January 13, 2015
Guests: Patricia Arquette & Ethan Hawke
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The film "Boyhood" won three awards at the Golden Globes Sunday night - best film drama; best film director, Richard Linklater; and best supporting actress in a drama, Patricia Arquette. Arquette and her co-star Ethan Hawke are my guests. They play the divorced parents of two children. There's never been a film like "Boyhood," a fiction film about a family that takes place over the course of 12 years and was shot over the course of 12 years, filming several days each year. As the actors age, we see the characters age. It's especially dramatic to watch the children. The youngest, Mason Jr., played by Ellar Coltrane, is a 7-year-old first-grader when the movie begins. He's 19 and beginning college when the movie concludes.
"Boyhood" follows the mother as she does her best to raise her children during periods she's single, remarried and re-divorced, the father, as he develops his weekend relationship with his children and tries to figure out his own identity as an adult, and it follows the two siblings as they grow up.
Ethan Hawke has made several films with Richard Linklater, including "Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset" and "Before Midnight." He was a child actor who first got really noticed in the 1989 film "Dead Poets Society." Patricia Arquette is from an acting family. She costarred in the 1993 cult film "True Romance," recently starred in the TV series "Medium," had a recurring role on "Boardwalk Empire" and stars in the new series, "CSI: Cyber."
Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, welcome to FRESH AIR. Congratulations on your performance in this film. It's such a special movie, so thank you for being here.
PATRICIA ARQUETTE: Thank you for having us.
ETHAN HAWKE: Yeah.
GROSS: As a viewer, it was an amazing experience for me to watch every character - every main character - in this movie age in each scene, you know because by the time the movie's over, you're each 12 years older. What was the experience like for you of watching the completed film?
ARQUETTE: It was incredible on many levels. I'd never seen the scenes that Ethan was in with the kids and the kids were in without my character, so that was one whole thing - but also our own real lives. We had 400 people on the crew. We worked with each other every year. And so while I was watching the movie, maybe my character was getting remarried, but I also had the memory of someone on the crew or someone in the cast getting divorced that year or having a baby that year. So there's multiple levels of watching it.
But you know, old people always say to you your whole life, well, enjoy this time, it goes really fast, it goes really fast. And in watching the movie, I think you see the rapid lifecycle of humans, and it really does go fast.
HAWKE: It's strange. It was hard not to think about - when Rick first told me about this idea, you know, he was talking about how there's this lie in every film - even the best ones - about childhood, this little, tiny lie you have to accept that somehow, some enlightenment moment happens in one moment, rather than being in a series of moments when we come of age. You know, they may come to feel like one, but he was saying, wouldn't it be amazing to make a movie where we actually just captured all the little moments? The feeling of growing up could actually be tactile.
And this conversation is now 13 and a half years ago or something, and it feels like yesterday. I know the children look so different, and like I gather from reviews, Patricia and I look different. But I feel like the same person, you know? And even as I watched the movie - I often get asked, what's it like to watch yourself age? For me, the remarkable thing about the movie is that I watch people maturing. That's so interesting that I actually didn't get really hung up own face cracking or anything like that.
ARQUETTE: Also, as an actress, for me, I mean, I think there's such a pressure in the world for women to look a certain way, especially if you have success at a certain moment in your life in this ingenue age group, that you're supposed to hold on to that. And I really wanted to move away from that status as quickly as possible.
GROSS: I just want to say, I am just so grateful - like, in the role in the movie, your weight fluctuates. Sometimes you weigh more, sometimes you weigh less, like in real life people do. And as you get a little older in the movie, you don't have plastic surgery when there's so much pressure on actresses to do that. As somebody who's not an actress, I don't want to feel like a - that my aging face is somehow hideous because the new norm is cosmetic surgery, and that if you don't have it, you're going to look peculiar or ugly. Like, why would we want that to be the norm?
ARQUETTE: I don't know...
HAWKE: Because we're afraid...
ARQUETTE: ...Like comfort distortion of some sort. I was joking with Rick towards the end, you better finish up your movie because I need to get the facelift.
ARQUETTE: But I don't know. It's a very strange thing. You know, if you look at paintings throughout history of female beauty, the one that we're creating right now is a really weird one.
GROSS: That's true. Patricia, you said you didn't see the whole movie until it was completed. Was that something that Richard Linklater wanted of the actors - to not see it until it was done - or was that your choice?
ARQUETTE: It was different with each person. Ethan saw it almost every year or pieces of it every other year or something. I saw a rough cut at five years. Rick didn't really want the kids to see it. I mean, he would've shown it to them had they asked, but they never asked. He didn't want them to become self-conscious. But when the movie was finished, he gave Ellar and Samantha each copies of the movie - I mean...
