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San Sebastian: Ethan Hawke on Donald Trump, Diversity and Denzel

Actor-director also reflects on the future, dying, his life work

SAN SEBASTIAN — At Spain’s San Sebastian Festival to accept a career-achievement Donostia Award, a forward-looking, reflective and self-deprecating Ethan Hawke fielded a gamut of questions on topics from Donald Trump to death. (Example: “If your life was a graphic novel, what would the cover image be?” Answer below.)

Hawke’s Donostia Award – the festival’s highest honor – came as he presented Antoine Fuqua’s “The Magnificent Seven,” which world-premiered at Toronto, to open the San Sebastian festival. Some highlights from his remarks:


Asked if Donald Trump would like “The Magnificent Seven,” in which he stars: “I bet Donald Trump would like the film. But he doesn’t know that what the film is actually about is people gathering together to defeat him.”


Hawke concurred with a journalist who commented that the original “Magnificent Seven” had racist elements: Eli Wallach playing a Mexican “in brown makeup, doing a bad Mexican accent, and seven white guys, for instance,” Hawke said. He added: “I think one of the greatest ways to speak about diversity is to make a movie with a bunch of people from different cultures and make something beautiful. I get to work with people from lots of different cultures. We have Vincent D’Onofrio, Denzel Washington, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, a Mexican actor. It’s great to have us all work together. It’s great the movie doesn’t talk about race but just shows it.”


“One of the wonderful things Antoine did with this film is let the film speak for itself….If Clint Eastwood walks into a room and everyone stops, it’s because he is a gunslinger. If Denzel walks into a room and everyone stops, you don’t know why.”

Hawke paid tribute to his “Magnificent Seven” co-star, who received the Donostia Award a few years back. “It’s great working with Denzel because he does this profession at a very high level. There are very few giant movie stars who are great artists. Denzel is one. He has done it even with the albatross of race being thrown at him, which I’m sure gets very boring.”


Asked what he wanted to achieve in life, Hawke said: “I’ve tried to focus my entire life on the goal of making substantive meaningful art. It’s a small goal, but I do believe that in telling stories and making movies, literature, painting, graphic novels, that the arts have a collective power to be part of our consciousness. [Just as] a person is only as good as their mental health, so is a community. A community’s mental health is their arts.”


What was he afraid of? “I’m afraid of dying. I don’t want to do that.” But he said he was happy with the way he died in “Magnificent Seven:” “One thing I love about working with Antoine: So many directors have everything planned out, but he works from his gut… I walked on that set and saw the church and said, ‘I wanna die up on that church,’ and Antoine said, ‘Hell, yeah.’ I wanted to get shot down by a Gatling gun. I thought, A character who is afraid to die dies in a grotesque way. I love that he fell into the cemetery.”


Hawke mentioned he had written a graphic novel, “Indeh,” about Geronimo, the great Chiricahua-Apache leader. But he certainly doesn’t want to give up acting. “As I get older, I am more interested in being different people, playing different roles,” he said.

He was glad to be asked whether he plans to direct more movies. “It’s kind of you to ask that question. It’s a funny thing to be here accepting an award. It’s 30 years of acting for me….A lot of it has been a training ground for getting more knowledgeable and intimate with film. I would like to direct more. I would be lying if I said the next time I come to San Sebastian, I don’t want it to be as an director,” Hawke said.

He has an idea for a film: “The Cherokee. There has never been a movie from their point of view. I would love to be a background actor in a film where a Native American person starred.”


“If my life were a graphic novel, what would the cover image be? I don’t know,” Hawke said. “I hope it would be me playing my greatest role as King Lear at 97. That’s what I hope – big grey hair and covered in wrinkles. God, no!”

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