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Why Patricia Arquette is the bravest actress in Hollywood


Patricia Arquette

Patricia Arquette


Patricia Arquette

When Richard Linklater had the idea of making Boyhood, a film that would describe the real life growing up of a boy, Mason, from age six to 18, he wondered why no-one had done it before.

His plan was to shoot a week a year for 12 years, on a tiny budget. It sounded like a great idea, though it did have inevitable challenges.

One of which was that it was difficult to offer potential actors a script. It required an act of great faith on both sides and in Patricia Arquette, Linklater found someone who was not only perfect for the role, but perfectly happy, indeed very keen, to explore the notion of real ageing.

For what a 12-year shoot would reveal above all else were the effects of time.

The result of this brave new venture, which was released last year, proved well worth it. This year has seen Patricia Arquette trot from awards ceremony to awards ceremony collecting gongs for her portrayal of Olivia, Mason's mother.

It's a typical believable, honest Arquette turn, her accolades well-deserved. But what has transfixed so many is her willingness to have the changes of time depicted onscreen.

Arquette seems like an actor without too much, or without overawing vanity - we are all vain - so her willingness to have the ageing process staked out on screen has won her lots of praise (and perhaps raised eyebrows, if those anti-ageing eyebrows can be raised).

But with 12 years in the making, was there ever really a choice but to mark time?

Over the course of Boyhood Olivia goes from divorced mother of two young children, struggling financially, to student, through a new marriage and stepchildren and all the other 'stuff'.

Over the course of shooting Boyhood, Arquette went from 33 to 45, she got pregnant, had a baby, got married and divorced and all of the other stuff in between.

This was the woman who started out her career as the sexpot with a difference in True Romance. She always chose to play things her own way, she never got her little fangs aligned or looked as if she busted a gut not to have a gut.

She made the somewhat frowned-upon, but as it turned out fabulously ahead of the posse, decision to go into TV long before it was the norm.

She had been a young single mother and her priorities seemed different, work to live instead of living to work. So, it was no great surprise that she took the role.

Her life is reflected in the film. Her hair changes, her weight changes and the passing of time and the events of her life show on her face.

Throughout filming she wore little make up and no glamorous outfits, she didn't disguise spare tyres or bingo wings, exhaustion or stress. Time passed. It shows.

Her co-star, Ethan Hawke, who plays the children's father, also inevitably ages over the course of the film.

Of watching the finished movie he has said, "It's a very strange thing - the kids grow up and we age. We are watching them bloom as we are watching us wilt…"

His contrasting of the words "grow" and "wilt" is interesting. It sums up so much about our attitude to age, as if there is an optimum, a time when we are best and after which it's all downhill.

Arquette's role in the film is bigger but it is safe to say that that is not the only reason there has been more focus on her allowing the passage of time to be shown than on Hawke's.

Age is far more a female issue. It was part of the reason she took the role in the first place because, in her 30s, she realised she was already losing roles to younger women and wondering, "How can I be too old if I'm playing opposite a guy who's older than me?"

At the beginning of the process she was excited at the prospect of documenting reality. "Me and Ethan would be getting older, and in Hollywood there is such a pressure to not age and you're supposed to look a certain way, and it's a false pretence. I wanted to really ignore all of that."

But it is one thing to look forward, another to look back. Speaking of seeing the finished result Arquette said, "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 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!'"

As she does her award-collecting rounds it's clear that Arquette has not had a facelift. Her face has lines, it moves. There's also a bit of a belly going on.

Arquette, Nicole Kidman and I are in and of the same age. From that insider perspective I know Nicole is the odd one out.


The recent unphotoshopped picture of Cindy Crawford has been hailed as a reality check, this is what 48-year-old bodies really look like.

Er… no. Not really. It might have some stretch marks and a wibbly bit but there is nothing average about Cindy's 48-year-old body.

If I'm honest I would prefer to have some of Kidman's age-defying magic. I'd prefer it because somehow that seems 'better'. Looking your age, or Heaven forfend, older, is some kind of failure.

Age is now the great taboo in some respects. But the truth is most of us do look our age. Fashions and expectations have altered radically, life and lifestyle are all different but everything is relative and although 40, 50, 90 might no longer look how they used to, there will be few people whose age we cannot guesstimate.

Even people who've worked incredibly hard and/or paid a lot of money to surgeons to erase the effects of time and life still look their age.

Just smoother or plumper-cheeked or shinier foreheaded or weirder, but they look their age.

So perhaps the key to truly successful ageing lies elsewhere. The reason ageing is more of an issue for women is because it is linked to fertility. Men can have children until they pop those orthopaedic clogs. Women cannot.

At 50 a tampon falling out of your bag is some kind of badge of honour because it suggests that it's still business as usual in the ovary department, which in turn suggests youth.

The menopause is all still a bit whispery and embarrassing but no longer so much because of shame around the biological aspects, but more because of what it means regarding age.

Procreate or not, the reproductive imperative is fundamental to all living organisms. When that ends, on some level we see it as terribly final.

People getting fillers and face lifts and plumpers are all just trying to look fertile. But many of us will live as much time infertile as fertile. Given that for most of us the actual childbearing years are very few, if at all, and the rest of the fertile years are spent frantically dodging child-bearing, is it not slightly tragic to try to fake fertility?

It is a battle that cannot be won, on any level. And, in focusing too fervently on tweaking the superficial, we are missing out on some of the great stuff that comes with getting older.

What's good about getting older is that you have earned your stripes. They take the form of wrinkles, stretch marks and scars, and not in the spirit of some annoying e-card, but these earned stripes prove who we are, and why we don't have to care what other people think.


A brief, unscientific poll of some of the youth that pass through my house revealed that older people (read anyone over 40) who are cool are the ones who look like they have their own style: "Not old people in young people clothes, old people in their own individual style," one said.

You can look good for your age but you can never really not look your age. You can avoid being defined by it.

The most attractive people in the world are those who don't need approval and tend not to judge. This is really hard to achieve when you are young. It is the gift you can receive when you're older. You just have to own it.