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Patricia Arquette
Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane and Lorelai Linklater in BoyhoodCourtesy of IFC films

What's it like to watch yourself grow old?

Patricia Arquette – the Golden Globe-winning mum in Boyhood – gets frank about ageing (for real) on screen

Being asked to work on a film project lasting 12 years might daunt some actors. Recent Golden Globe winner Patricia Arquette, however, leapt at the chance when director Richard Linklater approached her about Boyhood. For one week a year, the cast met up to continue their journey, which was only laid out months beforehand. Here the Medium star discusses ageing on film for real, motherhood, on-screen alcoholic husbands, and the sex lives of liberals and conservatives.

What did you think when Richard Linklater told you he wanted to do a film over 12 years?

Patricia Arquette: I said, “Oh my God, that sounds amazing. I am so excited. I want to be a part of it.” I just couldn't believe he got the financing.

How did he approach you?

Patricia Arquette: He called me and he said, “What are you going to be doing the next 12 years?” and I said, “Probably trying to get a job.” He said, “Well, I'm thinking about doing this movie. We shoot a week a year.” I said, “Well are you interested in meeting me, maybe, for it?” He said, “Yeah, I wasn't sure if you'd be interested.” I said, “I'm in.” I didn't even know it was about being a mother. I just knew we were going to shoot a week a year for 12 years. And just that idea in itself, of this long collaborative process, made me excited.

How much did you know about what you would be doing each year?

Patricia Arquette: During that first conversation he told me the main skeleton – “you're going to get married to a professor who's got two kids, you're going to end up getting divorced, Ethan's going to get married”. All these sorts of things. He would call me maybe a month before and say, “This year you're going to get a divorce, blah, blah, blah,” and then we would start talking about that. He'd say, “Ethan said this when he got a divorce”, or when his parents got a divorce. Or I would say, “You know, when my parents split up...” We would put all this together and then Rick (Linklater) would think it all through and start pulling things out of it.

What is it like watching yourself actually getting older on screen?

Patricia Arquette: Horrifying! But we knew it was going to be horrifying and we were excited about it being horrifying. We were excited about being honest about it, but we knew it would be rough.

“When we're about to move out of our first place and we're taking stuff off their wall, we'd actually painted murals on their walls together. There's so many layers of our real life inside different things. It's very strange” – Patrica Arquette

Did you notice any changes in your acting over the whole period?

Patricia Arquette: I was watching it on all these different layers at the same time. Like, “I remember us shooting that,” and then “Oh yeah, that's the year Ethan got separated. He looks so upset! Oh yeah, I got married right then. Oh, that's when I got a divorce. Oh, I was working really hard on Medium and was exhausted.” So I'm looking at all these different layers of the movie; these timetables that are overlapping each other in this weird kind of way.

Linklater said it's a film about a boy's memories. Has it become something personal for you?

Patricia Arquette: It was guaranteed to be personal and that was what was so exciting about the idea. You bond with these kids and it's like a real family. There's things and layers in that movie that other people will never really know all the way. Like at the beginning, when we're about to move out of our first place and the kids' heights are on the door, and we're taking stuff off their wall, we'd actually painted murals on their walls together. There's so many layers of our real life inside different things. It's very strange.

At the same time you were actors performing characters and you had to come back every year and find a state of mind to be that person. How challenging was it making the character happen?

Patricia Arquette: Here's a thing. I think there's a lot of spoilt people in Hollywood and a lot of indulgence. But, thank God, none of our real-life children were in prison or dying. We didn't have to pull ourselves away from our child's deathbed or something to make this movie. We were just grateful to be working on it. Some people could have been annoyed to come back but that's not who any of us are. We were not doing it for anything other than the artistic experience. There was no script. There was no guarantee of getting a juicy part. This is an adventure. This is an experiment. This is a collaboration.

Was there anything Rick proposed about your character that you said absolutely no to?

Patricia Arquette: No, but I did have to figure out for myself how I would – because she's so different from me – let a man be violent with my kid and not get my kids out of there right away or run over and smack him. To put up the blinders and not do anything is so unlike me. So I did have to talk it through and figure out a way that I could play that that would make sense for myself.

Were you sorry that you and Ethan only had a few scenes together?

Patricia Arquette: We were both saying that the whole time – “Damn, c'mon Rick, where was our love scene, man? What happened?” And then at the end he was like we'll have this little scene where we're washing dishes together and he's offering the money, but his wife has the money in her purse – the money I never get. So thanks, buddy!

When did you see the complete film for the first time?

Patricia Arquette: I saw it at Sundance with everybody and it was very emotional. It was hard to see us grow old. It was hard to see those babies get up and become these beautiful young people, because I know soon they're going to get old. They'll grow fast. I was sad that this private experiment we did together with friends was finished, and scared that we're giving this to the world, and the world was going to contribute their opinion of it, whether it was worthy or not. It was scary that it might never find an audience. Scary that it might never get distribution. Coming to terms with all that was hard. There were many, many feelings.

“It was hard to see us grow old. It was hard to see those babies get up and become these beautiful young people, because I know soon they're going to just get old. They'll grow fast” – Patricia Arquette

But you seem to be saying you didn't have any expectations in terms of how it would do.

Patricia Arquette: Right. It's not set up for a demographic. It's mysterious that this movie even got any kind of financing. This is not for 17-25 year old males, is it? Is it for 25-32 year old females? It just doesn't fit into any of that. So I'm really grateful that people are feeling this movie, and really feeling it as deep currents of the underground water of emotion.

In the film you are married to two men who are heavy drinkers. That's not a good idea for a mother, is it?

Patricia Arquette: I think it's a very bad one. There was a big study that Harvard did that they put out last year. They did this 75-year-long comprehensive study on men and male happiness, and one of the things they found across the board was that the number one thing that destroyed families and happiness was alcoholism. They also found that conservatives pretty much stopped having sex at 65, while liberals continued into their 80s. Just so you know.

Boyhood is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 19th January