Ethan Hawke (Austin, 52) is proud of his crooked teeth. When a former agent asked him to fix them, he was angry. "One day I was watching the Oscars and they all seemed unreal. Then the Sean Penn crackpot came on stage, and I thought to myself, 'Here's someone who's not afraid to look like a human being.'" That day he decided he wouldn't fix his teeth. "I hate how homogenized the public expects us all to be. No one ever talks about Eleanor Roosevelt's crooked teeth, because she was a woman with substance. And no one says that Mother Teresa would have been better off if she lost weight."
In Cannes, between models and Instagram stars with many followers and little filmography and unrealistically white teeth, Hawke seemed a normal person, or everything normal that can be a generational icon with four Oscar nominations and four decades of career, an attractive man who formed with Uma Thurman one of the most beautiful couples of the nineties, writer, screenwriter, director, musician and, as an extra, great-nephew of Tennessee Williams, and, above all, a symbol. If the Hannah of Girls aspired to be the voice of a generation, Ethan Hawke is, reluctantly, the face of a generation, the X, reviled by its members, portrayed by Douglas Coupland and deified by trend magazines.
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At 52 years old, he premiered Strange Way of Life, Almodóvar's medium-length film that he presented at Cannes with the director, again in a western, a terrain that is not unknown to him (he participated in the revision of The Magnificent Seven of one of his talismans, Antoine Fuqua), just as complex relationships are not alien to him. His latest critical success came with the documentary The Last Movie Stars where he can honor the integrity of two icons like Newman and Woodward and exorcise his own demons.
Unlike Pedro Pascal, his co-star in the western, whom the world has discovered with more than forty years, Hawke has grown up in front of the cameras. He is the son of teenage parents. When he was born, his father was 18 and his mother was 17 and he was christened Ethan because she thought he was a good name to appear on the cover of a book.
Ethan Hawke in 1991.Pool BENAINOUS/REGLAIN (Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
They separated when he was four years old and he went to live with his mother, who raised him between temporary jobs and an effervescent social activity: she was a teacher, belonged to the Peace Corps and founded a charity that helps provide education to Romanian children. A solidarity work in which Hawke was involved and maintains, as well as his commitment to the rights of minorities.
He considers the separation of his parents to be his first kind of interpretation. To please his father, a deeply religious conservative, he talked about football and religion, even feigning a Southern accent. "I knew I was performing for him. I hated myself for it," he told the New Yorker magazine. With his mother he enhanced the intellectual side, life with her was unconventional. When he was four years old and still could not read, she took him to see Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage in its original version with subtitles. For his fifth birthday he chose Someone Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. When they left the cinema they read together the vitriolic reviews of Pauline Kael in that same magazine. The contrast between the paternal and maternal worlds made him an expert at fitting in everywhere, a contemporary Zelig.
At the age of twelve, his mother enrolled him in an acting course. Six months later he starred in Explorers with River Phoenix. During filming they became inseparable. "We were sure we were going to be movie stars." On the day of the premiere they hid in the bathroom of the Ziegfeld Theater to listen to the comments and they were not flattering. "America has cast its vote and Ethan Hawke is not a star," he heard one executive say.
His first film experience did not make him an instant star, but it indirectly provided him with a lesson he surely would have preferred not to receive. He confessed to The Guardian that his aversion to making big Hollywood movies was due to Phoenix's death. "The first actor I worked with overdosed on Sunset Boulevard. It was the brightest light and this industry devoured it, and that was a great lesson for me."
The cast of 'The Dead Poets Club'. Francois Duhamel (Sygma via Getty Images)
His next audition was for Peter Weir's The Dead Poets Club. After accumulating a few rejections, including the character of Count on Me who ended up playing Phoenix, he decided that if he was not given the role, he would enlist in the merchant marine. He didn't need to make such a drastic decision: Weir cast him as Todd Anderson, the squatting teenager who, in the final scene, climbs up to his desk and shouts Walt Whitman's epic "Oh, Captain my captain!" The success and influence of the film exceeded all expectations. As he has told several times, hardly a day goes by without someone shouting "Carpe diem!"
Such critical and public success (with almost 250 million grossed is still the highest grossing film of his career) should have turned its protagonists into instant stars. But it was not like that and Hawke can be considered the luckiest of the cast. As he tried to find his niche in the industry, the phone rang. She was Winona Ryder from Portugal, where she was filming The House of the Spirits, and she wanted me to work with her on Reality Bites (1993). Hawke didn't understand how someone who had just shot with Scorsese was involved in a film by an unknown screenwriter and director.
