'Boyhood': 11 Things to Know About Star Ellar Coltrane

Ellar Coltrane in "Boyhood"
Ellar Coltrane in "Boyhood"
 

Ellar Coltrane, the boy at the center of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, spent 12 years filming the director’s epic coming-of-age project, with Linklater shooting a little bit each year. When he was first cast in the movie, at age 6, Coltrane admits he didn’t really know what he was getting himself into. But as he grew up he became slightly more aware of the scope of the film.

While Linklater used Coltrane’s life and real experiences to inform the story, there are significant differences between the character of Mason and the film’s soon-to-be-famous star.

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Learn more about the boy-turned-teen at the center of the critically acclaimed indie.

His real name is "Ellar Coltrane Salmon."

Coltrane decided to use his middle name as his last name professionally when the film wrapped as he became wary of attaching his family’s name to the movie. “It just feels to personal to put on the screen,” he tells New York magazine.

His parents are artists.

His father, Bruce Salmon, grew up in a conservative, wealthy New Orleans family, according to New York. He later became a traveling musician, Coltrane told Mother Jones magazine, even playing in one of Austin’s most popular bands, Joe Rockhead, when Coltrane was young. His mother was a dancer who did performance-art pieces, and a painter. Now she works with autistic people through a company that provides horse-riding lessons and equine therapy, Coltrane said, according to Mother Jones.

Boyhood is not his first acting gig.

Although Coltrane has a potentially breakthrough role in the critically acclaimed indie, he’s already appeared in a few other films, including a small part in 2001’s Lone Star State of Mind and Linklater’s 2006 movie Fast Food Nation. Prior to being cast in Boyhood, he’d also done “a couple commercials,” he tells Mother Jones.

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Linklater cast him because he seemed “the most interesting” of all the kids he saw, but Coltrane’s parents might’ve helped.

Linklater has called casting the film’s central boy-turned-teen character Mason, "the biggest decision I think I've ever made artistically in my entire life." He hoped that Coltrane would turn out to be cool.

"I remember just kind of staring at him like, 'Who are you going to be? You gonna be one of those cool teenagers?' He was just the most interesting of all the kids,” the director explained on Monday’s Today show. “The way he thought, his taste, the things he talked about. The interesting, mysterious kid.”

For his part, Coltrane remembers little about the audition process, which took place when he was only 6, and involved many callbacks, he tells New York and Mother Jones. But he recalls bringing in a drawing of a tree with monkeys in it on the back of a Joe Rockhead poster. Linklater was a fan of the group, and Coltrane joked to New York that the director cast him “because my dad’s cool.”

He was under no obligation to keep filming.

Linklater didn’t want to bind Coltrane and his parents to a 12-year contract, the director tells the New York Times. “You wouldn’t contract anyone to do something like this for 12 years, much less a 6-year-old,” Linklater says. “My hope was that his parents and him would see this as a positive thing in his life and a fun thing to be involved in every year.” Spoiler alert: Coltrane stayed with the project throughout the whole 12-year period.

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He initially doesn’t remember much about filming.

Beginning the project at 6, when 12 years was more than twice his life, many of Coltrane’s initial memories of making the movie are foggy. He’s explained in interviews that he has no memory of filming some of the things his young character does. “There are things that this little person did that I know is me, abstractly, but I don’t remember that person and he’s doing things that I don’t remember doing,” Coltrane told Collider. Furthermore, some of his memories of real events have been conflated with memories of scenes he shot. As New York magazine explains, “Only after seeing the movie did he realize that he’d watched one particularly exciting Astros game, complete with a serendipitous home run, not with his own dad but with [his movie dad, played by] Ethan Hawke.”

As Coltrane grew up, he became more aware of the scope of the film and involved in the process.

Around age 12, Coltrane explains, he started to become more aware of the significance of what Linklater was doing and got more actively involved in making the movie. “There was definitely a time in the later half of shooting I kind of was like, ‘Oh my God! I had no idea what I was getting myself into.’ No regrets all, but this is a bigger deal than I thought,” Coltrane tells Mother Jones. He then began collaborating more in the movie. “I became a pretty direct part of writing the dialogue, which most of the actors were,” Coltrane tells Mother Jones. “[Linklater] would have the framework of the scene and we would just have conversations, and that would become the dialogue. I never had to think about getting in character, and that's really one of Rick's magic tricks. You don't really know it, and then suddenly you are the character. It's incredible.”

While Boyhood is a fictional tale, Linklater incorporated real aspects of Coltrane’s life into the movie and Mason’s story.

Linklater told Coltrane to write up some of his experiences, two of which — on Star Wars and the evils of Facebook — made it into the movie, as did a painting from a “graffiti camp” he attended and the purple nail polish he showed up wearing one year, according to New York. But Linklater was careful not to include anything that Ellar hadn’t already done, as he checked in with his family every year about his star’s real life. “I was closely gauging Ellar’s evolution during the filming,” Linklater tells The Times. “I wasn’t going to ever impose anything on him that he hadn’t already been through.” Coltrane says that the character onscreen is an amalgam of a fictional persona and himself.

“There is so much of myself up on the screen. Even though it is a very crafted character, it’s also a lot of me…It’s hard to exactly define where I end and the character begins, or vice versa,” he tells Collider.

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The two are similar in other ways, too.

“He wears a lot of my clothes, for one thing,” Coltrane tells Mother Jones of similarities between him and his character. “I was very into photography and it's definitely still one of my favorite hobbies. The blue Toyota [in the film] was my truck. I was a total flirt in high school, as was Mason.”

But unlike Mason, Coltrane feels he had a rather “normal life,” he tells Mother Jones, in which while his parents divorced, he wasn’t estranged from either one.

When he wasn’t filming, Coltrane was homeschooled and had various artistic hobbies.

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Indeed, Coltrane was home-schooled until he was 16, when he went to a charter school for two-and-a-half years and dropped out and got his GED, he tells Mother Jones. He also dabbled in photography and painting and did some landscaping work for his stepfather, Coltrane tells New York.

He had an emotional reaction to the movie’s ending when he first saw the film.

Coltrane felt almost nothing as he watched his childhood unfold onscreen during his first viewing of Boyhood, he told New York. “But then,” he says, “as soon as the credits roll, it’s just waterworks.”

Going forward, he may (or may not) keep acting.

Coltrane didn’t want to be an actor when Linklater put him up for another part, even firing his agent. But he seems to have changed his mind. In interviews to promote the film, he’s said he hopes to continue acting. He even shot an audition tape for a famously innovative director that he won’t name, New York reports, and has a manager now. But ultimately, Coltrane wants to be an artist.

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“I want to make art.  That’s what I’ve discovered and what I’ve been realizing recently,” he tells Collider. “The only thing in life that really gives me any peace is just being lost in the process of creating something, whether it’s the film or painting and drawing, which has been a big part of my life, for a long time. Whatever that is, is what I want to do. I definitely enjoy acting, and I hope to have opportunities to keep acting. It’s really just a matter of the right project and the right people. I’m not interested in being famous or anything, but I’m definitely interested in expressing emotions, and acting and filmmaking can be great outlets for that. Filmmaking is not something I’m ready to tackle anytime soon, but it’s an incredible art.”

Now, though he’s still working for his stepfather’s landscaping company, doing manual labor, he tells Mother Jones.

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