Hawke, Ethan

views updated

Ethan Hawke


Born November 6, 1970, in Austin, TX; son of Leslie Hawke; married Uma Thurman (an actor), May 1, 1998 (separated, 2003); children: Maya Ray, Roan Thurman-Hawke. Education: Attended New York University; studied acting at McCarter Theatre (Princeton, NJ), and at Carnegie Mellon University.


Agent— Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212; c/o PMK, 1776 Broadway, eighth floor, New York, NY 10019-2002.


Screen and stage actor; novelist. Co-founder and artistic director, Malaparte Theater Company, New York, NY, 1993—; director of music video Stay, by Lisa Loeb, 1994; director of film Chelsea Walls, IFC Productions, 2001. Actor in feature films, including Explorers, Paramount, 1985; Dad, Universal, 1989; Dead Poets Society, Buena Vista, 1989; Mystery Date, Orion, 1991; White Fang, Buena Vista, 1991; A Midnight Clear, InterStar Releasing, 1992; Waterland, Fine Line Pictures, 1992; Rich in Love, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1993; Alive, Buena Vista, 1993; Reality Bites, Universal, 1994; Floundering, A-pix Entertainment, 1994; Before Sunrise, Castle Rock/Columbia, 1995; Search and Destroy (also known as The Four Rules), October Films, 1995; Gattacca, Columbia, 1997; The Velocity of Gary, Columbia/Tri-star, 1998; The Newton Boys, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1998; Monterey Pop, 1998; Great Expectations, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1998; Snow Falling on Cedars, Universal, 1999; Joe the King, Lower East Side Films, 1999; Hamlet, Double-A Films, 2000; Tell Me, 2000; Waking Life (voice), Thousand Words, 2001; Tape, IFC, 2001; Training Day, Warner Bros., 2001; The Jimmy Show, First Look, 2001; Before Sunset, Warner Independent Pictures, 2004; and Assault on Precinct 13, Rogue Pictures, 2005. Actor in stage plays, including Casanova, Martinson Hall Public Theatre, New York, NY, 1991; The Seagull, Lyceum Theater, New York, NY, then National Actors Theatre, 1992; A Joke, Malaparte Theatre Company, 1992; Sophistry, Playwrights Horizon, New York, NY, 1993; Sons and Fathers, Malaparte Theatre Company, 1994; The Late Henry Moss, Signature Theatre, New York, NY, 2001; Henry IV, Lincoln Center, New York, NY, 2003; and Hurlyburly, Acorn Theater, New York, NY, 2005.


Screen Actors Guild.

Awards, Honors

Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor, 2002, for Training Day; Film Society of Lincoln Center's Young Friends of Film gala tribute, 2003; Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay, 2005, for Before Sunset.


The Hottest State (novel), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.

Ash Wednesday (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.

Manhattan Story (novel), Fayard (Paris, France), 2003.

(With Richard Linklater) Before Sunset (screenplay), Warner Independent Films, 2004, published in Before Sunrise & Before Sunset: Two Screenplays, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2005.


Actor Ethan Hawke became a household name for his work in such films as Dead Poets Society, Reality Bites, and Before Sunrise. He also, much to his embarrassment, became somewhat of a pin-up boy in the 1990s. Although many early fans pegged his role as Troy, the ultimate cynical slacker of the popular 1994 film Reality Bites as perhaps emblematic of the actor's offstage persona, Hawke has actually proven to be a versatile, hard-working artist. He has published two novels, co-founded a New York-based theater company, directed a feature film, and garnered a pair of Academy Award nominations. "Hawke is the slacker turned polymath," stated Geoffrey Macnab in the London Guardian.

Hawke was born in Austin, Texas, to teenage parents whose marriage did not survive their son's childhood. By the time he was three years old, they had divorced and Hawke's mother began a series of moves that landed the two in several different states, including New York, Connecticut, Georgia, and Vermont. Perhaps because of this transience, during his formative years the actor had little contact with his natural father.

