Though Ethan Hawke could have had a solid career by coasting on his fame from starring in films like Reality Bites in the 1990s, Hawke is making a return to the familiar New York stage in an extremely intimate setting. He stars as a troubled rock star in Clive, which he also directed, at the Acorn Theater. He spoke to The New York Times about his decision to return to the stage and why theater means more to him than acting in film.
Hawke has dyed his usually dark hair silver and has spiked it up to help him get into character. Of the change, he says, “I don’t know how to explain it exactly. I didn’t want to feel like me when I did this role. I’m trying to do that old-school, third-person thing by unlocking something as utterly superficial as my hair. I was shooting for a Bowie thing, but then I saw a picture of him after I did it, and he didn’t really do his hair like this.”
Though Clive is a modern adaptation of Baal, a play by German playwright Bertolt Brecht, Hawke believes that with his collaborators he has created something original. He says, “I’ve spent my whole life aping the theater work of others, learning on the way, but I feel like I’m stumbling on something that is original with this group of people. You haven’t seen a play like this before, and I don’t know exactly how it is going to work, but I do know it’s what I want to do with my life.”
Despite starring in a number of high profile movies in the 1990s and 2000s, Hawke admits that pursuing his creativity has always been more important than pursuing celebrity. He explains, “Early on when I experienced some success, I grew incredibly weary of what fame meant on a DNA level. My talent, whatever it was or is, was not strong enough to survive that. I had an allergy to being famous and have been neurotically chasing a larger dream, a substantive life in the arts, so that I didn’t end up getting defined by it.”
In fact, Hawke much prefers the immediate response he gets from audiences in theater than the response he gets for his movies. He points out, “When someone tells you they saw you in Training Day, and that they liked what you did, it feels good, but I wasn’t there. But if it is a piece of theater, I was part of it, and if someone, including other people I respect, comes to see some little play I did, that means a lot to me.”
Of course, while Hawke might prefer theater, but there is one series of films that remain close to his heart: the Before Sunrise series that he has created with director Richard Linkletter and actress Julie Delpy. The third film, Before Midnight, will be released later this year. Hawke confesses he has a close connection with the series, saying, “Before Sunrise was such an important movie for me because I learned to talk on screen. Before that, all I had ever been asked was to brood for the camera. Before Midnight, because of its sheer existence, ends up being about the passage of time. And yeah, your face falls apart and all that. But what I noticed is how much the same I am, how much of whatever I am is there in each film.”