Ethan Green Hawke is an American actor, writer and director. He has been nominated for Academy Awards, both as an actor and a writer, and a Tony Award. Hawke has directed two feature films, three Off-Broadway plays, and a documentary, and wrote the novels The Hottest State and Ash Wednesday. Hawke made his film debut in 1985 with the science fiction feature Explorers, before making a breakthrough appearance in the 1989 drama Dead Poets Society. He then appeared in numerous films before taking a role in the 1994 Generation X drama Reality Bites, for which he received critical praise. In 1995 he starred in the romantic drama Before Sunrise, and later in its sequels Before Sunset and Before Midnight. In 2001, Hawke played a young police officer in Training Day, for which he received Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nominations in the Best Supporting Actor category. He also garnered two screenwriting Oscar nominations for co-writing the screenplays of Before Sunset and Before Midnight.
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Hello everyone. It's been...more than a year since I broke my AMAA virginity. It's exciting to be back again. Victoria's helping me out today. The answers will be mine, but any spelling errors should be attributed to her.
My latest film is PREDESTINATION, the trailer for which you can see here. It's a film I made with the Spierig brothers. They made the film I did, DAYBREAKERS, and in a world where everybody's trying to sell you something, the Spierig brothers are unapologetically out of their minds.
Let's get started!
This is my favorite avenue for an interview that I've ever done. It's so enjoyable to talk to everybody, and to hear what people are thinking about, and what interests them. It's like skipping the journalist!
Let me take a brief moment to do a little shameless advertising for PREDESTINATION. Sarah Snook's performance really is worth the price of admission. And if you're interested in real science fiction, you won't be disappointed. It will make you think.
And if not - God bless you. Thank you all.
What was the most difficult thing about the 12 years of filming Boyhood?
I... from about 3 or 4 years in, realized that this was the most special endeavor of my life.
And in the last 12 years that we were making it, there have been many ups and downs in my career. And sometimes, when I would have a down period, in the back of my mind, I would never let myself get too down, cuz I was working on the best film of my life.
I just had to be patient and wait for people to see it.
You seem to pick good sci-fis from time to time, what's your relationship to this genre? Do you have any favorite films?
Yes, thanks for asking that question.
For me, one of the first things that turned me onto reading was science fiction.
From Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, H.G.Wells - what people call the "Golden Era" of sci-fi - it's one of the few places you can really talk about philosophy and politics without being either pretentious or a blowhard.
And PREDESTINATION, GATTACA, and also THE PURGE are... 3 films I'm extremely proud of. Because they use science fiction to approach ideas that are difficult to talk about without getting mired down in obvious politics (where, let's face it, all of us have our knee-jerk reaction - I have the leftwing point of view, I have the rightwing point of view, so discussion breaks down).
For example, when I read THE PURGE, on one level, it's just a scary movie, but on another movie, it manages to talk about class warfare in a way that is extremely relevant. Seeing the image of a young black man running through an extremely affluent suburban neighborhood with everyones' doors closed to him isn't really as science fiction as it might have announced itself to be.
And for that matter, look at the moral conundrums that GATTACA asked - which are right here. To what extent do we really want to homogenize ourselves, when it's our uniqueness that makes us special - when so many of us, when given the option, would eliminate that? For example - if they can discover dyslexia in the embryo, and get rid of it, many people would choose to do that. And we'd lose Albert Einstein, John Lennon, and my daughter.
And with PREDESTINATION, it examines the consequences of our choices. It's using the metaphor of time travel to explore the consequences of our choices. Because, let's face it, look no further than BOYHOOD to realize that we all are time-traveling, all the time.
You know, one of my favorite sci-fi movies of recent years was DISTRICT 9. That was pretty fantastic. As was DISTRICT B-13, one of my favorite recent movies.
What's interesting about the drone project with Andrew Niccol is that it feels like a futuristic movie when you watch it, but it's all right here and right now! Technology is exploding so fast.
