Ellar Coltrane Talks 'Boyhood' and Oscar Buzz (Q&A)

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Ellar Coltrane

The actor tells THR about the benefits of self-doubt, the danger of social media and acting as therapy

Few films in recent times have been as risky as Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, a coming-of-age story shot over 12 years, whose characters grow and change as its actors do in real life.

At the center of it all is Ellar Coltrane, who signed up for the role at only six years of age, and followed through for 12 years. He had no idea what the final project would look like, nor could he have anticipated the reactions the film has received.

Boyhood already has 75 awards to its name and 80 more nominations, including five for Golden Globe awards. It’s an Oscar favorite across several categories. President Barack Obama has even named it his favorite film of the year.

Coltrane has been receiving accolades left and right for his remarkably authentic performance opposite Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. His latest award is courtesy of the Capri, Hollywood festival, which bestowed him with its Capri Rising Star award.

Read more Boyhood: Sundance Review

He traveled to Italy for the first time to pick up his prize. The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Coltrane in Capri to discuss how the film helped him to be comfortable in his own skin, his real-life aversion to social media and just how Hawke taught him that acting could be its own form of therapy. 

What did you learn over the course of shooting the film? 

It was a very vulnerable process. I had to show parts of myself that I might otherwise have been embarrassed of. When you’re growing, up you’re urged to be ashamed of yourself. “Oh I’m a teenager. I’m whatever.”

But everybody goes through that. Everybody grows up the same way. Everybody is stupid at some point in their life. And that’s beautiful. It’s beautiful that we all go through that, no matter what stage you are in your life of growing up.

And something about watching the film back, seeing it all together, it’s like the teenage years and the childhood years, and all of that together, makes it easier to sympathize with myself and see it as a whole as opposed to just seeing the way I dressed one year and thinking, 'Oh, I look so stupid,' which I did see that, too, but everybody does. Everybody goes through phases. Everybody changes.

Your co-star Patricia Arquette described you as being very self-assured. Do you agree?

I try to be. I think figuring out who I am internally is more important to me than who other people think I am. I don’t like social media for that reason. Everything becomes very external. You’re projecting this persona of yourself that may or may not be accurate, and I think it’s really unhealthy. We have a hard enough time communicating as it is. Creating this fake persona for yourself just makes it even harder.

Do you stay away from all social media?

Yeah. I mean I have Twitter. I don’t do Facebook.

What was your reaction to all of the positive praise around your performance?

It’s very strange. It makes me uncomfortable to be praised the way that I have been because it’s just what I’ve been doing. It’s not my movie. Richard created the movie. It’s his project and I contributed to it.

But it’s also beautiful the way that people connect with the movie, the way they have. So many people have gotten to see it and have been inspired to appreciate their own lives and their own families more. That’s beautiful. That’s very rewarding. That’s what I hope to do, to inspire people to appreciate their lives more.

You have trouble accepting praise?

It’s hard for me to accept praise. I’m very self-critical. But I try really hard to love myself, and I think I’m getting better at it. I think self-doubt has a place, too. I think it’s very important to doubt yourself. Everything has a place.

What challenges growing up did you share with your character Mason?

I mean, certainly connecting with people. Relationships are extremely difficult for me. And it seems like they are for Mason, too. That’s really the hardest thing in my life, just connecting with people.

Also so much communication in my generation has gone the way of technology. It doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction. That’s hard for me.

How do you counter that?

I don’t have my phone in my pocket right now. But that’s also a problem for me. A lot of the people that I want to be close with want to communicate through the phone. And then they feel like it’s personal if I don’t, that I don’t want to talk to them. But I want to talk face-to-face. It’s strange. I think we abuse technology and use it in a really unhealthy way. But everybody appreciates a real interaction. I hope that it changes.

Are you excited or nervous about all the Oscar buzz surrounding the film?

Both. It’s very exciting. I never thought I would be in the position that I am now. But that said, the joy for me and for all of us was the process of making it, and having so much time to create the film and think about it. That is what made it worth it.

It’s strange because we spent so much time creating the film and in the last 12 months, so much more has happened. It’s blown up. The way the film has touched people is really inspiring to me. And also a lot of people put a lot of work and love and effort into the film. More for them, I think it’s beautiful that the crew is being recognized.

What did you learn from Ethan Hawke or Patricia Arquette during the film about acting?

I think Ethan definitely taught me how therapeutic acting can be, how it can be a way to explore yourself through someone else’s shoes, and just how cleansing it can be to experience these emotions through someone else’s eyes.

And Patricia is just, I don’t know, it’s hard to describe what she’s taught me, but she’s incredible. She’s genuine. She is herself. And I guess that’s what she taught me, to be yourself, and to love yourself, to just not listen to what anyone says. And that will be rewarding in the end.

What’s next? It will be hard to top such a role.

I don’t want to top it. I want to express myself. That’s really my goal. I want to express things, emotions, so we’ll see. It’s very exciting. I’m getting some offers for some really cool stuff. I also like to paint and draw, and photography is a big thing. I want to do everything.

Twitter: @Aristonla

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