TORONTO—Ethan Hawke started out as a child star, not usually the best option for male actors looking for a lengthy career. However, not only has Hawke managed to have a long acting career, he has branched out with best-selling novels, screenplays, and directing gigs.
Along the way, he’s survived a tabloid-headlined divorce from Uma Thurman and a strained relationship with the media that he now says was part of growing up.
Hawke was in Toronto for last year’s film festival to talk about The Woman in the Fifth, which opens this Friday (June 15). It’s about a writer who is estranged from his daughter and may or may not be imagining various incidents occurring in Paris. In a Toronto hotel room, where he’s dressed nattily in a new suit that’s a far cry from the pyjama-style outfits and ripped jeans of previous interviews, he is happy to admit that he has matured.
“You can get philosophical about what role you are supposed to play in your own life and in the movies,” Hawke says. “I used to come to these things in torn-up jeans and flannels and hung over, and today I got up early and sent some emails. I have a suit, but there are other parts that don’t look so good. There was a great thing that Willie Nelson said. He said he used to love old guitars because they had character, and now he has character so he likes new guitars. That is how I feel. I have character now, so my clothes don’t need it.”
The movie, which costars Kristin Scott Thomas as a mysterious woman who may have killed someone, was directed by Polish-born British director Pawel Pawlikowski. Hawke met him through actor Rebecca Hall, and after the meeting Hawke went home and watched two of the director’s feature films and several TV documentaries. He says he realized that any movie they might make would be somewhat offbeat, but he did find several things to relate to in the script that Pawlikowski eventually sent him, including his character’s inability to take responsibility for his own problems.
“Pawel’s whole thing is that our vision is screwed up, that we only see minutiae, and that we can’t see the totality of things. When I read the script, I related to the [character’s] isolation and getting to the middle of your life and having no idea where you are. That is the whole thing about wanting to be a good father but still feeling like a kid yourself. I relate to that. I know I am a grownup, but you still think, ‘Who is taking care of me?’ I like all that stuff.”
The other thing he could relate to was the difficulty the character has following up on a first novel that he wrote as a young man. Hawke says that when he wrote his debut novel, The Hottest State, in 1996, he found it to be a bit of a breeze. Six years later, he finally got around to writing Ash Wednesday. He says that writing and acting are a lot easier when you have few impediments.
“I have been grateful that I have a quality day job, but it is easy for me to imagine what it would be like to be this guy who wrote a brilliant novel when he was a young man and how daunting that is. The first one is kind of fun, but [with] the second one, you are supposed to grow and mature. The problem with having children is they erode the amount of time in the day. I love my [four] kids, but I see some of these young actors and I tell them that if they want to have their career go well, don’t marry and don’t have kids. You have to be a monk to the profession if you want it. That is why George Clooney did it right.”
Watch the trailer for The Woman in the Fifth.