Ethan Hawke invited Rolling Stone‘s David Fear to join him at one of his favorite Brooklyn restaurants for the latest installment of the RS Interview. Hawke has been earning critical acclaim for his role in Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, with some predicting he’ll get an Oscar nomination for his role as a conflicted priest. He’ll also be returning to Broadway this month in a production of Sam Shepard’s True West, alongside Paul Dano. In our wide-ranging chat, the actor touched on an array of topics including his new movie Blaze, the importance of music to his acting and filmmaking and the positive effects of fame.
Over the course of his career, Hawke has played a slew of musicians, both real and imagined. But he noted that music always plays a crucial role in his projects, regardless of the subject matter.
“It’s like the true, pure art form,” Hawke said. “Whenever I get a chance to direct, whenever I’m in charge, the first thing I think about is the music. And the first thing I think about when I play a part is, what does it sound like?”
Hawke both directed and stars in his latest film Blaze, which tells the story of Blaze Foley, an influential, but often overlooked member of the outlaw country movement. For Hawke, Foley’s little-known, but no-less remarkable career offered the chance to make a music biopic that wasn’t beholden to the classic tropes of the genre.
“Most every movie about a musician is made about a famous musician, so invariably it becomes about the pratfalls of success, the trials of celebrity… the moment where Johnny Cash writes ‘Folsom Prison Blues,'” Hawke said. “The advantage of blaze is there’s no ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ there is no moment where he gets signed, there is no moment where the ego goes to his head. It’s a whole different movie about the arts.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Hawke discussed working with Denzel Washington on Training Day and getting life advice from Kris Kristofferson, while later he touched on some of his favorite writers, musicians and actors in a lightning round. The actor also offered a unique insight into what it’s been like to be famous since his teens, and how that’s effected his outlook on art. Hawke recalled sitting in a restaurant with his Dead Poet’s Society co-star Robert Sean Leonard when suddenly one table stood up and began reciting Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” just like in the film. Soon everyone else in the restaurant had joined in.
“There’s some negative things that come along with feeling like you’re in a glass wall and people are staring at you, but the overwhelming positive is the power of art,” Hawke said. “We live in a culture where everybody likes to be ironic or cynical, but I’ve never been good at that. I learned with that movie, right off the bat, that art has a real power.”