If someone had never seen any of your work, what would you want them to watch first?
It's strange, but... there's something about performing on the stage, live, that is always a little different, and a little bit more special to me, because it's a shared experience. If someone comes up to me and says they loved TRAINING DAY or GATTACA or DEAD POET'S SOCIETY, it's cool and meaningful... but when someone approaches me and saw me in, let's say, HENRY IV in 2003... it's different because it means we were actually once in the room together.
And I think "What night did you see it?" And they'd say "New Year's Eve" and I'd say "I remember that show!"
So there's something really tangible about the actor / audience relationship that I've always struggled with with movies.
What is it about your relationship with Richard Linklater that makes your collaboration so productive?
It's a little bit of a mystery, and I'm scared to talk about it, because I don't understand it.
I remember when I first met him, I was in a play with one of the cast members of DAZED & CONFUSED. DAZED hadn't come out yet, but Rick and I started talking after the performance, and all of a sudden, 6 or 7 hours went by.
And that doesn't happen very often.
And we've been kind of talking like that for 20 years now.
Perhaps it's cuz... we have a similar background? Perhaps a shared obsession with time? But really, in truth, I don't know and I try not to ask because I just want to keep doing it.
Who is the most interesting person you have ever had dinner/drinks with?
Tell you what. It's pretty interesting to have dinner with my 16 year old daughter, and my 13 year old son.
They're growing up at such a fascinating moment in time. And how they see the world is so different than me... and yet, we're so similar in so many obvious ways, I mean, we share much of the same DNA.
I can see the future in them.
And I begin to understand what older people have been talking about my whole life.
This is the first time I've posted to an AMA. I just watched Boyhood, and I thought it was crazy to see all of the characters age in real time.
Is it weird to watch Boyhood and watch yourself age right before your eyes?
It would probably freak me out.
Looking forward to watching Predestination!
Well, it would freak me out too, if I thought about it as me. As, you know, me. But I've become so invested in the idea of telling the story of this family, and when Richard Linklater first approached me with this concept, I had this idea of a portrait of fatherhood that maybe I could do.
Which was, if I thought about my image of my own father, when I was 6 years old, and I tried to marry it to the image of my father at my high school graduation - I saw a HUGE maturation and a huge growth that had happened to him. Not just to me.
So I thought what if I could tell that story? The story of an adult's maturation?
When I was young, my dad seemed so wild. And by the time I was 18, he was such a positive role model in my life.
My point is only that - the movie is very clearly about a young person growing into a young man. But I thought wouldn't it be beautiful to see an adult - someone who's already an adult- continue on a similar maturation process. Does that make sense?
So for me, it's not like looking at a photo album and thinking Oh my god, my hair's going gray. It was really and truly being a part of a kind of storytelling that hadn't been done before? And I was psyched to be a part of it.
I don't need the movie to remind me that I'm old. I know it, haha!
Would you consider doing a sequel to Daybreakers? Is there any favourite story you would like to share with us from making this movie? I liked it a lot!
You know, I was really disappointed DAYBREAKERS didn't connect with more audiences, because i had this suspicion that the Spierig Brothers had a sequel that was going to be better than the first film in them. They once told me ALL about it, at length, the sequel they had imagined. And the sequel was going to be ROAD WARRIOR - to DAYBREAKERS, which was the MAD MAX. I realized when they were telling it to me that DAYBREAKERS was the setup to the second film they were going to make.
Which was going to be - ALL CAPS - BRILLLIANT.
How do you remember making Gattaca? How was your cooperation with Andrew Niccol and Uma Thurman? Was it this experience that led to your next cooperation with Andrew in Good Kill?
Well, of course I remember making GATTACA. And my relationship with everybody involved was about as good as it gets! I fell in love and married Uma and had 2 children, and I made 2 movies with Andrew Niccol, and let's tell the truth, it was about one of the best debut performances of the last 20 years, Jude Law's. I knew from the moment he screen-tested that a star was being born. He's a magnificent performer. In fact, the only thing like it I've ever seen in Sarah Snook in PREDESTINATION. I had the same feeling working with Sarah that I did with Jude, which was...thrilling. To be in the presence of a young person who was already a fully actualized artist.
