Ethan Hawke will direct and adapt “Camino Real,” Tennessee Williams’ wildly experimental play, into a feature film. Uri Singer, who worked with Hawke on the upcoming Sundance Film Festival entry “Tesla,” will produce and finance the picture through his company, Passage Pictures.

It’s a passion project of the actor, writer, and filmmakers — one that he previously tried to make in Cuba while Fidel Castro was still in power. Instead, shooting will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this year, with the goal of wrapping production by Christmas. Hawke hopes to cast Juliette Binoche in one of the key roles and is lining up the rest of his ensemble. He will not act in the film.

“I’ve been obsessed with the piece for years,” Hawke told Variety in an interview at Sundance. “I kept turning it over and over again in my mind. It’s part rock opera, part ‘Waiting for Godot.’ What I think Tennessee was trying to do, cinema has caught up to and can do better.”

“It’s not dissimilar to what Baz Luhrmann was aspiring to on ‘Moulin Rouge,'” he adds. “It’s just more spiritual.”

Singer said he was excited to continue his professional association with Hawke. “It’s such a pleasure to support this kind of passion project,” he said.

“Camino Real” represented a radical departure for Williams. It was more surreal and boundary pushing than his previous offerings — a collection of stage classics that includes “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The Glass Menagerie” and “Sweet Bird of Youth.” It follows a young American named Kilroy as he encounters a broad range of colorful characters, some of whom, such as Don Quixote, Esmeralda and Casanova, are drawn from history, literature, and myth. It was not beloved when it was first staged on Broadway in 1953, closing after 60 performances and attracting critical pans. Its reputation has grown over the years as new acting companies have attempted to crack its code.

Hawke, who is Williams’ great-nephew, first became interested in the show while appearing as Kilroy in a well-reviewed 1999 production at the Williamstown Theater Festival, calling it one of the best theatrical experiences of his career.

“When something really daring works, there’s a high,” said Hawke. “It’s like Jimi Hendrix when he played. When James Baldwin speaks, for example, he’s living on the edge. And Tennessee was living way out there.”
Singer convinced Hawke that Rio would offer the kind of cosmopolitan backdrop that the work needed. It helped that Brazil offered incentives for filmmakers.
“The play is set at the crossroads of all the world and we want to represent that with the production and the cast,” said Hawke “Rio seems like the place to do that. There’s an intersection of extreme poverty and extreme wealth.”
Hawke and Singer spoke to Variety a day before “Tesla,” a drama about inventor Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) fight build a revolutionary electrical system, premiered. The film reunites Hawke with Michael Almereyda, with whom he previously collaborated on 2000’s “Hamlet.”
“It’s great to play human beings that are so outside the box,” said Hawke. “Tesla was a hard person to make sense of. He’s a person who invents electricity and seems to have no personal relationships.”
Hawke has just wrapped the Showtime mini-series, “Good Lord Bird,” and is gearing up to star opposite Alessandro Nivola in “Satan Is Real,” a drama about the Louvin brothers, an influential pair of country musicians.
Singer is also very busy. He’s working on “The King of Oil,” the story of fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich, which will star Matt Damon and John Krasinski and has been set up at Universal. He’s also producing an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s post-modern classic “White Noise.” It’s a project that has bedeviled previous efforts to bring it to cinemas, but Singer thinks this time he will be successful.
“Don DeLillo is such a brilliant icon and he’s 83 and he wants to see his work done on screen. That’s what gave us the power to push this forward,” he said.
Pictured: Hawke and Singer.