HAWKE: And Lorelei...
ARQUETTE: Lorelei copies of the movie...
HAWKE: ...Yeah, who plays Samantha.
ARQUETTE: ...To watch alone. But I wanted to wait to see it with an audience, so I actually saw it for the first time at Sundance. But what I was referring to was every year, Rick would call us several months before and talk about that year's work and the scenes that we would be in. He would tell me, well, their dad's going to take them camping this year, but I wouldn't get a copy of those lines to learn. So it was only when I saw the movie that my character was seeing the movie, all the scenes she wasn't in. And my character, who really resented her ex-husband for many things, in seeing the movie, also saw what an incredible dad he was. And that was a real revelation for me as a human being.
GROSS: And, Ethan, you decided to watch the movie as it was made each year. Why was that your choice?
HAWKE: Well, because my relationship with Rick is a little different. You know, while we were making "Boyhood," during that time period, I co-wrote two movies with Rick. I acted in, I think, four others, so we have a kind of - this movie is an extension of a kind of ethos that we've been working on, you know, kind of since we met on "Before Sunrise." And so I got to kind of ride shotgun on the whole deal.
It's just the nature of our relationship, I think. And you know, he knows me well enough - actors are funny. You know, trust is a hard thing to build, and directors need trust when you show work when the paint is still wet because the actor can freak out and not continue their work in the same way. But you know, Rick and I are - we've gone beyond that, eight movies in, you know?
GROSS: I have very little ability to see into the future, to imagine the future, so when he pitched - when Richard Linklater pitched the idea to you of a movie that would take 12 years to shoot, could you actually feel confident that there would be 12 years, that you'd finish the movie, that you could really make that kind of commitment, that you'd remain interested that long, that it would get finished, you know, all that stuff that's so hard to imagine?
ARQUETTE: Well, I was just terribly excited by the idea. I always wanted to work with Ethan. I loved his work as an actor, and I wanted to work with Rick. I loved his movies. And this concept was really exciting to me, and I was amazed that they could get financing for something that wouldn't see any return for 13 years. There was points in times along the way where I thought, OK, we're seven years in, if this falls apart right now, this will be real drag.
HAWKE: Colossal waste of time, yeah.
HAWKE: For me, it was so simple and easy. It was a total spontaneous response. He presented this concept to us. It wasn't a script. It wasn't an outline. It was a conversation that Rick offered us. You know, it was a shared goal of, wouldn't it be amazing to make a movie about childhood and take 12 years to do it? And the answer is yes.
And I knew he was offering me, you know - Patricia's being offered to do a portrait of motherhood, and I, a portrait of fatherhood. And we were being offered a job no two actors had been offered before in the history of acting, you know, to get to create a character and use time as our clay, to shape somebody the way life shapes us. It felt so new and original that I couldn't imagine that my DNA which shift such that I wouldn't be interested in this 15 years from now.
HAWKE: I would.
GROSS: My guests are Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, the stars of the film "Boyhood." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. My guests are the stars of "Boyhood," Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, who play the divorced parents of two children. The film takes place over the course of 12 years and was shot over the course of 12 years. So we watch the adults age and the children grow up.
Now, of course, you are both adults and both professional actors, but the children in it were children. I mean, Lorelei Linklater is Richard Linklater's son, so he could vouch for...
HAWKE: Daughter, daughter.
GROSS: I mean daughter - sorry. Yeah, so he could vouch for, you know, the parent would want the child to remain committed. But, you know, Ellar Coltrane, the son in the film, you know, the actor who plays the son in the film, he was 6. And, I mean, how do you know that a 6-year-old, A, is going to remain interested and, B, remain good enough so, you know, 10 years from now, they'd still have some charisma onscreen? They'd be able to carry...
HAWKE: Look, let's face it, you don't know that. It's an act of faith. And...
GROSS: Well, did that make you nervous signing onto the project?
HAWKE: Well, I knew that if Ellar wasn't an artist, if that didn't come to be, that the movie wouldn't work. But there are a lot of gambles in trying to do anything unique. And I have great faith in Rick in his ability to, I mean, you know, he - it's a chicken-and-egg situation, too. You know, I mean, it's like Ellar went to a theater camp with Richard Linklater for 12 years. I mean, Rick's a great coach and Ellar's a special kid. And yeah, we got lucky, but, you know, luck is a residue of design, right?
I mean, a lot of effort and love went into creating a space that was available for them to use their creativity to a positive end. And - so, yeah, the greatest blessing on the movie is the fact that Ellar turned out to be James Dean, you know? Yeah, I mean, of course it seems preposterous now. And yet, you know, Rick's kind of a touched guy. He's not ordinary.
