Ethan Hawke: Rich or Famous?
Ethan Hawke isn't sure whether he wants to be either one, or both. Here, the sought-after young star talks about Henry Miller, his generation, girls, and what it's really like to see one's name up in lights.
I swore to myself that I was never going to do this any more," Ethan Hawke says, waving his hand to include me, my tape recorder and the yellow pad I've set up for this interview.
"And when did you decide that?" I ask. "When you were a puppy?"
"It was when I was 20," he says in all seriousness. "No, 19. No, wait..."
Excuse me a minute while I slap this kid around, will ya?
Ethan Hawke has done eight movies to date: Explorers, Dead Poets Society, Dad, Mystery Date, White Fang, A Midnight Clear, and the upcoming Waterland and Rich In Love. If Dead Poets was the film that got him noticed, perception about him is a little cloudy: One friend asked me whether he was the suicidal teen or the one who stands on a desk top; another described him as Matt Dillon without the attitude; and my niece said that he seemed to disappear after each film, even though she sort of wanted to keep her eye on him.
A Midnight Clear may be the movie that changes all that. It is a marvelous, moving and ultimately timeless story about a group of highly intelligent soldiers stationed in France during World War II and the choices they face when they realize that they might be able to change the very nature of the battle. An ensemble piece that also stars Gary Sinise, Arye Gross, Kevin Dillon and Frank Whaley, it is probably the first antiwar film since Catch-22 that uses "the good war" as its base. Hawke, who is so pale that at times he appears to be wearing kabuki makeup, is the narrator and center of the film.
Hawke and I meet at Nadine's, a flower-and-light-filled neighborhood restaurant in the West Village. He is wearing the young-actor-at-rest uniform: ripped jeans, high tops, a moth-eaten sweater. When he notices me noticing his clothes, he points out that he's had the jeans long enough to put the holes in them himself. "I did not buy them this way."
Okay, now that we've got the important stuff out of the way... I ask about his three new movies.
"I feel uncomfortable talking about my films," Hawke says, biting on his chapped lips and cadging a cigarette from the waiter.
"That's okay," I assure him, "because there are lots of other things I'd rather talk about."
"Like what?" he says, eyeing me suspiciously.
"Books, great art, girls, you know, the really important things."
For the first time, Hawke smiles. He holds his cigarette up to the light. "A Marlboro Medium. Hmmmmm. Talk about not being able to decide. Yes, this is a perfect cigarette for a generation that doesn't know which way it's going."
"Your generation?" I ask.
"Well sure. I mean, look at us," he replies. "Like they say, all the good ideas have already been used up. Not much for us guys to do."
"All right, if it's that bad, let's talk about books. What are you reading now?"
A slow red flush creeps across that pale visage. "This is embarrassing. I was hoping that nobody would ask me this question today." Hawke takes a look around to make sure we're not being overheard. He leans forward and whispers, "I'm reading Crazy Cock, Henry Miller's new book. Or, let me say, newly published book. Do you know how embarrassing it is to walk around with that book? I'm trying desperately not to say I read the Beat Generation. I'm horrified to admit that I just love Salinger. I was devastated to find out that other people feel the same way. When other young actors would tell me that Catcher in the Rye was their favorite book, I wanted to kill them. I didn't believe them for one second. Impossible. Then I wanted to kill myself. I do not believe that they could possibly understand that shit. I thought I had discovered the guy!"
Watching the chords on his neck start to pop, I plead, "Calm down, fella. Let's change the subject. Let's just talk a little about A Midnight Clear and then..."
"Okay. This is the best film I've ever done, ever been involved in," says the boy who doesn't want to talk movies. "I know all actors bitch about the lack of good scripts and you probably don't want to hear it from me, too. But so many movies are being written because the writer thinks they will appeal to the broadest market. A Midnight Clear was such a real story, something that was written because the writer had to tell that story or he would have been miserable. It talks about how war is always bad, even when the enemy is a scumbag. My girlfriend said..."
"Ah, a girlfriend, huh?"
"Did she like the movie?"
"We don't talk about it."
"What? You didn't talk about the movie with her?"
"No, I mean we," and he here points to me and himself, "we don't talk about her." And then he mumbles some expletive under his breath.
"Hmmm. So she didn't like it enough, huh?"
"I don't think it had anything to do with the movie," he says. "It was our state of mind when we saw it. But no, she didn't like it enough."
"I'm not sure there ever is enough for any actor, is there?"
"Well," he says, almost moaning, "she could have liked it more. But you know what it's like in relationships. Right now the only people I can really fall in love with are people who don't really, truly want me around. Now why do I do that? I'd love to do a movie that could articulate how fucking hard it is to get along with a woman. The girls who like me aren't the ones I like. Or, if I do and they want to commit, I suddenly need tons of time with my friends. Or I want to have a relationship, but hell, that's the last thing on their minds."