‘Boyhood’: How Richard Linklater’s ‘rather insane’ vision came to life

Story highlights

Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" was filmed over 12 years

The actors embraced aging on camera

The script had to have an "openness" to allow for future changes

In that way, "Boyhood" is reflective of life

CNN  — 

For once in Hollywood, aging is seen as a majestic, magical thing.

With the new movie “Boyhood,” writer/director Richard Linklater has created something wholly unusual: he took 12 years to film and finish the project, and its central conceit is watching a young boy, Mason, go from child to young man as his older sister and parents have their own maturation, too.

Yet rather than tell the usual “first” stories, Linklater zeroes in on those moments in-between the typical life milestones, creating something that resonates as emotionally and visually authentic.

Critics have fallen in love with the new release, which earned a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. “Boyhood” will roll out slowly in select cities across the United States starting July 11. Star Ethan Hawke, who plays the dad in “Boyhood’s” story, says it’s truly unlike anything he’s ever done – and unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

“Everything is kind of in the spirit of something else,” Hawke told CNN, listing some of his biggest hits. ” ‘Dead Poets Society’ is like ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips,’ … ‘Training Day’ is like ‘The French Connection,’ ‘Gattaca’ is like ‘Alphaville.’ “

But “Boyhood”? “This isn’t like anything,” Hawke said.

The 43-year-old actor plays the father of Mason, who’s portrayed over the 12-year span by Ellar Coltrane. Patricia Arquette plays Mason’s mom, and Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei, plays Mason’s older sister.

“I was trying to tell a story about growing up, and I couldn’t really pick a moment … all my ideas were spread over the years,” Linklater told CNN. “I’d kind of given up, (and) that’s when this epiphany hit me: ‘Oh, I could film a little bit (each year), that could work.’ “

That is a long commitment, both for the actors and the filmmaker, but on the other hand, it’s also a snapshot of the past 12 years of their lives, captured in the frames of a single film. For Arquette, that was one of the big draws.

“That’s part of what I was excited about with the whole premise,” she said. “(M)e and Ethan would be getting older, and in Hollywood there is such a pressure to not age and you’re supposed to look a certain way, and it’s a false pretense. I wanted to really ignore all of that.”

Watching the movie back is a bit surreal, Hawke added.

“It’s a very strange thing – the kids grow up and we age,” he said. “We are watching them bloom as we are watching us wilt, you know? It’s powerful.”

To create that effect, Arquette, Hawke and the rest of the cast had to put full trust in Linklater, since there wasn’t a completed script. When Linklater pulled his cast together, there was no way of knowing what the future would hold for his characters.

While most coming-of-age stories are set in a specific period and have a script that can detail that story from the outset of production, Linklater’s had to leave an “openness” to it, Arquette said.

“Maybe in 12 years we’d have a war and kids would be having to enlist and his friends would be dying,” she continued. “We didn’t know what was going to be happening – he could be a football player, and go in that direction.”

It sounds like an incredible gamble of money and time, especially without the certainty that Coltrane, who was just 6 when the film began production, would even be the right casting choice by the time they reached the story’s end.

“I realize 12 years later why it hadn’t been done before,” Linklater joked. “It’s a wildly impractical, rather insane idea.”

But that’s how “Boyhood,” as fictional as it is, is also an eerie reflection of real life.

“You can’t say exactly where you are going to be 12 years from now, you hope to be somewhere, if you’re not unlucky,” Linklater said. “You just have to believe in the future, that we’ll be able to deal with the reality.”

CNN’s Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.