ARQUETTE: Also, you know, Rick jokes about the casting process like it was trying to find the Dalai Lama.
ARQUETTE: I mean, Ellar had already chosen acting as something he was interested in. They had about nine meetings that really consisted of Ellar bringing in drawings, talking about music. So Rick kind of had a feel for...
GROSS: When he was 6?
ARQUETTE: During the audition process and also Rick spending time with Ellar's parents 'cause Rick says much of the casting is as much about the parents. And Ellar's parents are exceptional people - really artistic, thoughtful, interesting, emotional...
HAWKE: Beautiful thinkers, and they wanted their son to have, you know, they knew who Linklater was. You know, they knew that he was a serious artist and, you know, you can tell a lot about a young person - I mean, Patricia and I are parents, and Rick is a parent. You know, I knew when my daughter was 6, I knew a lot about her. You know, you don't know everything, but you know a lot about somebody if you're willing to listen, and that's what Patricia means when she says the nine meetings. All they did is talk about music and draw together and talk.
And Rick got a sense of what - he was looking for a like-minded soul. I mean, this is a very autobiographical movie. The truth is, I mean, Rick doesn't say this, but this is about as personal a film as you can make. It's a lot more about Rick than it is about Ellar or Lorelei or Patricia or me. It's - I'm his good friend, and this is a deeply, deeply personal film. And he was looking for a compadre, you know? And he saw something in Ellar where he saw a friend, you know?
GROSS: Patricia, you're in the position in the movie - your character's in the position in the movie of being the parent who's, at times over those 12 years, a single mother who has to make very tough decisions, sometimes having to move to a different house, to a different neighborhood, meaning a different school for the kids because you don't have the money to stay where you are or because you're leaving your husband and you have to move. And then the kids are unhappy, but, you know, you have to do what you have to do. And so you're also the parent who sets the limits for them because, you know, their father, played by Ethan Hawke, he's not the discipline type. He's more the I'm-going-to-teach-you-about-life and we're-going-to-have-a-good-time type, and he does a great job at that.
But anyways, I want to play a scene of you around the table with your two young children - this is from pretty early in the film - and you're telling them that you have to move because you're going to go back to school. And you need to be closer to your mother who's going to help take care of the kids while you're going back to school, so that you can be in a better position to have a career and support them. So here you are - here's Patricia Arquette in a scene from "Boyhood," breaking the news to the kids.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BOYHOOD")
ARQUETTE: (As Mom) So listen, guys, I want to talk to you about something, and you might not like this idea at first, but we're moving to Houston.
ELLAR COLTRANE: (As Mason) When?
ARQUETTE: (As Mom) Well, soon. We should be up by the 1 so we don't have to pay two rents next month.
RICHARD LINKLATER: (As Samantha) No, mother, we're not moving. Nope, nope - sorry, mom - nope, nope. (Imitates popping noise).
ARQUETTE: (As Mom) Samantha, I have to go back to college so I can make us a better living. With this job, I can't take care of us the way I'd like to. I can't keep going this way. And grandma said she'd help us out, and it would be nice to be near her.
LINKLATER: (As Samantha) Fine, mother, you can do whatever you want, but we're not moving. (Imitates popping noise).
ELLAR COLTRANE: (As Ellar) What about our friends?
ARQUETTE: (As Mom) Baby, we can email them or write. We can come back to visit. And guess what? This place that grandma found us, you'll each have your own room, right? And there's a pool.
GROSS: Such a nice scene (laughter). And, you know, so you're working with Lorelei Linklater as the daughter who's the - and in real life she's the director's daughter. So when she's going the nope, nope and making those popping sounds...
ARQUETTE: (Imitates popping noises).
GROSS: Yeah, was that something she came up with? Did somebody suggest that she do that?
ARQUETTE: Well, Rick had seen her do that to her mother. So Rick was like, Lorelei, throw in that thing you always do to your mom. You know that (imitates popping noise) thing - yeah.
GROSS: So just in terms of parallels or not between your life and the movie, Patricia, when you became a mother, did you know how to set limits for your child? Did you know how to discipline them and, you know, tell them what they could and couldn't do? I don't know how much authority there was in your life when you were growing up. It's - some people have a knack for doing that and some people really don't know how.
ARQUETTE: Well, I did have a pretty chaotic household. That's not to say I didn't have incredible things in it that other people didn't get. But I was a 20-year-old mom. I was a kid when I was a mom. So with my son - and so we really grew up together. And I, as a parent, of course wanted to meet all my child's needs. Sometimes you have to make choices that the child doesn't like, and that's painful as a parent. And you try to sweeten in that change as best you can, but they - the fact that they're children, they don't look at all the realities of what things cost and bills and your auto insurance and health care, and they don't care about that. They just have had most of theirs needs met, expect them to be met and don't like this change that's uncomfortable for them.
