The Real-Life ‘Truman Show’ Actor Who Literally Grew Up on Camera

Boyhood is a groundbreaking coming-of-age film created by American film director and screenwriter Richard Linklater. While other coming-of-age films use different actors to play the protagonist at various ages, Boyhood uses the same boy to tell the fictitious tale of a child growing into a young adult.

The experimental film was shot over a span of 12 years and  lead actor Ellar Coltrane was chosen for the part of Mason in 2002, when he was only 7 years old. Since then, the cast of the movie had reunited every summer to shoot a new phase of the Mason’s life.

Cast alongside Ellar were actors Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette – Mason’s parents – who also aged naturally throughout the film, adding to the realism of the story. Mason’s sister is played by Linklater’s real-life daughter Lorelei, who grows from a young girl to an adult before our very eyes, as the movie progresses.


Photo: Boyhood/Universal Pictures

Watching children grow on screen isn’t new – countless coming-of-age TV shows like The Wonder Years have entertained us for decades with the delicate pains and joys of growing up. But it’s highly unusual to watch it all happen within the time frame of a couple of hours. In fact, this should be one of the most interesting cinematic experiences for viewers who appreciate realism in films.

Director Linklater has described the making of the film as a ‘life project’, given its time-consuming nature. It was nothing short of a leap of faith for the professional actors who took part in the filming, without having a clue of what the end product would look like. When Ellar was younger, the cast would meet for just four or five days a year. As he got older, they would meet for as long as a month.  Ellar described these experiences as being similar to summer camp.


Photo: Boyhood/Universal Pictures

The commitment to realism was so tight during the making of the movie, that the actors often had to improvise. As the project grew, the actors found that it affected their private lives as well. Patricia Arquette, for instance, had to maintain her ‘natural looks’ until the project was complete. “Richard and I had a conversation,” she explained. “He said: ‘You’re not going to do plastic surgery or anything in the next 12 years are you? Because that is not the person this mom would be.’ In this movie you see the kid growing up, and me and Ethan just getting old.”

Although the two-and-three-quarter hour movie is totally fictional, those who have watched the film say that the darkest aspects of the story are too real – not unlike the 1998 masterpiece, ‘The Truman Show’, starring Jim Carrey. According to Ellar, he could always relate to the sadness and confusion of his real life, through the story in the film. In fact, he touchingly admitted that it was through his relationship with his screen mother that he learned to love his real life mother.


Photo: Boyhood/Universal Pictures

“I did have a somewhat unusual childhood,” said Ellar. “Much more unusual than Mason’s. Almost everyone I know comes from a broken home, and it’s something you have to come to terms with. A lot of people whose parents are divorced end up resenting their parents for it, and one of the most powerful things for me in this film is seeing how vulnerable the parents are and how hard they’re trying to do it right, even though they’re deeply flawed.”

“I hope this film can help other people of my age appreciate their parents for who they are – even though they’re broken people just like everyone else,” he added. In the film, Mason’s mother goes from husband to husband, and he is seen suffering from being forced to move each time. The film draws a lot of inspiration from Ellar’s real life hippy mother Genevieve, who married three times.


Photo: Boyhood/Universal Pictures

Ellar, who was largely homeschooled, first caught the attention of the show-biz world because thanks to his good looks. His aunt, Lea Marie, was pursuing modelling at the time. Kathy Horton, Ellar’s grandmother, said: “Lea Marie and I were going to a modelling agency one day and I just happened to be babysitting Ellar, so he was with us. The agency said, ‘You know what, we like the way Ellar looks,’ and they signed him. He was so cute.”

A year later, Linklater noticed six-year-old Ellar and got his family to sign a contract for Boyhood. The director explained to the family that the boy would be filmed over 12 years and they agreed. Although Linklater insisted that the story would be fictional, Kathy soon realized that he was filming Ellar’s own life story. Luckily, watching himself on film has turned out to be a therapeutic experience for the boy. “Watching the movie, some of the scenes with the stepfathers and the broken home feel very familiar,” he said. “I’m finally starting to free myself. I have finally begun my childhood.”


This isn’t the first time Linklater is attempting a bold project like this. His Before Sunrise Trilogy also touched upon the subject of a relationship spanning 20 years, from start to finish. He has made several other controversial fact-based films but Boyhood is the first of its kind, giving people the opportunity to appreciate the stunning passage of time.

The movie premiered at Sundance in January this year, and was released in cinemas across the United States on July 11. Many notable film critics have declared the film a landmark, praising it as one of the greatest films of the decade. It was filmed on a surprisingly small budget of about $200,000. We aren’t sure how much Ellar was paid, but he proudly told his grandmother Kathy that he now has enough money to buy her a car.

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