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Richard Linklater Discusses His 12-Year Project 'Boyhood,' Chronology, Memory & A Movie That Occurs Offscreen

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist February 18, 2014 at 1:20PM

Richard Linklater is a lot like a Richard Linklater movie. There’s a looseness, and an approachability that is engaging (and made for an enjoyably chatty Berlin Film Festival interview), but it’s also somewhat deceptive of the deeper currents of thoughtfulness and a kind of philosophical curiosity, that run beneath the laid-back, genial exterior. And both these sides of his personality are on full display in the wonderful “Boyhood” (our Sundance review is here) his twelve-years-in-the-making study of a young boy from ages six through eighteen, when he finally leaves home for college. It is both a simple, unpretentious portrait of a certain child coming of age, and a sprawling, ambitious, encompassing exploration of grand universal themes. It’s hard to think of another example where the operatic has been so unassumingly presented.
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Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater accepts the Silver Bear for best director at the Berlin International Film Festival.

It seems all part and parcel of the mosaic feel, the small moments that of themselves aren’t maybe that important, but that build to a very massive, and quite universal picture.
Yeah, I hope so. I always kind of fall into that idea of you know, not the big man’s version of history but the small… Tolstoy writes not about [sweeping gesture] the Napoleonic Wars but what’s going on around it, the individual and how it affects one person, around the great events. And that’s how we all kind of live our lives. The big events happen, but we’re just kind of aware or observing of them — so few people are the ones actually making things move like that.

And our faculties never seem to be at their apex at when those huge moments arrrive.
Never! No one has that! At those moments there’s never the proper people in place. When they are it’s pretty heroic, but it very rarely happens. At the heroic moment we’re just off, we’ve got the wrong president or something’s wrong. And it’s “Ah, shoot! History could have been different!” And that’s how I see history, not as some inevitable procession of great people, more like eh, people kind of bumbling through and doing the best they can. [Which means] even now, [History can change] with a few Supreme Court decisions, things like that.

So there’s no excuse to stop trying?
Exactly. It’s the difference between optimistic and fatalistic. The kind of more conservative viewpoint is “ahh, we’re fucked, there’s a lot of tragedy in life and there’s not a lot you can do.” Where an optimist would think actually we can put our brains together and do our best and prevent things and make things better for more people.

"That’s how I see history, not as some inevitable procession of great people, more like people kind of bumbling through and doing the best they can."

That’s maybe an optimism which is reflected in the ending of “Boyhood,” which I loved. It is immensely hopeful.
I hope so. It should be—that feeling that the future’s ahead of you and you are so happy to be there. There. At that moment.

And with these people...
Yes! Those friends, they were the best version of your friends. They weren’t the people who got assigned to sit next to you in class. You had the opportunity as an adult to have the world be of your choosing—you choose a profession, you choose your new family i.e. your friends. You’re responsible [for your life] in a way that children are not.

You mentioned that you conceived that last shot early on, and it did occur to me that if you had embarked on this without knowing your ending, it could easily have become some sort of “Synecdoche, NY” meta, all-encompassing, insanity-inducing project...
Heh, yeah, I’ve been sitting next to Ellar [Salmon, who plays central character Mason] most of the day and someone asked him if there was going to be a next one and he even said “Yes, I’m going to be on a train in Europe and meet a girl…” And I was like “Yeah, and I’ll remake everything I’ve ever made and it’ll be some big Charlie Kaufman-type thing…”

But this was always stuck on the grid of first-through-twelfth grade of the American public education system. When I contemplated childhood, I couldn’t pick the exact period but once I had that aha! moment, that was when I had a structure. Then I remembered that feeling like that was the cell you’d been put inside: you’re gonna live in your parents’ house and you’re gonna go to school—that’s the given. In fourth grade you know where you’re gonna be in twelfth grade; in your adult life you don’t know where the hell you’re going to be eight years from now, anything could happen. But as a kid it’s a certain...compartment. So I knew it would end with him flying from that cage, breaking out of that, but in the more or less typical way, that he’s going to college.

And that is certainly an intoxicating moment. In fact, I believe the “Dazed and Confused” spiritual sequel you were working on, “That’s What I’m Talking About” is going to take place over a first weekend in college?
[sheepishly laughing] Yep...it picks up right where this thing ends! I seem to have overlapped a little bit.

Have you just been making the one movie your whole life?
Yeah, and at the end I can just piece it all together! Truly, though that one begins with a guy driving off to college. I even told Jessi [Mechler], the young woman [at the end] and Ellar, “You know, this is kind of my next movie I’m making. This is a complete overlap with the movie I hope to make one day.”

Richard Linklater, Boyhood cast, Berlin

You hope to? So I guess there’s still no start date for that?
No, I’ve had trouble getting it financed. But maybe. It’s that dilemma, of not having a lot of name actors and it’s a period recreation so it’s kind of expensive. Not like super-expensive, but I can’t make it for $2.4 million dollars.

So does it look like “The Incredible Mr Limpet” might be next instead?
Well, that’s no more going ahead than in the last one—I’ve been kind of developing that with Galifianakis for a while, but no start date.

Right, so nothing’s firmed up right now as your next project?
I’m not even sure, nothing set. I certainly hope to be in production by summer on something… I’ll be getting antsy by then. But I’ve a number of scripts and projects, I’d say there’s three or four right there. It always just depends on someone going [clicks fingers] “GO! Here’s a blinking green light!” It might be ‘Limpet,’ and that might be fun.

But surely it’s hard to let “Boyhood” go.
God, yeah, it’s weird. I feel like I haven’t quite left it, not yet. And Ellar and Patricia and everyone...I think we’re all still processing it.

IFC Films will release "Boyhood" later this year.

This article is related to: Berlin International Film Festival, Richard Linklater, Interviews, Interview, Boyhood, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke


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