It's a pretty thankless task, I think, being a single parent and trying to do all of the things and grow up along the way and make mistakes. But I think that's a little bit the beauty of what Richard gave me an opportunity to do was to spend that much time with a person like that who wasn't completely apologetic but was doing the best that they could. You don't, as Ethan has said before, get to see that character often in movies or spend that much time with them.
GROSS: She's really - she really powers through, you know. She's a single mother, and she goes back to school to get a degree. And she ends up doing what she wanted to do, which is teaching psychology at a college. But she's had to make a lot of sacrifices and so have her children in order for her to get to that place. But you get the feeling watching the movie that being a single mother is almost forcing her to go back to school and get that job because that's how she sees she's going to be able to provide for them. And even though she makes some pretty bad choices along the way in terms of men (laughter), she wants to also help provide for them. But being a single mother at the age of 20, did that - what kind of choices did that lead you to make in terms of your career?
ARQUETTE: Well, I've said before that as a 20-year-old young woman, my drug of choice was being in love. So I was a little bit in the clouds just being in love and little things like, we're going to move in together, and what kind of couch should we get? And, you know, just that idea of being in a love bubble all the time.
When I became a mom, the stakes changed so dramatically. There was a human being I had to provide for no matter what, and it changed my whole perspective towards my career. First of all, I had a lot of difficult feelings that I didn't have anywhere to put. And I felt that acting really gave me a great place to put these complicated feelings. And also I needed to support somebody, and it put a drive and a fire under me. And I think it improved my life in every way.
GROSS: Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke will be back in the second half of the show. They star in the film "Boyhood." Hawke's character dreams of being a songwriter. Here's a song Ethan Hawke wrote for the film and in one scene, sings it for his kids. It's called "Daddy's Lullaby." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DADDY'S LULLABY")
HAWKE: (Singing) Go to sleep my weary babies. Let the sirens roll on by. Tonight, we're safe here in Houston with this...
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with the stars of the film "Boyhood," Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. The film was voted best film of the year by the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and won the best picture award Sunday night at the Golden Globes.
Arquette and Hawke play the divorced parents of two children. The film takes place over the course of 12 years and was shot over the course of 12 years, so we see the actors and the characters age. Arquette had her second child while making "Boyhood." When we left off, we were talking about starting her career when she was 20 and the single mother of a son.
ARQUETTE: Well, I remember when I had him, I - right before him, I'd gotten my first big movie, and it was really a great art movie. It was "Last Exit To Brooklyn." And it was a really star-making part, a great part. And between the time that they offered it to me and they started shooting, I discovered I was pregnant. And that character really goes through a lot of difficult things in that movie, and it was my first time having a baby. And I thought, I don't want to be pregnant and emotionally go through this woman's journey that's very violent at certain points with a baby inside me.
And it was a very difficult moment where I sat with the producers, and they said, well, we think you could still shoot this while you're pregnant. I said, well, let me just walk around the block. And I came back and I said, I can't do this movie 'cause I don't know how that will be for my baby. And I didn't know if I would ever get another movie. And when I - right after I had him, I'd audition and I wasn't getting movies. And I remember walking into this restaurant on Sunset Boulevard and saying - you know, applying for a job as a waitress. And I said, look, I'm smart. I don't have a lot of experience. I like people, I'm nice to people, I learn fast and I have a baby to feed. And they give me the job, and I was going to start on Wednesday. That Monday, I got a call that I got my first movie after my son.
GROSS: And which movie was that?
ARQUETTE: God, I can't even remember (laughter). It was just - I mean, I remember coming home from work being a single mom having acted in a movie all night. I'd lay down on my bed, fall asleep with my shoes on, everything. I'd wake up, and my son would be looking at me and blinking his eyes really fast. And I said, baby, what are you doing? He said, I'm just taking pictures of you (laughter).
GROSS: You know, I think it's so interesting that you turned down "Last Exit To Brooklyn," which is, you know, it's based on - it's not Burrows - who...
HAWKE: Hubert Selby Jr.
GROSS: Yeah, it's Hubert Selby Jr. And there's - you know, it's heroin addiction and violence and - so I understand what you're saying. But later, you were one of the stars of "True Romance." In that, you're basically, like, in your underwear all bloodied and...
HAWKE: Yeah, but she wasn't pregnant...
GROSS: No, you weren't pregnant.
HAWKE: ...And that's the point.
GROSS: No, no, no...
HAWKE: Yeah, and she didn't have to - what I find so interesting about her story and why...
GROSS: Well, let me just finish the thought. And...
