Zen and the art of being Ethan Hawke
Ethan Hawke INTERVIEW: He's a star, but he's not in the usual Hollywood mould. John Lyttle finds out what makes Ethan Hawke tick
Ethan Hawke is jet-lagged. Punch drunk. Letting his words drag. Forty-eight hours ago he was hovering in the air over New Zealand, having finally wrapped talks on his top secret role in the third chunk of director Peter Jackson's $300million Lord Of The Rings trilogy: "I think Peter's already a little crazy. It's like talking to Coppola on Apocalypse Now. He's been to the edge and looked over. And the film's supposed to be over budget and behind schedule..." Shrug. "Peter will make one hell of a movie."
Twenty-four hours after that, Ethan was in Tokyo to promote the screen version of David Guterson's best-selling novel Snow Falling On Cedars, which opened at UK cinemas yesterday. As languid, stylised and symbol-laden as Kabuki theatre, this murder-mystery cum study of Japanese incarceration in U.S. prison camps circa World War II has Hawke giving a quantum leap performance as a small town reporter stranded between revenge and conscience.
I fling a pet theory in his direction: when he hit the big time as the suicidal wannabe thespian in Dead Poets Society and then followed up with Byronic handsomeness in 1995's Before Sunrise and Reality Bites with Winona Ryder, he kept teasing the camera. Now he obliges the camera to come to him. It's very Fifties, very Method and quite dangerous.
Which explains why critics adore him. And why studios would much rather he was a traditional male ingenue the system could market, in the mould off Ben Affleck or his great pal Matt Damon: properties willing to swing between small, "personal" projects that bury doubts of selling out and high-profile summer blockbusters. But, the Montgomery Clift of his generation, Hawke doesn't court the mainstream. Which is precisely why the other boys envy and admire him. He may not deliver mega-grosses but he does lead the pack.
"That's very accurate. You noticed!" Hawke tilts across the coffee table, an abstract arrangement of sharp angles in black Armani and dark blue shirt.
"I've been stripping down to the essentials. I've got around three lines of dialogue in Snow Falling On Cedars. It's practically a silent movie. No artifice. I... can't express it. So much of our lives is trivia.
I wanted to find the authentic.
"Stripping down. I've been trying to do that in my work and in my life, I guess." In his life - the life led off-screen - Hawke married Uma Thurman, who he met on the set of the sci-fi film Gattaca, in May 1998. Now he has a truly gorgeous, and demanding, baby daughter, Maya Ray. It's an important time for him. He will be turning 30 this year and has become more aware of the pressures of parenthood (his own parents separated when he was a toddler).
"Since Maya, Uma and I made a promise not work at the same time. To be there for Maya."
Sigh. Thurman has been in Cannes this week, promoting her new film with Gerard Depardieu, Vatel. "It's not easy.
I'd be a liar to say otherwise, but I love Uma so much."
And what about him? "Me? Well, in Europe you guys seem to want to encourage actors to direct and write and produce. That allows me leeway."
Hawke has also written a formidable debut novel, The Hottest State, a bleakly witty and almost embarrassingly moving story of how relationships really dysfunction in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Reviled in the States, the book garnered rave reviews abroad.
"It came out of taking a couple of years off after REality Bites," says Hawke. "When I came back to acting I tried to approach it with a great deal more simplicity. That's what I'm doing now. And... I have to be careful. It can reach the edge of boredom."
Itell Hawke how I caught Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach the day before I wallowed in Snow Falling On Cedars and couldn't help but wonder why DiCaprio agreed to it.
"Leo! Like, I know I really don't want to do films like Armageddon, so why do a movie like The Beach unless it's financial? But I can't blame him. It's hard to navigate between doing the kind of work you want to do and the commercial imperative.
"One of the things that's interesting about Leo is that someone like him hasn't happened in a long time. You know, an artist actually getting there. Before Titanic Leo was someone to watch. His worst performance is his most successful. That's kind of sad."
What about Hawke's British stage non-appearance a few years ago: Hurlyburly? He had apparently been keen to work with Bill Kenwright, who had put on a successful production of the play at the Young Vic, and then... no show.
"Perhaps I shouldn't talk." Why not? "I was sued, and everyone involved agreed it shouldn't make the press." I won't tell a soul. Apart from everyone I've ever known. "OK," Ethan agrees, laughing. "On the first day of rehearsal..." Yep? "They didn't have the rest of the cast." Pardon? "The producers told me so-and-so would be in Hurlyburly. But I spent a few days ringing some of the names. Like, Jude [Law]. Then I thought, f*** it.
"The producers ended up with the cast who had done it earlier. Which is what they should have gone for in the first place. I couldn't have managed the nuances in three weeks. Never."
Hawke is aware of what he can and can't manage. Especially these days, with a wife and child. "Maya is 18 months old and we're all still adjusting," he says; the smile is hopelessly happy. "Babies are like a bomb going off. That's been hard for Uma. She's nuts for Maya. Uma is so serious about motherhood." And fatherhood? "Sure. Hell. Totally. I have learned to say: 'Ethan, you can no longer do three movies a year - not if you want to stay married.'
"So I have to just pick one. And do a good job." Only certainty turns to doubt: "And I do - we do - don't we? It can get a little scary in this environment. Movies are like life that way. You want both to turn out good. Or at least something you can be proud of. Even if Tom Cruise first turned it down."
UPDATE (from AICN)
Ethan Hawke will not be in LORD OF THE RINGS
Many site are reporting a story from The Daily Express that claims to have talked with Ethan Hawke a mere 48 hours after returning from a long ass flight from New Zealand where he allegedly had just wrapped up discussion to play a part in RETURN OF THE KING. Well, quite some time ago I had a chance to talk to Ethan Hawke about Faramir and performing in LORD OF THE RINGS, he seemed fairly up to do it, saying that he was looking forward to it. But in no NEW LINE Press Releases or notes in VARIETY or HOLLYWOOD REPORTER ever followed up on this. So in the article when it began talking about how Peter Jackson was going crazy "like talking to Coppola on APOCALYPSE NOW" and how the film was behind schedule and was over budget.... Well, that didn't seem to jibe with what I know, but being concerned I contacted folks in New Zealand and over at New Line.
Shooting will wrap as planned Christmas 2000. Ethan Hawke is not cast in any chapter of LORD OF THE RINGS, and has not been down in New Zealand meeting with Peter Jackson. As for the budget stuff, everything seems quite within reality. Of course on a film like this, you could always use extra dinero to make it go... just that much further. But NEW LINE is very much on top of it and isn't going to penny pinch the production. Thanks to the interest in the LOTR online Trailer debut.... they have a very positive attitude towards production, plus with the footage they are getting back, they've been very happy.
As a matter of fact there was a top secret screening of 35 minutes of footage from the production screened at CANNES yesterday, and we are very much looking for folks that might have seen that footage. ARE YOU OUT THERE? Are you capable of speech or operating of a keyboard after seeing it? Write in and let's hear it!