Andrew Niccol and I made a film called GOOD KILL, that's going to come out in May, that explores the contemporary drone program. (It's really good).
What was your favorite cartoon growing up, and what is your favorite cartoon now?
One time, my son asked me what the Academy Awards were. And I told him it was a prize that people give out to the best movies every year. And he said "Wow. Scooby-Doo must have a TON."
So I think I'm going to go with Scooby-Doo as my favorite then and now. If only because all 4 kids that i have have just LOVED it. They like it like most people like Thanksgiving dinner. All of it. Particularly the old vintage ones.
The Oscars have been getting some flack for lack of diversity among the nominations for important awards. What are your thoughts on this criticism? Is it valid, is there anything the industry can do better about this in the future?
My mother lives in Bucharest, Romania. And she's dedicated her life to working with Roma people, and trying to end the discrimination against "gypsies" all through Eastern Europe. And one of the things that she keeps talking about is how much the culture over there reminds her of growing up in the 60's in Abilene, Texas. My grandfather was a manager of the Abilene Blue Sox, which was the farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers. And he was part of a handful of white men, selected to help find the first black Major Leaguer. It was the great pride of his life, to be a part of this, and brought him into politics - he went on to be a state representative for four or five terms.
It also thrust my family into the heart of the civil rights movement in Texas. Which was extremely relevant to the nation at the time, as LBJ's connection to Texas and how (with his pull in the Southern states), how important Texas became to the whole civil rights movement.
I bring this all up to say - to simply quote my mother - who often talks about, sadly, truthfully - what's needed to end racism and discrimination is two generations of education.
And every time a film like TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE or SELMA wins awards, it boosts our national education.
I was lucky enough to watch Harry Belafonte speak several times in my life on just this subject, and he is a very persuasive and intelligent speaker on the importance of what images are out there in the world, and what stories are being told. SELMA is nominated for Best Film. And that is the highest prize our industry has to offer. And it's the only prize that I've ever cared about. When DEAD POET'S SOCIETY was nominated for Best Picture, it was just so wonderful, I made my own personal goal just to have another movie nominated for Best Picture before I die. And now BOYHOOD is nominated. So I need to come up with a new goal.
Thanks so much for doing this. The Before movies are my all time favorites. I'm always a decade behind the characters as far as age goes, but somehow I find that I'm able to relate to their personal struggles regardless. So much awesomeness.
Anyway, I saw a recent interview where you mentioned that Criterion is working on getting us the Before Trilogy on blu-ray. (Fingers crossed!!) Any idea on what kinds of cool bonus features/commentaries might be included??
P.S. Congratulations on all the nominations. I feel like I've been pushing yours and Linklater's brilliance for so long and it's great to see you guys get recognized in such a splendid fashion.
Well, (A) thank you, obviously, thank you so much.
And I'm really hopeful this Criterion thing will work out. We made each movie with a different company. So the legalities of getting them all put under one umbrella has been more difficult than we wanted.
But Linklater's got a lot of fun bonuses. My hope is to finally get to see my screen test with Julie, you know? I've never even seen that. smiles
And I remember it because if you want to meet an intimidating 23 year old woman, Julie Delpy is certainly one of the most intimidating I've ever met. But I'd love to see our audition together, you know?
Are awards important? Why should it matter what a select group of mostly strangers think of your work?
Well, let's face it. If we want to think logically, the whole concept of competition in the arts is antithetical to the idea of creativity. Everyone's creativity is equal. Everyone has the same rights, and the same needs, for expression.
I look at it like this: if they didn't have awards, then the only basis for decision-making that producers would have...is money.
Awards are the one thing that push producers and financiers to more substantive ideas.