GROSS: ...There's this, like, huge fight between you and the young James Gandolfini kind of like fighting to the death. And you're, like, slamming a toilet lid over his head and (laughter)...
ARQUETTE: Well, yeah, I never was afraid of that.
GROSS: It was just being pregnant and exposing...
GROSS: ...Your in-utero baby to that.
ARQUETTE: Exactly, and I didn't want to worry about gaining weight or not gaining weight or throwing up or keeping the crew waiting or having to go to the doctor or any of that.
HAWKE: What I was trying to say is that what I find so moving about that story that Patricia told is that a lot of people don't really understand when you're acting, your body often doesn't know you're acting. You know, our emotional life is our currency as an artist the same way that, like, a painter has paint or something. And it's a very strange thing to explain to people, but sometimes when I'm doing a play with a very emotionally violent character, my body doesn't know I'm acting. You know that weird feeling you have after you have a horrible fight with somebody you love? That's kind of the way I would feel taking the subway home after the theater, and it beats up your body.
And, you know, a lot of people wouldn't have done that, Patricia. I had never heard that story about "Last Exit To Brooklyn" before. And I think it's such a - it speaks so beautifully to - I'm so glad to hear you do that, and you're very wise to do that because you don't really know what a baby is going to feel and what it doesn't. But I - the little bit of experience I have acting and knowing how my body responds is - "Last Exit To Brooklyn" is not a part that any child wants to play.
ARQUETTE: No, it's heavy.
GROSS: Ethan Hawke, let's hear a scene from "Boyhood" that you're prominently featured in. And this is a scene in which you've picked up your kids, and you're driving with them. And they're in the back seat, and you're trying to talk with them about how their day has been. And they're giving you these, like, one-word - reluctant one-word, you know, answers. I think they're in, like, their young teens at this point. And you're trying to get them to actually, like, talk to you, so here's a scene from "Boyhood," featuring my guest, Ethan Hawke.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BOYHOOD")
HAWKE: (As Mason Evans Sr.) Talk to me. Samantha, how was your week? Oh, I don't know, dad. It was kind of tough. Billy and Ellen broke up, and Ellen's kind of mad at me because she saw me talking to Billy in the cafeteria. And you remember that sculpture I was working on? It was a unicorn and the horn broke off, so now it's zebra, OK? But I still think I'm going to get an A, all right? Mason, how was your week? Well, dad, you know, it was kind of tough. Joe, he's kind of a jerk. Actually, he stole some cigarettes from his mom, and he wanted me to smoke them, but I said no because I knew what a hard time you had quitting smoking, dad. How about that? Is that so hard?
LINKLATER: (As Samantha) Dad, these questions are kind of hard to answer.
HAWKE: (As Mason Sr.) What is so hard to answer about what sculpture are you making?
LINKLATER: (As Samantha) It's abstract.
HAWKE: OK, OK, that's good. See? That's - I didn't know that. I didn't know you were even interested in abstract art.
LINKLATER: (As Samantha) I'm not. They make us do it.
COLTRANE: (As Mason Jr.) But, dad, I mean, why is it on us, though? You know, what about you? How was your week? You know, who do you hang out with? Do you have a girlfriend? What have you been up to?
HAWKE: (As Mason Sr.) I see your point. So we should just let it happen more naturally, right? That's what you're saying. OK, that's we'll do - starting now.
GROSS: (Laughter) I love that scene. That's a scene from "Boyhood" with my guest Ethan Hawke, and also with us is Patricia Arquette. So did that scene come out of anybody's experience of trying that with their kids?
HAWKE: Well, that scene could be a good example if you want to know how we made this movie, which is that - you know, we all haven't seen each other in a while. This is the dramatization of the every-other-weekend-with-dad moment. And he picks them up, and he's going to take them to a baseball game and he's going to - they're just going to have their little weekend. They go to a museum, you know, all the stuff divorced dads do. And Rick knows I want a scene driving to the baseball game. What do we talk about? And I say, well, if it's like my kids, nothing.
HAWKE: And, you know, and Rick laughs and goes, I know, me, too. And the kids say - because - you know, that's the wonderful thing because I'm not their parent. You know, we're in a rehearsal context. And Ellar goes, why do parents always say that? They don't ever tell anything personal about their life, you know? And Rick and I look at each other and go that's a scene. That's a scene. Let's do that.
And part of learning to be a dad is we have these agendas with ourselves, I want to be this kind of dad. I want my son to be this kind of person. I want my daughter to be this kind of person. And it's so hard for us to just live with our kids and understood the truth is that our life is our message. We can try to, say, you know, pick up your clothes and clean the kitchen and do all this and it needs to be done, close the door. But if we live an orderly life, if we do pay our bills, that's the biggest thing that they will take from us. If you do follow your dreams, if you do put love first, or do you put money first? It doesn't matter what you say, you know; it's what you do. And what this scene is about is, I think, Mason Sr.'s starting to learn to just trust and live with his kids, and that's why I like it.
