The Oscar-tipped star of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood talks about women in Hollywood, feminism and ageing
Nosheen Iqbal– 3 February 2015
Patricia Arquette has a cold. The actor, who has picked up both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her 12-year-long portrayal of a single mother from Texas in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, sounds woozy on the phone from her home in Los Angeles. “I feel like I’m in a weird dream that I’m going to wake up from,” she says. The potential of a hat-trick – winning the Oscar for best supporting actress later this month – has, she says, left her dazed and confused. “Most of the movies I’ve done, they don’t really have the kind of budgets to even campaign. We never thought Boyhood was ever gonna become Oscar-considered. Our shooting budget was $2.8m for 12 years. Altogether. I didn’t know if anyone would see it or appreciate it.”
Arquette, 46, was best known before now for playing Alabama in Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance. She was the 90s’ original cool girl, whose look – scuzzy blonde in leopard print, neon bras and plastic sunglasses – has become a fashion staple referenced by Riot Grrrl, indie bands, Spice Girls and 50s revivalists alike. She went on to work with David Lynch (Lost Highway) and Martin Scorsese (Bringing out the Dead), and has spent the latter part of her career most visibly on TV (Medium, Boardwalk Empire, CSI). But it’s her performance as everywoman Olivia Evans in Boyhood – a struggling mother who walks out of a bad relationship, goes to college, gets a degree and becomes a teacher – that has resonated beyond the Academy. We spoke about feminism and Hollywood, ageing, and having sex in your 40s.
Russell Crowe recently said that female actors should obsess less about age, or about playing the young ingenue. You made your career as one – how did it work for you?
There really is a lot of pressure on actresses to look a strange and unrealistic way. You’re not supposed to age. You’re supposed to be perpetually incredibly attractive because that’s the way the movie world is. You might be 50 but you need to talk 35. Frankly, there is no shorter shelf life, other than that of a child actor, than that of the ingenue.
How did you deal with it? And when did you decide to switch gears?
Pretty early on. When I was 28 and made Human Nature with Michel Gondry, I said: “Yeah, put hair all over my body.” I was just enough of a feminist and pissed off about this unfair expectation to deal with it. It’s so insidious. Women in America, we act like we have equality when the truth is we don’t. With the Sony hack, it was recognised that those actresses worked every bit as hard, they were just as valuable commodities, they had won awards, they had huge followings and big audiences yet Jennifer [Lawrence] was paid less than the men? You could argue that it’s like that across the board. Wage difference between men and women is real. It’s not just Hollywood: women judges, doctors, lawyers make less than men. The world is sexist.
Have the scripts you’re being sent changed post-Boyhood?
No, not really. The things I’ve always been sent were tiny little movies that were very female-driven anyway and it’s not as if there haven’t been filmmakers who wanted to make these kinds of movies – there have been. Have they been able to get their funding? No.
The fact that you visibly aged 12 years during the shoot for Boyhood is remarkable because it’s so rare. Does it feel weird watching it back?
I’ve only seen it once with a lot of people at Sundance. As an actor, you can often bump into your younger self on TV, so you’ll be reminded “Wow, look how young I am. That’s crazy!” But to see it all sewn together like that is something we were all afraid of doing. The only thing Rick [Linklater] didn’t want me to do was a bunch of plastic surgery, that wouldn’t make sense for that mom and we all agreed on that. He doesn’t even remember saying that, but definitely, when a lot of actors started looking strange [in the noughties], he said: “Oh my god, please don’t ever do that.” And I’m like, “You better get your movie done, I need a facelift!”
You once said that if you hadn’t had your baby when you were 20, you wouldn’t have had the career you’ve had. Many women might say the opposite. Why is that?
Because I couldn’t go to my parents and ask them to support my kid. I had a person I had to take care of. His dad had a person he had to take care of. It put a fire under our asses to make a living. We split – amicably – when he was a month old and there was this awesome responsibility but this huge fear, all this frustration and anger that I couldn’t let that slip at home when I was singing ABC to him, so I had to have somewhere to put it – and acting was a great place to work out being an adult.
You have a young daughter now, too. How difficult is it parenting her when her experience of being young is arguably so different to your own?
It’s always difficult to be a teenage girl. The time I was most conscious of trying to be attractive was when I was a teenager. I see so many mixed messages in the world around her, and my message is always: “You’re beautiful, you’re perfect, you’re smart, you’re funny. You’re great and you’ll find the right person for you.” I’ll still find myself asking her “are you wearing that because you like that, or are you wearing that because someone else told you to?” I think my role models were very different. Celebrity culture is the Kardashians. For me, it was Led Zeppelin, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Deborah Harry – what I considered cool were women who were not playing that game where looks were the be all and end all.
How much brain space does “wanting to be attractive” occupy for you now?
I think I’ve been this way my whole life, so I don’t know how much this has changed but I’ve always thought it was important to be attractive to my mate. Whoever that person is. I feel liberated by this age and time in my life that I don’t think the world expects me to.
In what way?
Sexual drive at 46 is different. We don’t have that urge to procreate, that animal drive. But if you’re a parent, whether you’re 40 or 25, the first thing that leaves is your sexual drive. It’s not a necessity to survive, so if you’re totally exhausted and tapped out, that will be the first thing. But I think if you’re rested and the kids are OK, it comes back pretty fast if you have a lovely partner who cares about how you feel. If you feel loved, funny and attractive to your mate, I think those things come back. Women feel sexier if they’re in a healthy relationship with someone who treats them well.
Women being sexual in Hollywood has proved pretty problematic for young female actors in the last year. Did you reach out to any of the actors affected?
My position is: “Are you going teach your son or daughter to be a peeping Tom? Are you going to break into someone’s house, hide in their closet and watch them have sex? You’d never teach your child that that’s OK. It’s no different looking at those pictures. And to everybody who says “it’s stupid, of course their phones could get hacked”, I’d say: “Well, say your kid was kidnapped from your house. Is the reaction supposed to be, hang on, your kid was sleeping behind a thin pane of glass? That’s so stupid – you let your child, the most precious thing in your life, sleep behind a little piece of glass? You should have got steel windows. Your whole house should have been a fortress.” Because, no. What we need to recognise is that we need to change the conversation.
We need to say it’s perverted to steal someone’s things like that, it’s disrespectful. Of course these actresses have every right to be intimate with their partner. They spend months without them. If these were women who had soldiers fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq, half the country would be offended that anyone broke in and took their pictures – and believe me, they’re all sending pictures to each other and they have every right to. They’re lovers. We don’t have to make them guilty. We have been making victims of sexual crime feel guilty for decades. Women, especially, have to say: “No. We’re never doing that again. No.”