Patricia Arquette on her role of a lifetime

The "Boyhood" star - an Oscar frontrunner - is a fourth-generation actor who measures the rewards of her profession beyond fame.

CBS News

Patricia Arquette is an Oscar nominee for her role in the movie "Boyhood." So will it be her name we hear when they ask for "The envelope, please..."? Lord knows it's taken a long time to get there, as she explains to Mo Rocca:

As she walks the red carpet this award season, Patricia Arquette is completing a journey a dozen years in the making -- one that all began with a phone call from director Richard Linklater.

"He just called me and said, 'What are you gonna be doing for the next 12 years?'" laughed Arquette. "I had no idea what he was talking about. So I said, 'Well, I'll probably be raising my son (because I didn't have my daughter yet). What are you gonna be doing?'"

Linklater's pitch was an audacious one: a movie called "Boyhood," a story about a family that would be filmed over 12 years ... a fictional tale told in real time.

"I was like, 'Are you thinking of me?' He was like, 'Yeah, I was wondering if you might be interested.' I was like, 'I'm in.' And then I was like, 'Oh, I should probably ask you what my part is!'" she laughed. "And he was like, 'You're gonna be the mom.'

"I thought, 'Cool. Maybe I'll be in two scenes, like, Don't forget your bat!'"

In its portrayal of a struggling single mom, the movie is as much about her growth as it is about the kids'. Arquette and Ethan Hawke, who plays her ex-husband, are both nominated for Oscars.

Her child co-stars are first-time actors Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater, the daughter of the director.

Arquette bonded with her young co-stars through her director's collaborative way of working: "He introduced me to the kids. He moved out of his house. I had the kids alone all weekend. I tucked them in bed. I read them stories, made them breakfast."

"It was such a long commitment - at some point, did you go, 'Oh, my God, if this thing craters, I will have spent nine, 10 years of my life on this'?" asked Rocca.

"I think it was, like, six or seven years [in], we were like, 'Yeah, this would really suck if this just falls apart!'" she laughed.

When asked if she had any anxiety about a movie in which an audience sees her age 12 years," Arquette replied, "No, I was excited about that. When Rick first told me about it, I knew the kids would grow up really fast, and then I knew Ethan and I would get old really fast. I wanted to move into this next phase of my career, and I wanted to leave all of that behind."

"That" was a string of roles playing the ingénue -- not that Arquette was ever run-of-the-mill. She played a scream queen in "Nightmare on Elm Street 3." And she broke through in the '1993 cult classic "True Romance," playing the sexy survivor Alabama Whitman.

Arquette took all kinds of parts because, well, she had to. She was a young mother who had her son, Enzo, when she was 20.

"How did it affect your life as an actor?" asked Rocca.

"I don't think I would be a successful actor if I hadn't been a young mom," she said. "I don't think you can just think, Let me be precious with my career. I can't do that! You have to do what you have to do to support your kids."

Arquette comes from a long line of actors who know what it takes to put food on the table. Her great-grandparents were in vaudeville, and her grandfather, Cliff, was a comedy star on the small screen.

Grandpa Cliff Arquette's character, Charlie Weaver, was a staple on Jack Paar's "Tonight Show," and later on the game show "Hollywood Squares."

"He was a real Civil War buff, and he was one of the first people that saw the importance of recognizing battlefields," said Arquette. He even opened his own Civil War museum at Gettysburg.

"I was actually conceived on the Gettysburg battlefield!" said Arquette.

"Bury the lead!" said Mo. "Gosh, on the Union or the Confederate side?"

"Oh, Union. We were Union people. My parents were visiting him, and that's how I came into the world."