For example, I don't think that some of the best movies of all time would've been made if in the back of some producer's mind, he didn't think I might win the Cannes film festival!
We're competitive by nature. But - being clear - I, in no way, think that any one of these things is actually better than another. The only real awards show would be one that gave me a prize for the best movie of 1939, 50 years later. That would be the real one. And the shocker would be how few overlaps there would be.
So that's not lost on me. Some of my favorite actors I've ever worked with, or met, haven't won one stinking prize.
And here's a funny example too - I remember (this is going to be a little long-winded) reading an interview with the quarterback Peyton Manning.
When asked if he was jealous that his brother had 2 MVP awards and he only had one, he said (and I'm paraphrasing) "My father taught us both how to throw the football, and he doesn't have one. Football is a team sport, Eli and I are both smart enough to know that without a great defense, without great receivers, without a great offensive line, without a great coaching staff, we wouldn't be in a position to receive that award."
Likewise, there are artists all over the world doing magnificent work that aren't in the position for the public to notice them.
But time will reveal it.
Through the years of acting, how has it been? What is motivating you to keeping going? How was it to show up on the first movie you ever did compaired to now?
PS: Love your work :)
My first day on a film set, I was 13 years old, and I was doing a scene with River Phoenix.
And the lights were so bright that my eyes wouldn't stop tearing. I just... kept looking like I was crying. And the director kept having to stop shooting, to try to give my eyes time to adjust. And then I felt like I was really going to cry, because i was so worried that my great dream, that I was going to be an actor, was going to prove impossible, because my stupid eyes wouldn't stop crying.
So it was a terrible day.
So things have been improving since then.
I think what motivates me is... really... just loving it?
And I kind of believe that one of the things we're all here to do is to tell each other our stories. And so we can see - on a much broader landscape - we all go through life with such a tiny point of view.
This little keyhole of our immediate friends and family. And the more stories we get told - the more we get a glimpse into other people's keyholes. And we can start to see a larger reality.
And I know there are a lot of meaningful ways to spend a person's life. But this is the only one I've ever shown any aptitude for.
And so I've just followed that.
Training Day is one of my favorite movies! Who is the coolest person you've worked with and why is it Denzel Washington?
Well, Denzel is definitely (to my mind) the reigning lion of my profession.
He makes every other alpha dog I've met seem a little beta.
I've said this before, and I hope he doesn't mind, but you remember that feeling, the last few weeks of the senior year of high school when you don't care what other people think of you? That's the way Denzel goes through life. And I admire the hell out of him. There are very few people who are on the list of the great movie stars of their time, and the great actors of their time. He is a serious artist who had many obstacles that I will never know and he transcended every one of them with such ease & grace that it made it seem like they weren't even there.
What did Robin William's passing mean to you?
Well, if you're interested, there's a fantastic piece written by the actor Peter Coyote that I found terribly moving.
I'm sure you can find it on the internet.
But Robin was a comic genius. And balance is so hard for all of us.
But when you're capable of the extreme highs that Robin was capable of - balance becomes even more difficult.
And I think what we ALL found so moving, and tragic, about Robin's passing was there was something deeply, deeply, DEEPLY kind about him.
There was a tremendous amount of love inside his eyes, and his humor, and his wit.
And I can tell you that it was real.
He got me my first agent. And that agent is still my agent. And he looked after me in the days surrounding the opening of DEAD POET'S SOCIETY. Which is a very dangerous moment for a young person. And when I think back now on how fortunate i was to have artists like Peter Weir, and Robin Williams, to be my role models as a young man - I kind've crippled in gratitude.
If you had to fist fight one of the characters you've played who would you fight?
Haha! I would fistfight Hank from BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, because he's such a coward, spineless little rat that I know he would run away!
What is your favorite town in Nova Scotia?
They sure are friendly there.
They sure are friendly.
The magic of Nova Scotia is not just the landscape, it's the unbelievably kind people.
There's not a superficial smile on the street.