Reality bites is a phenomenon difficult to explain: the critics tore it to shreds and the few viewers who saw it hated it, although now the millennial public claims it. The unbearable and affected Troy became a new name in Hawke's career. People took it for granted that if they dressed the same and styled the same (that carefully ragged look and that falsely greasy, scruffy hair resulting from many hours in front of the mirror) they had to be the same, and that was not positive. Troy was an idiot and, with his affected philosophical chatter, his musical group and his refusal to enter the fold while his parents paid the bills, he put a mirror in the face of a type of fauna that populated the cafeterias of the faculties of humanities of the mid-nineties.
Reality bites was a parody within a parody, a product that vampirized grunge nihilism to sell cars under the stomach-churning slogan young, but amply prepared. If in the film Lelaina chose Hawke, during filming there was not much feeling between Winona, who now shares the cast in Stranger Things with her daughter Maya, and him. "I know a lot of young actors who live in dumps," she told Rolling Stone. "They have their books scattered, and their mattress is on the floor, and they're millionaires. That's their way of life. But the reason they're doing it is that they're embarrassed. I just want to tell them, 'Don't live this way to show people that you're real and how deep.'" It offends me because I know what it's like to be in poverty, and it's not fun, it's not romantic, and it's not great."
Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke in 1998.Gene Shaw (Getty Images)
Hawke recognizes himself in that description. He wasn't a millionaire, but he could certainly afford a better life than he did, but it was important to him to live in a rickety apartment. "The same one Henry Miller would have lived in," he declared. I didn't want to be Tom Cruise, I wanted to be John Cassavetes.
He was clear about his roadmap. He embarked on complicated projects such as Michael Almereyda's urban Hamlet, set up his own theatre group that adapted the classics and published his first novel, The Hottest State. "Well, you're not Chekhov," his mother said after reading the first draft. It wasn't the worst review. "I remember my favorite review saying, 'Ethan Hawke achieves the impossible, sucks his dick.' Chelsea Walls, herdirectorial debut, received no major praise. "The cinematic equivalent of going to a bar frequented by pretentious, talentless artists who enjoy lamenting their cruel fate," said one critic.
As happened with Reality Bites, time has also served to vindicate the beautiful and stylized Gattaca, a failure at the time that served him to meet Uma Thurman. They were together for seven years and had two children. She told ICON in 2016: "I was looking for marriage for a house, a security, a base, a family. I was looking for the opposite of what my life was, always exposed to flashes, but I fell in love with someone who only added more flashes to my intimacy. Our marriage became the antithesis of what I wanted and we found it very difficult to find a ground, a connecting cable. I know there are people who can handle it, I have friends who do it. For me it was impossible."
To overcome his divorce he worked twice as hard: he believed that if he gave the media a lot to talk about his professional life, they would not talk about the sentimental one. In 2008 she married Ryan Shawhughes, who had worked briefly as a caregiver for the couple's children with whom she has two children.
Ethan Hawke and Pedro Almodóvar.Alicia García (EFE)
His career went through several bumps. To get his role in Training Day he had to do two tests. "That's when I knew the nineties were over. I was in a unique position, I was only 30 years old and finished. All my friends were going to test out to Save Private Ryan and they didn't even want to see me, because they knew me and they didn't want me." Fuqua's film earned him his first Oscar nomination. Today he accumulates four, two as a secondary actor and two as a screenwriter.
He is not afraid to take risks that involve commitments that go beyond the usual work of an actor: he embarked on projects as long-term as the story of a couple in the trilogy Before Dawn (1995-2013) and also in Boyhood (2014), a beautiful experiment about twelve years in the life of a child, both alongside Richard Linklater.
His intense claim to artistic purity has led him to more than one controversy. During a tribute at the Locarno Film Festival he made some statements against Marvel in the line of those of Martin Scorsese. "They say Logan is a great movie. Well, it's a great superhero movie. It still involves people in mesh with metal coming out of their hands. It's not Bresson. It's not Bergman. But they talk about it as if it were." Years later he joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe starring, along with Oscar Isaac, Moon Knight. Who caused such a drastic change was his daughter Maya, who recommended him to make a film that pleased the general public.
In recent years he has been enthusiastically linked to terror, in films such as Siniestro, (2012), Black Phone (2022) or the saga The Purge (2013-2021). Hawke now looks around and sees that the industry has changed. "The most obvious example is that when I was younger, the absolute hallmark of mediocrity was having a fashion contract, having to sell jeans or colognes. Today everything is a commodity to buy." What Strange Way of Life is produced by Saint Laurent is perhaps another small renunciation, but at least it retains its precious imperfect smile.
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