What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
At one point, around 21, I’d dropped out of college and was working and the whole world was advising me to get back to school; that would be the key to my future. Well, I said I’m going to do the opposite of what everyone tells me. We define ourselves by what we don’t do as much as what we do.
What’s the best way to motivate people?
What’s the old thing? You can motivate through love or fear. A lot of people just pick fear. I was always a team sports guy. I liked the team goal. It demands a certain unselfishness and acceptance of your role – I mean, that’s making a film right there. I like artistic undertakings . . . it goes better in my life than business or sports things where you’re trying to beat somebody.
You had lots of different jobs before making films. What did work teach you?
It’s important to just be in the real world. I was an offshore oil worker; that was a good job – a tough job, a crummy job, but it paid well. Until then I had always had the restaurant job where you’re working 70 hours a week for two bucks an hour or something. That was my usual. But you appreciate those jobs the rest of your life. You might not see half the world if you hadn’t ever done that.
How did fatherhood change you?
Oh, gosh! Completely. You just see the world in a whole different way, childhood refracted through your adult sensibility. Boyhood came out of being a father, because my daughter was growing up and it really made me want to tell a story about childhood. It’s a real blessing to have that experience, to feel all those feelings that everyone has had for aeons. I feel kind of sorry for my friends who don’t have kids. I see the upside – they have a lot more freedom – but there’s something they’re missing out on that would take them a few notches deeper.
How do you balance art and commerce?
I guess you have your sensibility and you’re stuck with it. I’ve never really thought about the commerce part. You want to connect with the audience, and the only way to do that is to make as good a film as possible and hope people respond to it. You can’t half-ass it. Yeah, it is a business, but it’s not horrible. And does it really matter what was the number one film of the weekend to anyone other than the companies involved? In previous generations no one cared about stuff like that. It’s like, ‘Oh, if it’s not the number one film, then why bother?’ You have to get over that.
What does the rest of the country not understand about Texas?
We’re not as bad as everyone thinks.
What role have drugs played in your life and art?
My drug life has been minimal but profound. The best mixture. I’m kind of a control guy – my head is trippy enough – but the times I have enhanced that with a hallucinogen, I’ve always gotten a lot out of it. I never had a good idea under drugs, at least out of the dentist’s chair. Nitrous oxide actually turns out to have been my most creative. I can point to parts of my movies and go: I had that idea under nitrous oxide.
You keep going back to the same collaborators. Is it because you know you can get the most out of them?
Yeah! And they get the most out of you! Ethan Hawke, Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black…you know, some of the actors I’ve worked with numerous times. They push me. We all need good collaborators and someone who takes you to another place. I’m not an all-knowing being. I’m someone who’s trying to figure out what I’m doing.
So many of your films deal with relationships. What do you want people to understand about family connections and love?
So much of Boyhood is really about finding out who you are. And once you find out who you are, you can actually see your parents as humans that had a kid, who are making it up, too. Once you give everybody a break, everything comes down to your expectations. If you’re too needy, then you’re going to be perpetually disappointed.
The more secure you are in yourself and the more you see everybody else then in a way you can maybe be a better friend, lover, parent, sibling.
Work on yourself. That’s my whole thing. And give everybody a break.