INTERVIEW: Boyhood Director Richard Linklater

Before interviewing movie stars in town for press junkets, Philly film critic Piers Marchant warms them up with a list of themed, rapid-fire questions.

Writer/Director Richard Linklater has released a steady stream of critically adored indie films since 1988’s It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, but it’s taken the Texan much longer to connect with larger audiences. He doesn’t move in grand plot schemes or subversive genre machinations, his films are content to spend their time exploring lengthy, engrossing philosophical discussions between protagonists—be they young, yet-to-be-lovers in Before Sunrise, an animated character exploring a dream world in Waking Life, or an undercover cop in the near future who tries a new drug and begins to unravel in A Scanner Darkly.

His new film, Boyhood, takes the idea of time passing (another frequent obsession in his work) and actually builds it into the fabric of the film. The result, shot over 12 years, begins with a 6-year-old protagonist and follows him through the day he leaves home for college. It is easily one of the best films of the year. He spoke with us about his body of work, his life outside filmmaking, and the female protagonist with whom he most identifies.

If you pursued any other career what might it have been?
Maybe architecture. I’m kind of an amateur architect; I build things. I’m always building stuff. But, all of us, we pursue our athletic thing until it quits pursuing us. In my ideal world, I would have been a pro-baseball player.

Would you still have made films if you had made the majors?
Oh, I think probably not, actually. It’s not a typical career trajectory; no one would take you seriously.

Outside of film, what is your favorite pastime?
Is literature a pastime?

If it were possible to boil down your work to one central theme, what would it be?
Time passing. Proceeding through time.

Do you have one shot or scene from your work you are especially proud of?
No, not really. And I don’t know about “pride,” so much. I mean I’m happy with them, you work hard and it works the way you want it to, but I don’t know if “pride” is the right response. You’re satisfied with the way it worked out.

What’s the first film you ever loved?
I think the most mysterious film that really got to me was 2001: A Space Odyssey. I saw that as a 1st grader in the day, so that’s pretty cool.

That’s pretty heavy stuff for a first-grader, I would think.
I know! But I got it. That’s [Stanley] Kubrick’s genius: that a 1st grader could get the film on that level.

With what character from literature/film/music/theater do you feel most closely aligned?
Whoa. That’s a tough one. Am I supposed to say “Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment“?

Have you ever read or seen a fictional protagonist that struck you in that way?
Sure, all the time. You see something and say, “That’s kind of me.” I could list a lot, but there are different elements. That’s how we perceive and process life: We’re looking for connections, even though it’s not spot-on specific. I feel close to quite a few: I’d say Dave Hirsh, the Frank Sinatra character from Some Came Running; Jake La Motta from Raging Bull. Oh, and Gene Kelly from An American in Paris. And Judy Garland, actually, in A Star is Born.

Boyhood opens in Philadelphia this Friday, July 24th, at the Ritz Five.