ARQUETTE: I also love this scene because my character, Olivia, is bogged down with the practical realities of life all the time. And again, this quality that Mason Sr. has, she doesn't really see, this beautiful quality, because he cares about who these kids are inside, gently prying them open, opening the door, telling them somebody cares, someone wants to hear what you have to say. You are each individuals. Who are you? Let's figure it out. Let me know. I want to know. I care. What are you interested in? That's important to me, too. I love you, basically.
HAWKE: You know, and it's funny, Patricia, talking about, you know, being a young mom - well, my dad was 19 when I was born. And so, you know, I could do that scene and look at Lorelei and know that I was older than Lorelei than my father was than I was. You know, and really taking in and seeing - when my father used to take me to baseball games - my parents were split up. And all of a sudden, I'm acting out this role that my father did - I mean, my father took me to baseball games in Texas. I mean, I lived this scene from both points of view. You know, I've been the dad in this scene picking my kids up every other weekend, and I've been the son, you know. And it was kind of profound for me to see this family dynamic from both angles.
GROSS: My guests are Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, the stars of the film "Boyhood." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guests are the stars of "Boyhood," Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, who play the divorced parents of two children. The film takes place of over the course of 12 years and was shot over the course of 12 years, so we watch the adults age and the children grow up.
One of the qualities of the father in the film - the father that you play, Ethan Hawke - is that his dream is to be a songwriter. But he doesn't really have either the confidence or the drive or the connections to do it. And he's also just - he's - I don't know - maybe a little lazy? Even though he ends up giving up on his dream of being in music because he's a father, and he ends up studying - not just because he's a father, but - and then he ends up, like, becoming an actuary. I mean, you can tell his heart's not really in that. But it's - he takes the test. He get's the job. It's...
HAWKE: There's a moment in his first scene - and everybody likes to talk about how he's a ne'er-do-well dad or whatever. There's a moment in the first scene where he tries to explain to the kids why he's been gone for a year. And it's, you know, he's about to enter into the dynamics of his relationship with their mother and why it made it impossible. And he looks at their eyes and realizes that there is no answer. And he just goes, hey, look, I'm going to try to do better. That's my first scene.
And slowly you see this guy who's an aspiring musician, and he does - you know, why Rick includes that, I think, is so that you realize, oh, this guy can play music. This guy can - my roommate is the great Charlie Sexton who helped me play that song in that scene, who is you know, a beautiful, serious, major musician. And the idea that we always knew it was a little seed we were planting so that we'd go back and see Charlie play at the end of the movie, so that you'd see that - you know, like Patricia made a very tough decision with that "Last Exit To Brooklyn." That's tough. That's tough stuff to do when you love acting - passing on a great opportunity. I was around when people were auditioning for that movie. Everybody wanted that job, and that's hard to do. But, you know, this is a story of fatherhood. He's meeting his responsibilities, and without meeting your responsibilities, there is no happiness. And it's somebody who's learning that and that it's a very profound thing that we all, as kids, get told to, you know, follow your dreams. But, you know, there are repercussions, and if you put your dreams as your number-one priority, there will be casualties behind you.
And one of the things why I love this guy is he ultimately prioritizes those two kids. And is not a tragic story. You still see him goofing with the guitar his whole life. Yeah, does he want to be an actuary? Not really. But, you know what? He wants to pay his child support, and he wants to show up and show these kids that he loves them.
GROSS: It's hard to have a successful career in the arts. And it's maybe especially hard when you're from a background where no one has been in the arts, so you have no idea. How do you get to there from here? And, Ethan Hawke, I think you are from a family where your father actually was an actuary (laughter).
HAWKE: He looked at me - it was so funny - he looked at me at the screening of the movie, he goes, did you just say he's an actuary? I said, I did, dad. Sorry.
GROSS: But, Patricia Arquette, you're from a family in which your father's side of the family was all in acting. Your grandfather - your great-great-grandfather was in vaudeville. Your father - your grandfather was Cliff Arquette, who became known for this folksy character he created, Charlie Weaver. And he'd go on the Jack Paar "Tonight Show" in character as Charlie Weaver. Your father, Lewis Arquette, is an actor who was on "The Waltons," so...
ARQUETTE: And "Waiting For Guffman."
GROSS: Yeah, right. So...
ARQUETTE: And Rosanna and all my siblings - Rosanna, Richmond, David, Alexis.
GROSS: Yeah, so you're from a real, like, acting family, like, generations of acting. So did the idea of an actor - being an actor seem something that was out of reach to you or just like the most natural thing in the world?
