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

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Short Profile

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

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.

Scene from Before Sunrise (1995), the first film in the series of three directed by Richard Linklater. Ethan Hawke co-stars alongside Julie Delpy.

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.

“There’s a great lie that we tell kids that pleasure creates happiness.”

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.