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Ethan Hawke: “I wonder if I’m up to the task”

May 16, 2012

Mr. Hawke, has a life in the film business been what you expected it would be when you started out?

You know, ever since I turned 40 I’ve been asking myself a lot of those questions. I don’t know. I’ve been doing this since I was thirteen and I feel I’ve made a handful of pretty good movies. It’s very difficult to make a good film, very difficult. So many things need to happen right. It’s possible to make a good film in Hollywood; it’s harder to make a film that can last any amount of time. But it really all depends on what your inner goal is, you know? More and more I realize that if your goal is to be a big shot, you’ve got to make them in Hollywood.

And if you’re not interested in being a big shot?

If your goal is to tell the truth and try to make something beautiful, then you’re going to be less likely to do that in Hollywood. Some of the best times I’ve had in my life have been on a film set – working with Richard Linklater and Julie Delpy in Paris writing Before Sunset together. I could die. It was what I’d dreamed of doing.

So to be successful in Hollywood do you have to sell out a little bit?

No. For example, I sometimes think about Paul McCartney. People always say, “Oh, Paul McCartney, he sold out. He writes popular music.” Paul McCartney is as true to himself as John Lennon was true to himself. They just had different interests. One of the things that I find is that I tend not to be very good at making commercial Hollywood movies. Every time I try, I fail, because I don’t understand them. I worked with Denzel Washington and he understands how to make a good Hollywood movie. He understands what the audience is thinking and wanting and knows how to do that without being crass. It’s an art; it’s a skill. It’s just a question of what your goal is. I do think about what I want from the second half of my life. I don’t know what I want to do…

Do you think you’ll be in the film business forever?

I don’t know. It’s been a lot harder than I thought it was going to be to make the films I really dream of making. I was in Italy a few years ago scouting for this very beautiful film I wanted to make with Richard Linklater. We worked really hard on the script for a couple of years and couldn’t get the money together. It was an expensive idea. It’s heartbreaking when that happens over and over again and then the movies that do get made are ones that have lots of women being beaten up or zombies being killed.

Does that upset you?

It’s all fine, it’s all okay, but it’s hard. I remember when River Phoenix died, he was ahead of me on this curve. He kind of realized how hard it was to make serious movies. People like Sidney Lumet figured out how to walk that line, but it’s hard. And it requires patience. It’s a life’s work and I wonder if I’m up to the task.

Do you think maybe George Clooney is doing that these days?

He’s remarkable! I feel like he’s class president. I think he’s doing a remarkable job of making movies that are thought provoking and artistic and commercial. I don’t know how the guy does it. Hats off to him.

Well hold on. He hasn’t got four kids.

That’s true. I was at a party not too long ago at the Toronto Film Festival and he was there and he just looked so gorgeous. He’s walking around and the seas seemed to part as he walked through. It’s like being at a party with Frank Sinatra in 1956 or something. I leaned over to a friend and said, “Where did I go wrong?” And he said, “Well, it’s those four beautiful kids you love so much.” They really do take a lot of time, but I wouldn’t trade it for a second.

Is being a father a source of strength and bliss for you?

I love being a father. I think there’s a great lie that we tell kids that pleasure creates happiness. Young people think: “Oh, if I get this, I’ll be happy.” But in a lot of ways it’s meeting your responsibilities that makes you happy. For me, I’ve just found that feeling like I’ve done a good job with the kids is a real source of happiness for me.

Have you tried to teach them the fulfillment that one can get from the arts?

No. If you have to teach that, you’ve lost already. You know what I mean? It’s like the Rilke Letters To A Young Poet thing – if you can do anything else, you really should.

What was the biggest change in your life after having children?

I think the realization of forgiveness for my own parents. I had an idea that being a parent was something other. One thing that’s clear to me about when a baby is born is that I didn’t do that. You know? I have no idea how to create one of those things and yet it happens. Nature is so much bigger and more powerful than we are. I’ve been hit with that. I have four kids and every time one of them is born I get hit that there’s something going on that’s so much bigger. I don’t have a name for it, but it’s so powerful. That’s the biggest realization. Because I’m still the same person I was when I was thirteen – I’m not qualified to be their parent at all.

