13 july 2014
Ellar Coltrane would really love to tell some lies, to mix up things up with the press and save what little is left of his suddenly under-siege privacy.
“I made some up,” he admitted, laughing, “about being raised by wolves and my parents being aliens and stuff.”
The problem with this plan is twofold.
First, he gets physically ill when he tries to fib: “I’m so bad at lying,” the 20-year-old Texas native said, “it just makes my stomach hurt. I tell myself I’m going to, I make up little stories, and then in the moment, I just blurt out the truth.”
And, even if he did manage to unfurl one of those tall tales about his upbringing to the public, no one would believe him when his entire childhood plays out on big screens.
Coltrane is the star of Richard Linklater’s audacious new film, Boyhood, a project – really, an experience – that has in some ways come to define his time on earth. When he was just six, his artist parents took him to audition for the prolific indie filmmaker, who was looking for what should have been impossible: A compelling little kid who was likely to stay compelling for 12 years, paired with understanding parents who would allow their son to be filmed for more than a decade in an ever-evolving fictional plot line.
Production began soon after this miracle child was plucked from Texan anonymity, and seven-year-old Coltrane was set as the lead in a suburban drama about the triumphs and tragedies of adolescence. He didn’t necessarily know that he was acting during those early years, wasn’t fully cognizant that he was making a movie alongside A-listers like Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette (with Linklater’s daughter Lorelei playing Mason’s older sister).
Real life parallels
Still, Linklater’s project was never in any way a psychological experiment perpetrated on a little kid that didn’t know any better.
“I was very invested [in the film] as a child, more than I think sometimes,” said Coltrane, who has morphed from the cherubic little kid on the poster for the film into a rail-thin, baby-faced adult with a pierced septum and whispers of facial hair. “I think back and I sort of want to remember myself as this careful, lackadaisical kind of kid, but I was really engaged. And I took it maybe more seriously than in the middle years.”
Over time, Coltrane became more involved in plotting the path that his character, Mason, followed through each yearly installment. Every year, Linklater would write a script based on both his own ideas and how time had changed his young star, who was largely home-schooled and focused on artistic endeavours in the 11 months that he wasn’t playing Mason. Eventually, Coltrane became a full-on collaborator, and laughed when asked to name one of his more significant suggestions.
“The thing that just came to mind was that Rick at one point was asking me about drinking alcohol, drinking beer,” Coltrane recalled, “and he asked ‘If you were hanging out with your friends, would you be drinking a beer?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I don’t really drink, but I like pot…’”
And so, in the film, Mason and his friends light up joints, a sign of teenage experimentation that closely tracked with the actor’s real life, which was thankfully more stable than his character’s rocky road.
Both on and off screen, Coltrane professes a deep desire to help people see the world in another way, the need to shake up the dreadful blend of stasis and hopelessness that become the dominant features of human life.
“I want to convey the importance of love and the importance of just gentility and the appreciation of human connection and every moment as an adventure,” he preached. “I think we just place so much weight on these abstract goals that we expect to make us happy, and they don’t. They really don’t, and what I’m starting to discover is it’s all around you, everything you’re looking for is just kind of everywhere, and if you just pay attention, then life is a lot more interesting.”
It’s ironic, of course, that he’s having this conversation thanks to his participation in an industry that is by far the most ambitious and ego-driven west of Washington, DC. And looking out his hotel window in New York City, Coltrane clearly pines for the weekend he just spent at the Marfa Film Festival in rocky, wide open West Texas, where he could breathe and clear his head.
“Your consciousness gets so crowded in the city,” he lamented, reliving his weekend escape. “There’s noise, constantly, and everywhere you look; you can’t even see the sky; there’s buildings, there’s cars, there’s people, there’s f***ing ads everywhere, every direction you look there’s an ad for something, and it’s an amazing feeling to just look and not see anything and listen and you hear the wind blowing by your ears. It’s powerful to be alone.”