News And Commentary – Ethan Hawke Talks New Hollywood

The spring issue of Cineaste features an insightful interview with Ethan Hawke, who has some interesting things to say about the New Hollywood, how he made career decisions “based on a 1970s ascetic,” and that he and his contemporaries, like the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, were “chasing the old-school definition of a New York actor—meaning the actor-artist.  Not the actor-movie star.”

Over the course of a long conversation, Hawke populates his pantheon with a who’s who of the seventies film, including directors Hal Ashby, Roman Polanski, Milos Forman, Bob Rafelson and Mike Nichols, and actors Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Robert De Niro, and especially Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson.  Beatty, an enormous inspiration, is given props for Shampoo, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and Reds, among others, “movies [that] changed my life.”  As for Nicholson, Hawke considers his performances in the years from 1969-1981 “the greatest run in acting history.” (Which would make for a great opening gambit in an after-hours tavern debate.  I’ll counter with Bogart 1939-51—but the argument for Nicholson is formidable.  Nineteen films, including Five Easy Pieces, Carnal Knowledge, The King of Marvin Gardens, Chinatown and The Passenger.)  

As to the question of whether his heroes have been, in recent decades, shall we say, too often phoning it in and attaching their names to broad entertainments and big paychecks, Hawke is philosophical.  Perhaps their choices have indeed been somewhat less ambitious, but, he counters, “we’re all only as good as the times we live in,” and the world is “just not asking it of them.”

Nevertheless, Hawke still considers himself chasing the New Hollywood sensibility, which is one reason why he and Philip Seymour Hoffman jumped at the chance to make Sidney Lumet’s final film, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, which was “exactly the kind of movie we wanted to spend our lives doing,” with the added thrill of working with “one of our Seventies heroes.”

Devilcomplex, contemporary, ambitiously constructed, character driven, relentlessly despairing (yet riveting and entertaining)—is proof that you can always make a seventies film.  Lumet did it when he was 82, two years after picking up his lifetime achievement award from the Academy.  The stand-out cast includes Albert Finney, Marissa Tomei and Leonardo Camino as a nihilistic old diamond-cutter who has seen the worst that humanity has to offer.  But Hoffman holds the film’s center of gravity, with yet another astonishing performance as Hawke’s older brother—one of those big brothers who could all-too-easily talk you into some very bad schemes.   

Hoffman tries to keep a wavering Hawke steady as things go wrong

Hoffman tries to keep a wavering Hawke steady as things go wrong 

 

But in the end it’s empty bookshelves, barred windows, and distance

But in the end it’s empty bookshelves, barred windows, and distance

Hawke’s interview with Cineaste continues in its summer issue.