, me and Ethan, and we aged ourselves down and we aged ourselves up. You could act older but you wouldn’t really make the same choices in the moment that you would make when you really are that age. It’s different. You have a different knowledge of the world, experiences you’ve gone through, pain. Things that are layered. Also to watch the kids grow up like that over all these years, we built this history together and this wealth of life together and this knowledge of each other and the changes that we all bond through. I think that’s part of what’s in this movie.

Did you start to feel parental as you saw Ellar and Lorelei every year?

I do feel very maternal towards them, yeah. I do.

Because it’s Richard Linklater, the parents also talk to their children about very intelligent things. Did that stand out to you?

Yeah, it did. Even though my character, Olivia, has a lot of resentment for Mason Sr. which is Ethan Hawke’s character, when I got to see the movie, in a weird way it was like me watching the movie but also my character watching the movie. Because we never had a full script to go from, I never knew their scenes really. So when I got to see the movie, my character also got to see the whole movie and I got to see who this dad was with his kids. Even though this mom really resented him for the decisions he’d made that affected her negatively and her being able to support the kids and all of that, she also got to see the beautiful things. When you look at it all in the bigger picture, I think it’s easier to let resentment go.

I also noticed she might be fighting with Mason Sr. or flirting with the teacher, but all the adult stuff happens in the background from the kids’ perspective. Did that make playing those scenes any different?

A little bit. I mean, we definitely would talk about the idea of seeing your mom flirting with someone or having someone take a sexual interest in your mom. How is that to start to see that happening? But it definitely always was really about the kids, and about flawed people and about everybody growing up. It wasn’t just about the kids growing up which is incredible, and growing into these incredible people but it was also about the parents changing too.

Did filming Boyhood ever interrupt your regular gigs like “Medium?”

No, it didn’t. We would all work around different movies. Sometimes it would be like, “Well, Ethan’s not available until this month” and I’d be like, “Okay, I’m going to ask for a four day weekend but I can’t get it until this period of time.” Or, “I could probably only get away a little while because we’re coming to the end of the season and we’re behind” or whatever thing it was. It was a lot of juggling that the production team really had to deal with.

Was Ethan cast from the beginning? He doesn’t show up until year three or so, so did you know who was playing the ex-husband from the beginning?

Yeah, I knew the whole time. When Rick first called me, he told me that. I always wanted to work with Ethan so that was nice. We didn’t have a lot of scenes and that was something we really wanted to have more of. So it was nice to have that scene at the end by the sink.

Why do you think things didn’t work out for Olivia and Mason Sr.?

I think he felt a little trapped. He was struggling with his youth and transitioning into this responsibility sometimes can sometimes feel shocking, and it can feel entrapping. It can feel like more than you can handle sometimes. I think he just wasn’t ready for it. He just wasn’t ready for that. He was still figuring out who he was.

Whose house did you shoot at and did you go back every year that the family lived in that house?

I think there was a couple years that we shot in someone from the crew’s house. Then there would be apartments. I think we ended up even moving one year because I was supposed to live a couple years in an apartment, but even though we signed an agreement with them, they reneged or the renter wouldn’t let us so we had to change things. You have to have a flexibility with this kind of a project.

“Medium” was seven years and a lot more episodes, but have you ever had an experience like this where you got to follow a character for 12 actual years?

No. No. It was pretty amazing.

Did it affect your acting in any ways that you take into future roles?

Hmm, that’s a good question. You know what was one of the million things that was really incredible about this movie was it was truly incredibly collaborative. The producer had said when she dropped her daughter off at school, “This is the worst day of my life.” A friend of mine’s son had broken a pencil sharpener with a rock. My mom used the name Olivia when she was younger. That’s where we got that name from. The character is such an amalgamation and usually as an actor you have a script before and you plot out how you’re going to play every scene. You know everything else that’s happening in the movie and in this case that wasn’t it. You had to keep the characters open enough to figure out who they were that year, what subtle changes had happened, how they would respond to things. It was just amazing to work in that way.

Had you done improvisational films before?

The weird thing is, I wouldn’t even consider this an improvisational film because we always had a script by the day we shot. And it was pretty strict to that script. We might change a word here and there, experiment a little bit with the ending but we would workshop it. That’s when we did the improvisation. We would workshop each year but then by the time we went to shoot it, we had a finished script we would go from.

I’ve always wondered about the armpit scene in Flirting With Disaster? Was that weird or fun to do?

Well, I came up with that because I wanted to show, she’d been in a relationship for a long time, they were sort of taking each other for granted and had lost a little bit of their sexual sparkle with each other. He was kind of playing with this dangerous idea of moving outside the relationship, temptation. At that moment, she’s with someone else and I wanted to show how weird the dating pool can be and how uncomfortable you could be with this other person, you don’t know their body. All those things that you took for granted, you might really miss a lot and it might be strange to be out there in the world.

We imagine coordinating love scenes with another actor, but that must have been a new precedent.

Well, poor Josh Brolin because I used deodorant that day. He’s like, “God, did you use deodorant?” It was on his tongue.

Better than if you hadn’t!

I know, I know.

What are some other films of yours that you look back on fondly?

I’m really sad about Tony Scott. That was a great experience to have [on True Romance]. Working with David Lynch on Lost Highway was great. Indian Runner was really important for me also. I got to work with a lot of amazing directors. Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, John Boorman. I was thinking the other night, I never really tried or wanted to be the world’s biggest star. I wanted to be a good actress, not that I always felt that I accomplished that, but I wanted to work on projects that I loved. I feel like I’ve done that for the most part and there’s no one else’s career I would trade mine for. I feel like I’ve been really, really lucky and I follow my heart a lot.

With True Romance, you wouldn’t have heard of Tarantino before. When you read that script, were you like, “Who is this guy?”

Well, he had sold True Romance to get the money so he could make Reservoir Dogs. So Reservoir Dogs hadn’t come out yet. Nobody had really heard of him. It was a wild ride, that movie.

Well, the first movie I ever saw you in was Nightmare on Elm Street 3. Was that the first movie you ever made?

No, I did a movie called Pretty Smart.

I’ve seen that too.

It was a really strange production, a tricky production. Really I thought, “No, I don’t want to do this. Is this what movies are? Because I am going to go to college now and hang up this had.” My sister was like, “No, no, no, most movies aren’t like that.”

Did they hold that movie until you’d come out in Nightmare on Elm Street so they could say, “Patricia Arquette is in Pretty Smart?”

No, I don’t even think they even knew about Nightmare on Elm Street at that point.

I saw Pretty Smart as a teenager when it was on cable, and I don’t know anything about the production, but I remember it being a fun teen sex comedy.

Right, right. I was one of the weird girls so luckily I wasn’t a part of that but it’s so ‘80s. It’s kind of a cool time bubble in that way. 

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Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.