I always like Guysborough? I was told (parenthetical: I don't know about the historical accuracy of this) that it was the end of the underground railway.
And I've been moved by how consistently Canadians have been on the right side of history.
Hi Ethan! Thank you so much for doing this AMA.
How is your day going?
Well, I'll be totally honest.
I was in LA last night, with the whole BOYHOOD clan, for the Critic's Choice Awards Ceremony. But I took the red eye home, because my son had his birthday yesterday, and he has a basketball game this afternoon that I'm gonna make, and then take him out for his birthday. And so I didn't really sleep, and I have that strange thing that sometimes happens on flights where your ears won't pop? So I feel a little bit like I'm "the boy in the bubble."
You always think... you can do red eyes? But it's hard. I keep looking forward to laying my head on my pillow tonight.
Hi Ethan, I really enjoyed Boyhood, so many thanks to you and the crew. My question is, how did you approach your role in 'Alive'? It's quite a harrowing experience.
Good luck for the Oscars!
ALIVE, wow. Well, what was hard about that movie was - is - an easy answer. Which is that I was put on an 1100-a-day calorie diet for about 4 months. It was just torture.
But we got to work every day on top of a glacier. We lived in an abandoned ski resort, and in the morning, we'd take a helicopter to the top of the mountain where they'd built a blown-up airplane, and... it was the strangest experience. To be standing on top of this glacier, with a pocket full of carrots, haha, and about 20 other guys.
It was pretty lonely.
Hi Ethan, thanks for doing this AMA!
My friends and I watched Predestination (during a dry period in Tahoe) On Demand and have been having heated debates about the movie ever since. It remains unresolved but the movie was definitely one of the best highlights of our trip!
And for a question I ask everyone, you have been sentenced to death for a crime you did not commit, what would you choose as your final meal?
stares out window
Well, growing up in Texas, the big special getting-to-go-out-to-dinner was Joe T. Garcia's, which is kinda the Red Lobster of Mexican food places, haha!
But that was always what my idea of the fanciest restaurant in the world, so if I had one meal, I would probably order in from Joe T. Garcia's.
Hey Ethan, what was your worst subject in high school and why? Congrats on the Oscar nomination, and thanks for doing this AMA!
My worst subject was by far chemistry. And to give you an example of HOW bad, I remember once being called to the Principal's office for my lab report. Because it was SO illogical, and made so little sense, that my professor was CERTAIN that some Seniors had tricked me into buying a fake lab report and they were playing a practical joke - because he didn't believe that anyone could have such little intelligence that they could come up with a conclusion like I came up with.
What do you do to relax after a busy day?
The only thing that can really relax me is spending time with the small people in my life, you know?
They don't care about any of my problems. All they're interested in is playing Bird Bingo. And even my 16 year old - my favorite thing to do, probably, is play guitar with her. She's far surpassed my musical talents. And my favorite time of day is when the little kids are going to sleep and we get to play guitar.
What are you afraid of?
I really think that's pretty much all any of us are really afraid of. We know it's going to happen. So unfortunate, haha!
Hey Mr. Hawke! Just wanted to start off by telling you that you're both mine and my dad's favorite actor, and it's a pleasure to watch you on screen. We also love superhero films. You were super close to landing the Dr. Strange role. Are there any other superhero roles you have an eye on?
Thanks! And boyhood was freaking amazing. Congrats on the oscar nod!
Doctor Strange sounds particularly interesting to me, not just because of the quality of the comic, but because of the man Marvel hired at the helm. Scott Derricksen directed me in SINISTER, and there's a lot of lousy horror movies made. But Scott Derricksen really understands the genre. And the math and geometry involved in telling a great ghost story. And I feel certain that he will make an excellent Doctor Strange film if they give him the reins.
But really, I don't covet any roles as much as I covet relationships with talented people. People often ask me "Do I prefer theater or film, or writing or acting?" And what I really prefer is being in a room with gifted, passionate people. Because it's contagious. It helps you be in touch with the best part of yourself.
