Patricia Arquette starred in films by some of the greatest filmmakers of the last few decades, including Tony Scott & Quentin Tarantino (“True Romance“), Tim Burton (“Ed Wood”), and David Lynch (“Lost Highway“). She also racked up three Golden Globe nominations and an Emmy for her starring role in the CBS series “Medium.” But her latest role — as an embattled but resilient mom in Richard Linklater’s beautiful and epic new film “Boyhood” — is literally the performance of a lifetime. The fictional coming-of-age tale about a boy’s life from first grade through high school, it was shot over the course of 12 years. This week, Patricia tells Rico about how the groundbreaking film came together, and then cops to grand theft.
Rico Gagliano: In what year did Richard Linklater first ask you to take on this part?
Patricia Arquette: God knows. It seems like the dawn of man!
Rico Gagliano: Do you even remember that far back?
Patricia Arquette: I don’t! It was a long time ago…
I think my son was twelve at the time. I had met Richard at a cocktail party, and then he called me out of the blue, and he asked me what I would be doing for the next twelve years.
And I really didn’t even know what he was referencing. I said, “Well, I’ll probably be raising my son, hustling to get a job, and cleaning my messy house, same thing I’m doing now. What are you gonna be doing?” And he said, “I’m thinking about shooting this movie, one week a year for twelve years, where this little boy starts in first grade and it ends when he graduates high school.”
And my whole body just got instantly infused with electricity, and I was like, “Oh, man, if you’ll have me, I’m in.” He’s like, “We don’t have any money.” I was like, “I’m in!”
Then, I was, like, “Oh, I guess I should… well, what’s my part?” He told me all the major changes my character would go through, and I said, “I guess I should read a script.” And he said, “Yeah, I don’t really have a script.” And so it was just blind faith.
Rico Gagliano: I was gonna actually ask you how the storytelling process worked. I mean, did you get pages at all? Was the story born out of improvising?
Patricia Arquette: Well, those major changes that he told me the first time we talked… stayed. But there was also an openness to it. Because at a certain point, he knew that the kids would really start developing and becoming their own people, and he didn’t really know what the world would be in twelve years. I mean, twelve years ago, we didn’t have podcasts.
Rico Gagliano: That’s true — it’s interesting, because as the movie goes along, technology does play a bigger and bigger role in the plot. It hadn’t occurred to me that that was actually happening to you and the filmmakers as you were shooting the film.
Patricia Arquette: Yes, it was, it was happening! And Richard would call a few weeks before and say — or a few months sometimes — and say, “Start thinking about this: You’re gonna have a scene with the kids in the car, you’re gonna be moving, and they don’t wanna be moving.” Sort of broad strokes. And I would come in and we would improvise a scene, then we would talk about life experiences we had had, or a friend had had, share stories. And then he would pull things out and add them into the scene.
Rico Gagliano: So, in some ways, you’re infusing this movie with your real life. Tell me about the last day of shooting, when that had to end.
Patricia Arquette: It was really emotional and difficult, and I didn’t like it at all. Usually, I like to end projects. That excites me somehow, to just finish — completion or something. But with this, I was saying the whole last year, like, I don’t want this to stop. I don’t want to share this with the world. I don’t know that they’re gonna understand the subtle beauty of this.
But, you know, I was thinking today… this movie could’ve been a nightmare, too! You could’ve been in a weird ethical position, because you’d given your word to show up, but maybe these peoples were assholes! Or this director was a jerk! And suddenly, you would be like, “Do I really have to show up again?” Or, because you didn’t have a script, it could develop in a way you really didn’t like, or didn’t care about. So I mean, I just lucked out, I guess.
Rico Gagliano: When you finally saw it… I can’t even imagine sitting in a dark room, watching yourself age. How did you react?
Patricia Arquette: That was very strange. I mean, it was part of what was exciting to me about it. I always love that time-motion photography of a seed being planted and watching it blossom and eventually decay. Still, having said that, it was so rapid and intense to watch it.
What was even stranger than that, frankly, was, sometimes I wouldn’t be in a scene in a given year. And Rick would say, “Well, the kid is gonna go hang out with his friends in this scene. He’s gonna come say, ‘Okay, bye mom,’ and then he’s gonna go off with his friends.” And then, when I watched the movie, my character was kind of watching the scene she wasn’t in! Because I never had a full script and I didn’t know what was being said or happening.
Rico Gagliano: So it was an actual surprise to you in the same way that his mom would’ve been surprised.
Patricia Arquette: Exactly.
Rico Gagliano: Because you didn’t know what the kid was doing when he was away from you!
Patricia Arquette: And I freaked out. I was like, “I’m coming there right now! I’m picking you up! I don’t like that guy, you’re not hanging out there again! You’re grounded.”
Rico Gagliano: I know something I kept feeling — despite the fact that the movie has this long running time — is this sense of life speeding forward. The way the movie is edited, you’ll have a scene where you’re all one age, and suddenly there’s a cut, and you realize it’s five years later and everyone’s older and different.
Patricia Arquette: It’s a very weird play of time and space. I mean, part of the message — if there is a message in this movie — certainly the ending of the movie is: the moments are right now. And be in the now. And appreciate and love your life and the people that are in it.
Rico Gagliano: Here’s a question that we ask all our guests of honor, and the question is… tell us something we don’t know. And this can be about anything. It could be about yourself, or just something interesting about the world that —
Patricia Arquette: My God, that’s so broad!
Rico Gagliano: It’s pretty broad; it’s a lot to spring on a person. But come on, you just did a movie where you basically encapsulated twelve years of life!
Patricia Arquette: Okay — well, there’s this game called “two truths and a lie.” So, you play it with people: You tell them two true stories and one lie, and they have to guess which one’s the lie. So that’s a really fun game, and I’ll tell you one of the things that I usually tell when I’m doing that.
Rico Gagliano: Okay. A thing that is true, I’m assuming?
Patricia Arquette: I was arrested for grand theft.
Rico Gagliano: Really?!
Patricia Arquette: I’m a grand thief!
Rico Gagliano: Had I known that at the beginning of the interview, I would’ve devoted a little more time to questioning you about this.
Patricia Arquette: You know what, if this was a story of my life for twelve years, your toes would be curling right now. My acting life is the tamest thing I’ve ever done!
Rico Gagliano: Do you mind if I ask very quickly what was the object of your thievery?
Patricia Arquette: Oh, I was a kid, and me and my friend were stealing a bunch of clothes and junk… and Santa Clauses, and… I don’t even know what the hell we were stealing.
Rico Gagliano: Not live Santa Clauses, though. ‘Cause that’s kidnapping.
Patricia Arquette: No! That’s heavy, that’s too heavy for a twelve year old.
Rico Gagliano: I’m assuming decorative Santa Clauses.
Patricia Arquette: Yeah, junk — but enough junk that it added up to over $500. That pushes you into the grand theft category, by the way.
Rico Gagliano: I’m assuming this has been expunged from your record — you were a juvenile.
Patricia Arquette: You know what? My Dad’s so cute. He came home when I turned eighteen. He said, “Happy birthday, you’re eighteen! Guess where I’ve been all day?” I said, “Where?” And he said, “Expunging your record.” He was really worried that people would know, and here I am, blabbing.