Chosen as this year’s recipient of the President’s Award at Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Ethan Hawke discussed his career, projects – including a potential new film with his long-time collaborator Richard Linklater – and the ongoing pandemic at the Czech event.
At a roundtable discussion with journalists, Hawke opened up about his next possible movie project with Linklater. The film is about transcendentalism, the 19th-century movement of writers and philosophers in New England, which attracted the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and “Little Women” scribe Louisa May Alcott.
“They were the first leaders of the abolition movement; they were vegetarians; they fought for women’s rights. Rick is obsessed with how their ideas are still very radical. This could be a super cool movie and Rick is writing it right now. He is mad at me [for coming to Karlovy Vary], he thinks I should be at his house,” he said. (Linklater, who was also feted at Karlovy Vary with a tribute to the Austin Film Society in 2018, has been working on a movie about Transcendentalism since 1999, according to an interview in The New Yorker in 2014.)
Hawke had also spoken about Linklater – with whom he has worked with on several films, including the “Before” trilogy (which he jokingly referred to as “the lowest-grossing trilogy of all time”), and “Boyhood” – during an on-stage interview for the public.
“I could make a case that ‘Boyhood’ is a prequel to ‘Before Sunrise’ – Ellar Coltrane is playing Richard Linklater’s surrogate and then I start playing Richard Linklater’s surrogate. It’s like the Marvel universe!,” he said, praising Patricia Arquette and Julie Delpy’s subdued performances in the films.
“That’s the essence of what he cares about, that real life is good enough and it doesn’t need exaggeration. It’s not ‘Wonder Woman’ – it’s a woman. The reason why these performances exist is because of his respect for Julie and Patricia, of him wanting to make room for them. A lot of men do it for men, but a lot of men don’t do it for women.”
Addressing the ongoing pandemic at the press event, Hawke said: “I have just worked in Hungary. You could write an entire essay about their government but they haven’t politicized the vaccine. The U.S. has.” Hawke was in Hungary shooting Marvel series “Moon Knight.”
“There are stores in America where you walk in, thinking they might be mad at you for wearing a mask. In others, they might be mad at you if you don’t. It’s the most amazing example of a divided nation.”
At the public event, Hawke discussed his eclectic career, which has also included theater, novels and directorial work (“Once I started doing some directing, my respect for acting went up,” he admitted). “My life as an actor is part of my life as a filmmaker, and my life as a filmmaker is part of my life as a writer,” he said, paraphrasing the words of NBA player Giannis Antetokounmpo. “If you think too much about the past, especially past successes, it breathes arrogance. And if you think too much about the future, it breathes fear. There is humility in the present.”
He spoke about his breakout part in 1989’s “Dead Poets Society,” and his experience working with Robin Williams.
“I thought Robin hated me. He had a habit of making a ton of jokes on set. At 18, I found that incredibly irritating. He wouldn’t stop and I wouldn’t laugh at anything he did,” he said, mentioning that in the end, it was Williams who got him his first agent. “He called, saying, ‘Robin Williams says you are going to do really well.’ There was this scene in the film when he makes me spontaneously make up a poem in front of the class. He made this joke at the end of it, saying that he found me intimidating. I thought it was a joke. As I get older, I realize there is something intimidating about young people’s earnestness, their intensity. It is intimidating – to be the person they think you are. Robin was that for me,” he said, complimenting his younger co-star in “First Reformed,” Philip Ettinger.
“He reminds me of a young Mark Ruffalo. He has this intensity and soulfulness that’s extremely rare. The arts sometimes remind me of athletics: young people can be extremely good at it without knowing why.”
Hawke, who is also working on a Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward documentary and will continue his collaboration with Blumhouse Productions with “The Black Phone,” also reminisced about his early alliance with Jed the dog from 1991 “White Fang.”
“This dog had a massive amount of integrity. If I were to teach acting at Juilliard or one of these fancy schools, I would do a class with an animal. They don’t know they are acting, which is kind of the whole thing that Brando was going after. If you talk to the dog and you secretly talk to the camera, the dog will look at the camera. You have to be with them,” he said.