This week, NY1's Budd Mishkin talks One on 1 with stage and screen actor Ethan Hawke who describes the path that led him to acting, and New York, now his long-time home.
We see him on stage, we see him on screen and apparently we see him around town quite a lot.
"Some friend of mine said there’s some annoying, like online thing where people write in about seeing celebrities or something like that so they wrote in something about me and everyone responded back, ÎDon't even bother writing about him; he's always there!’" says Hawke.
Hawke has lived in Chelsea since he was 19, when he moved to a place that was in his words “huge" in his imagination: The Chelsea Hotel.
"My first feature that I made was kind of an experimental film made on digital video and stuff and I made that here. It’s called ÎChelsea Walls’ and its’ all about the hotel,” says Hawke. "I had an office here. I wrote my second novel here, ÎAsh Wednesday,’ and then when I got divorced, I lived here for a couple of years.”
We've now seen Hawke on film for more than 20 years.
In the past decade he's earned two Oscar nominations, one for his role in “Training Day” and another for co-writing the screenplay in "Before Sunset."
But in the New York theater world, he is known, and respected for committing to serious time-consuming projects on stage.
The latest example was "The Coast of Utopia," Tom Stoppard's trilogy about Russian intellectuals in the 19th Century, three separate plays which on three occasions were performed back to back, all in one day.
"I feel like someday I’m gonna be 79, if I’m lucky, and say to somebody, 'I once did a nine-hour play about Russian radicals" and someone is gonna say to me, "Did people come?" and see, they did,” says Hawke. “I had a long speech at about the eight-hour mark that I would get in the middle of and not remember whether I was in the beginning of the speech, or "did I just say that?"
Hawke earned a Tony nomination for his performance.
His latest project is the just-released movie “The Hottest State,” based on his 1996 novel.
Hawke calls it autobiographical fiction, since it's partly based on his own family's experience.
“If you're a good, serious artist, you're aspiring to tell the truth about emotions and human frailties,” says Hawke. “And so you're going to talk about some uncomfortable things, and that's hard on families. The book came out ten years ago, so this is stuff we've all dealt with. And of course, you know, my mother feels, ’Why would you put that?’"
Hawke has two children from his six-year marriage to actress Uma Thurman, which ended in 2004. He says his public life is an exaggerated version of what happens to everyone who feels that people are gossiping about them, as he was once reminded by an encounter on the streets.
"’That was Ethan Hawke, you're an awesome actor. You're great!’ Made me feel awesome. I puffed up my chest, I felt terrific. And then a little bit further I walked by, and you know, and I heard somebody, Îyeah, that's him. He's the one who ruined Uma Thurman's life!’ You know, and I felt like, you know, two feet tall. I used to call it the luxury tax. You know, when a lot of good things happen to you, there's a luxury tax. But that's just the price you pay."
Yes, he admits, it may sound uncool. But Hawke fell in love with the theater at age eight in Atlanta when he saw the show Annie. Hawke promptly came home and wrote a sequel called “Arthur.”
"She had this twin brother and they both knew the songs because their parents had taught them. And he actually had the other half of the locket. I don't think I ever finished ÎArthur,’” says Hawke.
Maybe because he moved around so much.
Hawke was born in Texas, moved to Atlanta with his mom after his folks split up, then to New York and finally high school in New Jersey.
At 14 he came in to the city to audition for his first movie, “Explorers.”
He got the part, but any happy memories are tempered by some sobering thoughts on childhood actors and the incidence of casualties and drug usage.
“It’s very hard to be a teenager in any environment, and the fraudulence of the movie industry, an identity and what those kind of things mean are a lot for young kid, you know, I feel very strongly that that's a very destructive thing,” says Hawke.
Hawke spent some time at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and NYU before leaving college to concentrate on acting, and he was propelled by the 1989 hit “Dead Poets Society.”
He has subsequently fashioned a career by successfully balancing stage and screen, important in his connection to New York and his fellow New Yorkers.
"If you came up to me and you saw ÎHurlyburly,’ well that means, one night, we were in the same room together, and I worked hard on that. If you liked it, that means a lot to me. There's only a limited amount who saw that. Lots of people saw, ÎTraining Day.’ Millions. You know, only a few thousand saw ÎHurlyburly.’"
Hawke says he is reminded of the fame brought by making movies mostly when he's on a shoot out of town. But in New York? Go be famous in New York.
"You walk into a nightclub and nobody cares that you're there because Derek Jeter just left,” says Hawke. “And also, everyone in New York thinks they're a celebrity."
It's been a busy year for Hawke.
He completed his run on “The Coast of Utopia,” while continuing his movie work all around the world.
It is a life lived in public for all to see and judge, even in a city where he is another New Yorker.
"The key element is not caring what other people think about you,” says Hawke. “There are tools with which you can judge yourself that are not public opinion, and then you can be a little bit happier."
— Budd Mishkin