ESQ&A: 'Boyhood' Actor Ethan Hawke

The Good Kill actor on working with Linklater, crashing the Oscars and his dream final role

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Having worked with a variety of high-profile filmmakers over a 25 year career, Ethan Hawke is very much the director's actor.

Since his breakout role in 1989's Dead Poets Society, Hawke, then just 19, has since established himself as an actor who isn't afraid to try his hands at different genres.

Sitting down with the 44-year-old Gattaca star – best-known to many as Jesse from Richard Linklater's Before trilogy – it becomes clear just how invested in his profession he is. If Hawke has his way, he tells me, he'll be acting in Linklater films until he's 80.

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With the release of new film Good Kill, his third collaboration with writer-director Andrew Niccol, Hawke discusses the filmmaker he wishes he had worked with, his Boyhood experience and what he hopes his final role will be.


Which moment in your career so far are you most proud of?
I played Macbeth at Lincoln Center with a great group of people – when you get to do one of those really great iconic roles in a serious environment, you feel yourself become part of a long tradition. I really liked that.

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Which character has stayed with you for the longest?
That’s easy – the character that’s stayed with me for the longest is Mason Sr. in Boyhood because I had to play the role for so long. Also, it’s a riff on my own father so it’s such a personal movie to me. It’s probably my favourite.

Richard Linklater calls you up. He’s either going to talk about doing another Before film or another Boyhood; which would you rather?
If I had to choose, I’d want it to be a fourth Before film because the Boyhood sequel would probably be a 24-year commitment or something.

Boyhood was robbed at the Oscars, right?
No, we crashed that party. If you look at the Oscars history, the last time a movie that wasn’t distributed by a studio won Best Picture was in 1952 [it was actually An American in Paris in 1951], so the odds were stacked against us. They didn’t want us to be there to begin with so it scared the shit out of them that we were in the running. The list of movies that haven’t won Best Picture are better than the ones that have. We’re right where we want to be.

Who’s the closest you’ve ever had to a mentor?
The first one that jumps to mind is Peter Weir who directed Dead Poets Society [Hawke’s breakthrough role in 1989]. He had a huge impact on the way that I think. There’s also a theatre director called Jack O’Brien who directed me in Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia and Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Macbeth, so he’s had a huge influence on me too.

You’re speaking a lot about Shakespeare [Hawke starred in a film version of Hamlet in 2000]. Can you see yourself starring in another adaptation?
The stories are great; the language is so good that people always find themselves gravitating back to it. Richard Linklater and I are talking about doing a film of King Lear when he’s 90 and I’m 80 and it’ll be the last thing we do before we retire.

What’s your favourite city in the world?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say Paris. It’s just impossible not to love that city.

What are your desert island book, film and album of choice?
The book would definitely be Anna Karenina. That’s my favourite novel. The movie would have to be Reds. The album? It would be Cold Roses by Ryan Adams.

What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Relax. That’s what I say to my 16-year-old daughter and [Boyhood actor] Ellar Coltrane, who is a friend of mine – he’s 20-years-old. People spend so much of their youth worrying. I guess they should because it’s what drives you to form your identity and what you think, but most of what’s happening happens on its own – you’ve just got to ride with it. If you show up to work on time, everything else takes care of itself.

Ethan Hawke and January Jones in Good Kill

You’ve worked multiple times with directors Andrew Niccol, Antoine Fuqua and, of course, Linklater. Is there any other director you would love to work with?
If he was alive, I would have liked to work with François Truffaut. There’s just so much love of humanity in his movies.

One of the things I like about Good Kill is that it’s hard to make a war film that isn’t left or right wing, but is humanist at heart. It doesn’t fetishise violence the way most war movies do. People get off on violence; they always have – even Shakespeare plays are violent. But there’s something deeply human about Truffaut, so he’d be my director of choice.

Out of all the films you've made with those directors, do you have a particular favourite?
I think that Gattaca is one of the greatest first films of all time, I really do. It’s the most amazing debut of a new voice and is such a prescient film. I love good science-fiction. Training Day was an unbelievable experience and Antoine gave me a chance to take my acting to a level I really wanted to. It would be a great double feature with Brooklyn’s Finest. I’ve made eight films with Richard Linklater so they start to feel like one film; there’s not a lot of difference for me between the Before trilogy, Boyhood and Tape, etc.

I work with those guys because I love working with them. I’m going to do The Magnificent Seven [with Fuqua] this summer and I have plans to do another movie with both Rick and Andrew. So, yeah, hopefully the train will keep on riding.

Good Kill is out on April 10th


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