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An interview with BOYHOOD star, Ellar Coltrane.

Near the end of our interview, I may have inadvertently suggested that it was all downhill from here for BOYHOOD star, Ellar Coltrane’s career, when I asked him if every project he was now being offered paled in comparison to the epic masterpiece it took him 12 years to complete.

Fortunately, he laughed and said, “In a way, I am kinda afraid that nothing is going to compare but its also, just with the success of this and how intensely satisfying it was and how incredible all of it is, especially now with it being so well received, it kinda takes the pressure off.”

I don’t know why I’m surprised by maturity in his response at this point in our conversation. The 19-year-old is practically a veteran of the industry already. He concludes his point.

“I can just make movies now. I’ll have enough money to support myself and I’ll have the satisfaction of having created this. Anything else, it will be great if it works out well, but I think I don’t have to worry so much if my next film is a masterpiece.”


Barring a minor miracle, and no offence to whatever project he chooses as his follow up to his breakout performance in BOYHOOD, I think I can safely say his next film will not be a masterpiece, at least not like this. For those of you who don’t already know, BOYHOOD was shot intermittently over a period of twelve years. It is a coming of age film unlike any you’ve ever seen before because you actually watch as the boy at the centre of it all comes of age, literally.

Writer/Director/Crazy risk taker, Richard Linklater, cast Coltrane as Mason when he was six and they began shooting when Coltrane was seven. Together with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, as Mason’s divorced parents, as well as Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelai, as Mason’s sister, they all embarked on a project that was always a long shot to be completed, let alone to actually be successful. If you ask Coltrane if he still remembers what it was like to tackle this project in the early days, his memory is a little fuzzy.

“It’s pretty spotty towards the beginning. I have a couple of memories of shooting the first couple of years but like solid memories don’t start until about half way through,” he shares, as we sit together in Toronto’s Trump Hotel, the film already in select theatres. When pressed though, he can still recall what it was like for someone so young to be on set with so many professionals. “I mean, I liked it; I think all kids like pretending. It was something that I was good it. It was exciting to work with directors and be treated like an equal. As a kid, you’re used to being talked to like a pet or something. Richard always spoke to me candidly, like I was a person. I think that was a lot of it, just being a part of something.”


Coltrane never saw any of the rough footage between BOYHOOD shoots. Linklater, whom he refers to as a “weird uncle” with whom he shares a “very special relationship”, never asked him to and he says he somehow knew instinctually to avoid it so as not to unduly influence his performance (smart kid!). So the first time he saw the finished cut of the film was a mere few weeks before it premiered to the highest praise at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. How did that go, you might be wondering. So was I.

“Rick just gave me a disk and was like, you should watch this alone. I watched it two or three times and was just devastated for a couple of days. It’s very emotional.” This is understandable but I wonder, as the experience of watching him mature before my eyes was strange enough for me to fully process, how it was for Coltrane to go through that.

“It’s incredibly surreal. I think that passage of time and the way you change and mature is really elusive. It’s something that most art, or a lot of art, is trying to get at and its something that almost everybody wonders about. Y’know, you wonder how you’re changing from day to day. You can look in the mirror and look at pictures but you can’t really see it because you’re just there; you’re in the thick of it. To see it all together like that is very eerie, but beautiful.” Again, fully understandable. Then Coltrane squeaks in one last thought on the subject. “There is a lot of it that I just don’t remember at all. It floods my memories, definitely. It’s like me but in this other situation. I know who that person is, but he’s living in this very strange world.”


Now that the film is finally being seen by wider audiences, the reception has been almost universally triumphant. Almost all who see BOYHOOD, man or woman, see a part of their own childhood in the film and the emotional response it illicits from them is palpable. Having now attended many screenings of the film, Coltrane has seen these reactions first hands many times now and is always really moved when it happens.

“It’s so beautiful for anything to illicit that kind of emotion in people, to have them feel comfortable and vulnerable enough to express it. That’s so rare, even in intimate relationships to have someone express vulnerable emotions and that kind of tenderness and cry openly.” Again, I need to remind myself Coltrane is not yet twenty. He proceeds, “Emotions are very repressed so it’s beautiful to have people express that to me. And I feel responsible to validate that because it’s like we presented ourselves in a very vulnerable way and they’re returning it.”

The only negative reaction to BOYHOOD Coltrane has encountered is the suggestion that he isn’t really acting in the film, that he is essentially playing a version of himself. “I can see why people want to think that. It’s tempting; you want it to be real,” Coltrane acknowledges. That said, he knows different. “As real as a lot of it was, it is something I put a lot of effort into crafting. I was putting myself into it and there are real parts of myself, but I was taking them and putting them into the character so it’s all this development of things that are maybe based on my personality or come from some element of reality in my life, but they’re formed and they’re shaped to this character.”


Coltrane is so introspective, clearly inherent in his personality and likely also an offshoot of having participated in this project, and he knows it. “I was constantly being asked to analyze my own life, and my interactions and my personality to then use in this script. It was very introspective,” he says. I wonder whether this will hinder or help him in the future but first, he still has yet to put this chapter of his life behind him.

“It hasn’t quite set in yet that it’s done. If we were still going, we wouldn’t have even done it yet [this year]. So i think come Christmas time, it will probably start to feel a little more real,” Coltrane confides. How does one even think to start putting something like this away? After all, this one project has been with him for two thirds of his life already. “It is very bittersweet. It snuck up on all of us. The goal of it actually being finished was so distant for so much of the project that we really didn’t think about that. There was no pressure about finishing it. We were just lost; we were just doing it because we were doing it. So when it did get there, it was like, wow, it’s done.”

Wow, it’s done. Three small words that cannot possibly encapsulate the magnitude of what he is trying to express.

One of the most beautiful things about BOYHOOD is how it presents a series of moments in this boy’s life as though they made up the most significant moments in that life, the one’s that ultimately would make him a man. And with many of these same moments now making up the man Coltrane will become, I can’t help but think what a great man he will be.


In closing, Coltrane shares one final thought on what lies ahead for his adult life after he puts his own boyhood behind him. “I’m hanging on to the memory. It’s been a very therapeutic and incredible thing to have. I don’t want to get away from that. This is a chapter in all of our lives that is coming to an end and it had come to mean so much more to us than we could have ever expected. I’m enjoying now, being done with it and learning everything that I’m learning now in the aftermath, but it’s something I’ll always hold dear, I think.”

BOYHOOD is available to rent or own now. Make sure you see it!

For more on BOYHOOD, check out Black Sheep’s interview with the writer/director, Richard Linklater, as well as our 5-Sheep review of the film itself.

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