And sometimes, that doesn't mean really successful, big-shot types. Sometimes it means being in the room with students, and young people whose idealism is undaunted.
I like listening to Laurelai Linklater and Ellar Coltrane talk about movies (my costars in BOYHOOD), and art, cuz they talk straight from their heart, with no secret agenda.
Do you still have the sweater you wore in Sinister and if so can I have it?
I love that people notice that sweater. That sweater was my little homage to Kurt Cobain, in that my character was trapped in the 90's, you know, in his perceived heyday. I try to make every performance a little personal, and one of the things that's tough, growing up and having a life in the arts, is the ups and downs of it all. What i loved about playing that character's is that he was on the downward part of the roller coaster, scared it was never going to come up again, and that sweater was his memory of the top.
"In a Valley of Violence" looks really interesting, what it will about? Will John Travolta be killed in a bathroom?
IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE is my attempt at a Spaghetti Western. Ti West is an extremely talented young man, and he came to see me in MACBETH last year, and we went out (because Blumhouse - who had produced THE PURGE and SINISTER - wanted Ti and I to make another horror movie together) and we decided we wanted to make an old-school guns, spit, and dust Sergio-Leone-meets-2015 Western.
And Jason Blum gave us the greenlight. So we shall see!
Travolta plays The Sheriff. And one of us is gonna die. Hehehe. I won't say who.
Do you own any famous/not famous paintings? Which one is your favorite?
Well, first off, I should say that if I'm ever really depressed, or really struggling, in any way, the museum is always a sanctuary for me. Whether it's the MoMA or the Met or the Whitney, or any of the great museums in New York or to be honest, even when I'm traveling, you know - shooting in various cities all over the world, I've been able to be at some of the best museums. I've always been interested, if I was going to spend my money on art, to spend it on artists who are alive & struggling right now, rather than trying to "acquire" anything that some previous group of people has already determined has value.
There's an artist I love, named Patricia Gaines, she just had a show in Alabama, but she's just one of many artists who are working tirelessly now.
Seriously, what's your favorite cereal?
Ponders while pacing
Well, my mother never let me have any sugared cereals. So anytime I'd go over to one of my friend's houses, I would funnel Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops, anything I could get my hands on, down my throat. Now, as a dad, I want to say some kind of Bran-Flakes or Grape Nuts, but one of my favorite things in life is the milk after you finish a bowl of Froot Loops.
I saw you in Macbeth (after a very satisfying meal and bottle of wine) and loved the staging and costuming. Also found the use of men to portray the witches as a great innovation. Great all around. What drove you to do "the Scottish Play" and if you had to do it again, what would you change? Thanks.
Well, my director is one of the great theater directors in our country right now, named Jack O'Brien, and he directed me in HENRY IV as well as Tom Stoppard's COAST OF UTOPIA. So I will do whatever he asks me to do. And he had a vision for "The Scottish Play" and in truth that's what i like to be a part of - I would never be interested in seeing... you know, so-and-so's HAMLET or so-and-so's KING LEAR. I want to see a company that has a vision for a play. When a production seems like it's in service of the actor's vanity, or the actor's desire to simply play a role, it seems like it's missing a wheel. And as to what I would do differently, if I were to do it again - I don't know. But what I do know is why all these British people do them over and over again, is because you can never do them as well as they deserve to be done. There's a very, very tricky moment in the beginning of the play, before MacBeth kills the king, that's very very difficult to get right. And i feel I never really got it. And if I had it to do over again, I would figure out a completely different take on the "If it 'twere done, 'twere well it 'twere done quickly."
I see other people, other men, on the street, and their hair always looks better than mine.
And I think What shampoo do THEY use?
I always use... something the hotel gives me, or something my wife stuck in my bag. OR, to be totally honest with you, i forget to wash it at all.
Please forgive me.
If you were stuck on a tropical island what one item would you want to have with you?
Is it allowed to be a person?