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Short Profile

Name: Ethan Green Hawke
DOB: 6 November 1970
Place of Birth: Austin, Texas, USA
Occupation: Actor

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16 Responses to this Interview

  1. Harrison Winter

    Great interview. I’m a big fan of Ethan and Before Sunset. He must be right about how hard it is to get a serious, truthful movie made. If you can, they become somewhat immortal though. That’s got to be a solid use of a life’s work, right? Looking forward to seeing what Ethan Hawke puts out/gets involved in in the future.


  2. “Where did I wrong?” Lol. This is funny. I bet many people really do feel that Ethan was going to be much bigger. He has always been a great actor and a magnetic personality but when he was young he was also hot and gorgeous!

    • That’s funny – when he was younger I found him very uninteresting to look at, but he is becoming more attractive as he ages. His face shows much more character.

  3. Ethan é realmente uma pessoa maravilhosa, um ator singular. Portanto, neste mundo louco onde vivemos em que o bom é o trágico, Ethan não poderia estar no topo. Infelizmente.

  4. Ethan is really a wonderful person, a natural actor. Therefore, in this crazy world we live in where good is the tragic, Ethan could not be at the top. Unfortunately.

  5. design elements

    wonderful interview! I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Before Sunset.

    p.s.: better 4 kids than looking gorgeous

  6. Denzel Washington did do a miraculous performance in Training Day. He succeeded to bring street attitude and language that ringed authentic and true on screen. And Ethan Hawk was his perfect match as a supporting actor. He gave to each scene the perfect hue to his acting so that his character grew progressively as he was gaining consciousness of the trap he was in… down to the final confrontation, where he revealed complete control of his art, in one of the most beautiful scenes an action movie will ever display. Thanks Ethan!!!

    • Well put! Truly one of the great displays of matter and antimatter, counter weights amongst the best in cinema! (or) As Mr. Washington called out to Mr. Hawke when he was accepting his Oscar “Here’s to my partner in crime” Bravo!

  7. When you say Ethan Hawke, sequels Before Sunrise and Before Sunset comes first right thru my mind. Gracious great movies!

  8. wonderfully said!It’s so fascinating to read his interview.. God bless! :) :)

  9. I’m impressed by his honesty. All my respect.
    Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are my most favourite movies ever.
    Being able to give life and truth in the acting with only two characters must require some great skill. And for sure the movie becomes immortal; unlike commercial movies who are meant to be consumed like junk food.

    Besides, being a father is certainly a bliss and a source of inspiration. It’s ok not to be on the top, no one lasts there anyway; the most important is to stay true to your values and yes, realize that happiness in fullfilling your responsibilities, and facing life challenges with a head up high and a thirst to learn more and be the best person you can.

    All the best.

  10. Great, great actor, unforgettable roles, but even better to be a genuine and honest human being. Congrats from a Mexican fan.

  11. Hawke vs Clooney… No contest for me, Hawke is the better actor. i really never understood the Clooney mystique…all smoke and mirrors, as far as I concerned.

  12. If your goal was to make memorable, soal touching movies you didn’t go wrong at all. I grew with the “Before…” series and each one spoke to my heart. Before sunrise and Before sunset are two of my top ten movies of all time and I think they are timless and will continue moving people for many many years.

  13. I’m reading this at the day Hawke turned 45. I’m following his career in acting (and directing) since Dead Poets. I’m grateful for the ‘handful of pretty good movies’ he made since those are the movies who could brighten my day. Before Sunrise, Dead Poets, Boyhood, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Snow Falling on Cedars ,Tape, Gattaca, Great Expectations, Alive and Reality Bites are films who had a certain positive influence on me – they learned me something. It’s incredible how under-appreciated Tape is. As far as I am concerned I’m looking forward to every film Mr. Hawke will be making – whether it will be good or not – I’ll decide on that after watching them.

  14. Another fabulous interview on a very interesting, thinking actor. A latter day Jimmy Dean. And like others the Before series are amongst my all time fave movies. Thank you The Talks…and all for your comments which I really enjoyed.

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