By the time Hawke was ten, his mother had remarried and the family settled in suburban New Jersey. He credits his stepfather and the lifestyle the family led with greatly influencing his eventual career. Hawke's mother, Leslie, told Rolling Stone that "we

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

went to movies and talked about them. A fun thing about being Ethan's mother was that he liked to talk about stuff. And his stepfather loved to talk about everything. We'd sit and argue movies for hours." Of his mother's new husband, Hawke credits him with influencing his eventual profession, telling Rolling Stone contributor Chris Mundy that his stepfather "made me think it would be cool to try and live an artist's life."

Bitten by the Acting Bug

When Hawke was just entering his teens, he was cast in Explorers, an adventure movie aimed at a younger audience. His costar was River Phoenix, another young actor heading for stardom; the two remained friends until Phoenix's death due to a drug overdose in 1993. The movie was commercially unsuccessful, and Hawke returned to a quasi-normal existence as a New Jersey high-schooler. Moving around so much with his single mother as a child had resulted in a sense of wanderlust, though: by the time Hawke finished high school he had vacationed in Haiti and spent a summer in Europe with his stepbrother.

After high school, Hawke looked forward to starting college. A voracious reader in possession of an inquisitive mind, he enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was ejected from his first class on his first day. Knuckling down, he stuck it out for most of the semester, but when cast for the role of a young prep school student in the film Dead Poets Society, Hawke dropped out for good.

Released in 1989, Dead Poets Society helped Hawke decide upon a career in film. Acting in an ensemble cast that included Robin Williams as a teacher who inspires his pupils to discover poetry as well as their own strengths and weaknesses, Hawke gained recognition as the film won critical acclaim. In an interview with Newsday writer Patrick Pacheco, the film's director, Peter Weir, praised Hawke's acting ability, noting that he—along with costar Robert Sean Leonard, possessed "grace and intelligence. They're willing to take chances. They think with their souls and follow their hearts."

Hawke attempted college two more times, each time undertaking coursework at New York University, but Hollywood's offers of film roles kept sidelining his academic efforts. "I was uncomfortable with the fact that I didn't go to college for a long, long time," Hawke told Mundy in the Rolling Stone interview. Reading and relentlessly participating in other cultural activities on his own helped assuage some of that uneasiness, but branching out from acting later in his career ultimately helped to ease Hawke's discomfiture.The success of Dead Poets Society helped solidify Hawke's career choice, especially when the film was nominated for an Academy award. Next, he was cast in White Fang, a 1991 film adaptation of the early twentieth-century adventure novel by Jack London. He also made Mystery Date, a teen romance that was released to bad reviews the same year. "I didn't do a good job in that movie," the actor recalled to USA Today reporter Tom Green. "Why I didn't is that I shouldn't have been there." Soon he was exercising more care in accepting the scripts that were offered.

Hawke starred opposite British actor Jeremy Irons in 1992's Waterland, the screen adaptation of a novel by Graham Swift. The year also saw another film credit for Hawke in the overlooked World War II drama A Midnight Clear. In between films, Hawke honed his acting craft further on Broadway in a revival of late nineteenth-century Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov's The Seagull in early 1993. He admitted to USA Today reporter Green that his being cast in theater was in part the result of his better-known film roles, as well as his burgeoning status as a heartthrob actor. "Do you think I would be doing The Seagull on Broadway . . . if on matinee days there wasn't a bunch of fifteen-year-old girls in the upper balcony?"

When the best-selling book Alive was made into a film of the same name, Hawke was cast as one of the principal characters. The 1993 film also starred Vincent Spano and Josh Hamilton. Piers Paul Read's story chronicles several harrowing days in the Andes Mountains of South America after a plane carrying a Uruguayan college soccer team crashes and its unprepared survivors await rescue. Stranded, injured, and frozen, the athletes are forced to turn to cannibalism to survive their ordeal. Hawke's character is the first to suggest eating the bodies of the victims in order to stay alive after their meager food supply runs out.