ARQUETTE: Well, we, you know, my parents - my father was a real working actor. And it's really difficult to make a living as an actor, I think even more so today. But - so I didn't have this concept of my experience growing up that it was going to be handed to you or really easy or that you would necessarily be a big star. My sister had started working before me, so it did make it easier for me to get into auditions. People were curious because she was popular at that - you know, she was, like, kind of the it-girl of that moment. So they were like, oh, you have a sister? Oh, what is she like? So it did help me get in the door. When I told my mom I wanted to be an actor she was really sad. She was like, your principal said you could be a doctor.
ARQUETTE: And I tricked myself into acting because I was nervous. I was shy. I didn't know if I would be good at it. And I also wanted to be a midwife, so I said to myself, well, I want to be a midwife. I want to be an actor, and maybe I'm not going to be a good actor. But what I said to myself was, more than either of those two things, I want to be a brave person. That's the most important thing. So I'm going to take one year to try to act. Every day I'm going to take acting class. I'm going to watch a movie and break down someone's performance. I'm going to take pictures. I'm going to do an audition - something. And every day I'd give myself permission and actually success if I fail every day. I don't want to live my life bitter that I didn't try. I don't want to live my life wondering what would've happened. I don't want to spend 20 years trying to act and being angry that I didn't have success. So I'm to do this every day for one year. If I don't work, then I'm going back to college and I'm going to be a midwife. But I got work, so I just kept acting.
GROSS: Has that brave thing been a continuing theme in your life?
ARQUETTE: Yes. I think it has, yes. I feel like I'm a little bit brave.
HAWKE: You're allowed to say it.
ARQUETTE: Yeah, I do.
GROSS: Well, you know, Ethan Hawke, you said something recently - I forget who you said it to - you said that the most difficult thing is to have self-confidence when you're perceived as having gone out of fashion.
ARQUETTE: Good one.
GROSS: Do you feel like you went through a period like that that was hard to go through?
HAWKE: Oh, any decent actor goes in and out of fashion. You know, you have to have a sense of humor and enjoy the moments where people are interested in what you're saying and you get to be on NPR, because there'll be many times when I'm trying to sell that, you know, they'll be interested in somebody else. And that's just - you know, you have to kind of smile and enjoy the carousel. You know, if you're lucky, you get a turn. If you're unlucky, sometimes you don't get a turn. And to really see it like that - but it is - when you're out of fashion and you feel people's eyes roll when you step on stage, and you want to scream, no, I am relevant, you know. I have something more to say. Just because - you know what I mean? It's hard. I mean there's a great Dustin Hoffman line about that. The only thing worse than people hounding you every day for your autograph is when they don't hound you for your autograph anymore (laughter). And it is - but life is like that. You know, no sooner do you feel like you've arrived somewhere then there's another staircase. And there's another - another thing is being asked of you. And it just keeps happening.
GROSS: So now that "Boyhood" is over, do you still think about the characters? And do you still wonder, like, what would they be doing now? What would the next chapter be if the film wasn't finished yet?
ARQUETTE: I have some feelings about - because the movie's a little - so autobiographical about Rick, and there's so many weird crossovers between all of us and our parents, I have some knowledge of where I think Olivia would be, but it's not something I would want to share with anyone.
ARQUETTE: I still want Rick to keep making this movie (laughter). So it's very hard for me to let go of that.
HAWKE: For me, the biggest question of this whole "Boyhood" experiment was, could Rick end it? You know, I said, when it came to be over, would you feel you were told a story? I mean, that's what we used to talk about. And I remember when he showed me the first cut. It was just - you know, it was like if getting punched in the gut could feel good, that's what it was like. I couldn't believe he'd finished it, and he'd sailed it into port.
There's something so beautiful about the final moments of the movie, and it was clear to me that it's about an adult being born, you know? And so, yeah, would I love to - I'd love see Mason Sr. get older. I'd like to see where he goes and what the evolution of his thought might be. But that said, the magic of the movie is that it is over.
GROSS: Well, thank you so much for making the movie. It's a really special film.
HAWKE: Our pleasure.
ARQUETTE: Thank you for having us.
HAWKE: Yeah, thanks for talking about it with us.
GROSS: Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette star in the film, "Boyhood." Coming up, our TV critic, David Bianculli, reviews the new FXX comedy series, "Man Seeking Woman." This is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Tomorrow the FXX cable network premiers a new comedy series called "Man Seeking Woman." It stars Jay Baruchel, who was in the TV series "Undeclared" and played himself in the Seth Rogen film "This Is The End." The new series is about a man trying to date after a recent breakup. And it's the latest TV show from Lorne Michaels's company, Broadway Video. Our TV critic David Bianculli says this new comedy series might not be for everyone. After watching the first two episodes, he says he isn't even sure it's for him, but he's definitely intrigued.
DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: Describing "Man Seeking Woman," the new comedy series premiering Wednesday on the FXX cable network, isn't going to be easy. On the one hand, it's pretty straightforward. In the opening moments, a young man named Josh, played by Jay Baruchel from "Undeclared," is sent packing by his now ex-girlfriend. The rest of the episode, and presumably the series, has him weaving his way through the tricky currents of dating in the 21st century, enduring blind dates, attempting pickup lines and checking out dating websites and phone apps for potential new acquaintances and experiences.
But on the other hand, "Man Seeking Woman" is as devoted to examining how it feels to be single and dating and rejected as to what actually occurs. This very unusual new TV series is inspired by "The Last Girlfriend On Earth," a collection of darkly comic and proudly bizarre short stories by Simon Rich, who's one of the show's writers. So while portions of "Man Seeking Woman" tell a literal narrative, other parts are more impressionistic, even surrealistic.
Very few television shows have ventured into this territory regularly and successfully. "Ally McBeal," with its fantasy sequences, was one. "Louie," currently on the FX network, with Louis C.K. slipping into occasional digressions of whimsy, poetry and existentialism, is another. "Man Seeking Woman" is a cross between an early Woody Allen comedy and a very edgy late-night comedy sketch, which may be why "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels is an enthusiastic executive producer of this series. It uses the visual vocabulary of film and TV and the freedom of sketch comedy to explore a mood, even if - and sometimes especially if - it doesn't make any literal sense.
When Baruchel's Josh Greenberg is dumped by his girlfriend, he walks around with a cloud over his head raining on him on an otherwise clear day. When his sister sets him up with a blind date, he sees that date as a monstrous little troll, and she looks and acts like one, even in a fancy restaurant. And when he accepts an invitation to a party held by his ex, he has to meet and endure her new boyfriend. Of course Josh is going to think this new guy is a lot worse a match for her than he was, but Josh sees it, and so do we, as an extreme case. When his friends meet him at the door of the party, they let him know the identity of the new boyfriend - a wheelchair-bound old man named Adolf, as in Hitler.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAN SEEKING WOMAN")
JAY BARUCHEL: (As Josh Greenberg) Isn't there, like, a big pretty age difference between them? I mean, Maggie's only 27.
MASA LIZDEK: (As Aja) Somebody's jealous.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Yeah.
BARUCHEL: (As Josh Greenberg) I'm not jealous, Aja. I just don't like Adolf Hitler. He murdered millions of people.
UNIDENTIFIED UNIDENTIFIED UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You don't like him because he's dating Maggie.
BARUCHEL: (As Josh Greenberg) True. But you don't think it's a little strange that she's dating him of all people? I'm Jewish. He famously hates Jews.
UNIDENTIFIED UNIDENTIFIED UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) That is a real stretch, Josh.
LIZDEK: (As Aja) Don't make this about you.
BIANCULLI: Josh decides to make a graceful exit, but before he can, his girlfriend sees him and says hello. And then approaching on his motorized wheelchair, so does Adolf Hitler, played by a completely unrecognizable Bill Hader, formerly of "Saturday Night Live."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAN SEEKING WOMAN")
BILL HADER: (As Adolf Hitler) Hi. Adolf Hitler.
BARUCHEL: (As Josh Greenberg) Josh Greenberg.
HADER: (As Adolf Hitler) Greenberg?
BARUCHEL: (As Josh Greenberg) Yes.
HADER: (As Adolf Hitler) Uh-oh.
HADER: (As Adolf Hitler) Uh-oh.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Uh-oh.
HADER: (As Adolf Hitler) Uh-oh. There's a Jew at Hitler's party.
BARUCHEL: (As Josh Greenberg) That's right. That's right.
HADER: (As Adolf Hitler) There's one in our midst.
BIANCULLI: Watching that scene made me uneasy and intrigued at the same time - uneasy because it felt like a third rail of comedy and not particularly hilarious, but intrigued because honestly I can't remember ever seeing anything quite like it. A later scene, which has a war room of sorts assembled to help Josh compose the perfect follow-up text to a girl he met on the subway, is just as audacious, but not at all squeamish.
I really like Baruchel as an actor, and he handles angst and embarrassment here with as much humor and endearment as he did in "Undeclared." After watching two preview episodes, I can't say I'm in love with "Man Seeking Woman," but I can definitely say that I'm looking forward to a third date and that I feel I'm experiencing something truly and maybe even memorably different.
GROSS: David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. You can catch up on interviews and reviews that you missed with our podcast which is free and available on iTunes or your phone app.
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