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Listen: Ethan Hawke on ‘True West’ and the Ghost of Philip Seymour Hoffman

Ethan Hawke
Michael Schwartz / trunkarchive.

Ethan Hawke had a long relationship with Sam Shepard and his work — but he never thought he’d end up on Broadway in “True West.”

That’s because Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly had already put their stamp on the show in the 2000 Broadway revival of the play.

“I kind of felt that that was my generation’s production,” Hawke said on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. “I really just decided I didn’t want to do ‘True West.’ It had been done too well.”

Listen to this week’s podcast below:

He went on to recall how Shepard himself, not long before he died in 2017, had brought up the idea of doing “True West” on Broadway with Hawke playing the grifter Lee. That production has now become a reality, with Hawke starring opposite Paul Dano in the new staging that opens at the Roundabout Theater Company later this week.

A number of great actors have memorably tackled “True West” — including John Malkovich and Gary Sinise — and Hawke respects the work of all of them.

“The ghost of Phil is strong in my psyche,” he said of Hoffman. “Rather than ignore him, I invited him to teach me. I invited John Malkovich into my psyche — I didn’t pretend I didn’t see that production. I can’t unsee what I learned from Gary Sinise.”

At the same time that Hawke is starring in “True West,” he’s also picking up awards for his performance in the Paul Schrader film “First Reformed.” This, of course, isn’t his first ride on the awards-season carousel, and he cited Hoffman again when asked how he feels about Oscar season.

“The thing Phil used to say is, ‘You have to treat it like it’s life and death, and you have to remember you’re a clown,'” Hawke explained. “If you can do both of those, then you won’t be shocked when they start to make fun of you again. And you won’t take it for granted when they get it. But if you keep trying to penetrate, then maybe you will.”

New episodes of “Stagecraft” are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on iTunesStitcher, or anywhere finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.