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'Boyhood' Star Ellar Coltrane Says Watching The Film Was 'Brutal'

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Much of cinema strives to translate the essence of time as it passes in life, yet few films come close to what Richard Linklater has captured with "Boyhood."

The 12-year project, which Linklater began filming in the summer of 2002 in Austin, Texas, follows the story of Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, from age 6 to age 18. The film watches Mason (and Coltrane) grow up in real time alongside his sister (played by the director's daughter, Lorelei Linklater) and their divorced parents, played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. Each summer, the actors and crew got together for a few days to collectively work on the ever-evolving script and shoot scenes from a year of their characters' lives. The end result is more than just a time capsule of youth; it is one of the most profound and honest pieces of filmmaking ever created.

HuffPost Entertainment sat down with Coltrane in New York City to hear about his experience making "Boyhood," what it was like watching it for the first time and what was behind all of his many haircuts:

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What was your audition like for the film?
He didn’t have a script really. Usually you go in an audition and they give you a scene. [Linklater] didn’t have any scenes written for me to read. It was more of a conversation. He just wanted to get to know different kids. I brought in some of my art and talked about my parents. I don’t know, you kind of just fall into Rick’s world. It’s so casual and ethereal, you don’t even realize what’s happening really, then he’s making a movie about you.

Did you realize in the beginning that it would become such a long-spanning story about your experiences?
Yeah, it was definitely always the plan for it to be 12 years. I understood that I think as much as you can as a 6-year-old, but not really. I was excited. I thought it was a weird, cool idea. I was into weird art back then. But you just have so few experiences to reference. You don’t understand, for one, how long 12 years is, but also how experiences are going to affect you and be meaningful to you because you just haven’t had many. It’s still happening, I’m still realizing what it really means to me. It’s very, very strange.

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When you look back, are there memories that are blurred between your life and Mason’s life?
Not necessarily. It was always a pretty small part of my life I guess. It was kind of an alternate universe. Mason’s life was very different from mine growing up. What was crazy about growing up doing it, is that I kind of got to experience this dual life and step out of myself to see how most kids live. I was home-schooled growing up and I never had that kind of social environment, so it was interesting to go sit in classrooms and hangout with school kids and pretend to do that for a couple days.

"I’ve always kind of wondered how much I change from day-to-day, much less years."
What was it like when you all came together each summer to film?
When I was younger, it was more Rick asking me questions and getting a feel for where I was emotionally and socially. But as I got older we would usually meet up a month or two before we would shoot and have lunch. He would show me his outline for the year, ask me what I was going through and what kind of things I was doing with my friends, and how my relationship with my parents was. Then we would get together with either Patricia or Ethan, they’re rarely onscreen together. For about a week before we would film [we would] workshop.

A lot of people ask if the dialogue is improvised and it never was on camera, but we kind of built most of the scenes by just talking through them. Rick would have his points of dialogue and you knew what the scene was, but as far as word-to-word dialogue, a lot of it is just our words and then Rick would turn it into a functional scene. It was always very gradual. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we did have a lot of time. It made it to where I never really had to think about getting into character because I had built the character. It was just kind of there.

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Did you have an idea of how Mason would grow up when you were younger?
It certainly caused me to wonder a lot. Rick always had the end goal of going off to college. Other than that it really depended a lot on how I grew up and what I became. I never really knew, but I think it worked out well.

I read that you never watched any playback while shooting. What was the experience like watching it for the first time?
I didn’t see any of the footage until it was wrapped. And it was brutal. It was very, very emotional, very cathartic. Not negatively, but just very emotional. I was laid out for a couple days, really. I think that’s kind of an elusive part of existence, the way you mature and they way you change and don’t change over time. I’ve always kind of wondered how much I change from day-to-day, much less years. To see that is very humbling in a way, just very settling. It’s hard to describe, but it’s easy to worry about who you are and what you’ve become and forgetting who you are. It’s reassuring in a way. Even though it’s not me, there is a lot of me in the character. So it’s kind of self-actualizing I guess, to see it all catalogued like that. I guess I am a person, after all. It’s still happening. I’ve seen it a lot of times now.

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"I’m still realizing what it really means to me. It’s very, very strange."

Is it different each time?
It gets weirder every time. It changes. At first it was very much this fear of God, you know, overload of myself. Which is very strange, but recently the last few times I’ve seen it I think I’ve been able to lay off myself a little bit and experience the movie as a whole, which is really the way it should be experienced. As much as it’s Mason's story, I think the family and all the characters are a vessel for life in general and the passage of time. It’s a powerful thing to witness.

What about all of your hair cuts? Was Mason’s hair inspired by your own?
Those were all my haircuts. The only time they cut my hair was when they shaved it. Other than that they let me do what I wanted. Even later on a lot of the clothes are mine. It’s really fucking weird. [Laughs] I don’t know if they planned that, but there were a lot of days [Linklater] would be like, ‘You should just wear that,’ whatever I was wearing when I came to pick out a costume. The costume designer’s like, ‘What the fuck, why am I here?’ So that’s one of the weirdest things to me, is just towards the end how similar, how the character is kind of me at a certain point. It’s also definitely not. There are very distinct differences. I definitely was acting, but I’m also expressing so much of myself that it’s very surreal.

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Did you realize at such a young age that you were acting, or did your perspective of playing a character shift over time?
Yeah. I don’t know that it did consciously, but when I was young it was more just Rick trying to make a comfortable place for me to be myself more than act. I wasn’t a trained actor, I enjoyed it. It was kind of just making a place for me to be natural. It happened gradually as I got older that I gained more confidence and become more invested in what I was doing. I don’t know that I ever thought about it specifically. It’s just what happened, being around people like Rick and Patricia and Ethan.

"I want to express sincerity in whatever form."

It’s so interesting how Rick was making his other films while shooting “Boyhood.” Did you watch any of those as you grew up?
I’ve seen a lot of those films. I’m kind of embarrassed, I’ve never seen the “Before” movies, I don't know why. I’ve seen all of Rick’s other movies and I was aware of it I guess. People ask me a lot if there was a point where I realized I was working with famous people, and it’s like, maybe there was, but it was such an intimate relationship that it never mattered. By the point I was able to realize that and see their movies, they were just friends.

Do you think you’ll continue acting?
I like acting, I like being lost in the creative process. I think wherever that takes me. I’m interested in all kinds of art. I draw and paint and don’t know how to play the banjo, but I do play the banjo. I want to get back to it. It just depends on who approaches me, or who I approach. I want to express sincerity in whatever form.

Head over to the Tumblr page for "Boyhood" to find out when it will open in your city. Read our interview with Patricia Arquette and see Linklater and Coltrane discuss the film on HuffPost Live below.

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