Filming Alive was arduous for Hawke and the other actors. They stayed at a nearby resort and were flown daily to remote locations in the snowy mountains of British Columbia. To slim down for the roles of emaciated athletes, the cast was put on a severe diet of 1,100 calories a day; Hawke shed thirty pounds. The diet, he told reporter Green in the USA Today interview, brought an added dimension of stress to the filming. Such tension was apparent even in the final edited version, and the film was well received by critics. Newsweek reviewer David Ansen declared that "Hawke . . . has subtle authority as the heroic Nando Parrado: He's got a face for which close-ups were invented."

A Star-making Role

Hawke made one of the biggest moves of his career in accepting the role of the ultimate jaded, post-collegiate slacker in Reality Bites, a 1994 film directed by a relative unknown named Ben Stiller. The son of comedians Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Stiller also starred in the Generation-X comedy; the film placed Hawke on a bill with Winona Ryder and Janeane Garofalo. In the story, Hawke's character loafs around all day and pines for Ryder's character Leilani, who is being wooed by Stiller's slick, Armani-clad character. "He will turn this place into a den of slack," Leilani says of roommate Troy and his bad habits.

As the film's resident college dropout and budding musician, Hawke's character, Troy, spouts lines like "I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" with a sardonic, world-weary air, while the other characters bemoan his inability to find a job, his lack of motivation for even looking for one, and his general pessimism. "I am not under any order to make the world a better place," Troy intones. The narrative evolves into a love triangle involving Ryder, Stiller, and Hawke. Reality Bites was praised by critics for its version of life and love among the twenty-something set, and Hawke's performance won accolades from many corners. The actor also directed the video to "Stay," a song by Lisa Loeb that was included on the film's soundtrack. In the next few months, it appeared in near-saturation rotation on MTV.

Reality Bites received its share of criticism, however, as some reviewers saw it as Hollywood's attempt to capitalize on a new niche market, to make a film geared toward a specific, moviegoing younger crowd. The resulting hype about Reality Bites, and the media attention it garnered Hawke, had a negative impact when his name began appearing in the tabloids. "Perhaps the strangest upshot of the prom moment was that Hawke found himself, for the first real time, a name and face worthy of mention in all of this great nation's gossip rags," wrote Mundy in Rolling Stone. "Seeing how nothing announces the arrival of a young celebrity quite like sharing page space with updates on Oprah's weight loss, it is clear that Hawke has arrived."

After Reality Bites Hawke began spending time working on side projects: he was hard at work on an unpublished novel, and he spent time with a new theater group he had founded in late 1993 called Malaparte, based in New York City. But in early 1995 he returned to the publicity spotlight when another film aimed at young, twenty-ish audiences, Before Sunrise, was released. Before Sunrise is the tale of Jesse and Celine, two travelers who meet on a train heading through Europe. Hawke's American character convinces the French student, played by Julie Delpy, to disembark with him in Vienna so that they might spend the next few hours together before his flight departs for the United States. The film was directed by Richard Linklater, who made both Slacker and Dazed and Confused. Supposedly, Linklater sought out Hawke for the role because of his natural loquaciousness, a quality that was well showcased in the film.

"Shot for only $3 million," Mundy wrote of the film in Rolling Stone, " Before Sunrise manages to capture both the city of Vienna and the birth of a relationship with surprising poignancy." Hawke told Mundy that "making this movie was like a sociology experiment. One guy, one girl. I came home and desperately tried to win back my old girlfriend." The romance of the story also found favor with critics. "The film has no other concern besides exploring what goes on between Delpy and Hawke, who are wary but not pessimistic, not paralyzed, not frightened," wrote Chicago Tribune reviewer Johanna Steinmetz. "And not thinking about their next career move. They are, in short, truly romantic."

While Hawke seemed happy with the final outcome of Before Sunrise, he nevertheless remained committed to his other artistic endeavors, including writing and stage acting. He seemed almost gratified to turn down film roles, much to the dismay of both his mother and agent, according to Mundy in Rolling Stone. The actor also confessed to frustration in finding equals in his profession—fellow young actors with a more serious bent—and drew on the careers of actors Sam Shepard, Paul Newman, and Jack Nicholson for unspoken guidance. "Most people in Ethan's position are content to talk to their agent every day and then go drink and date movie stars," Before Sunrise director Linklater told Mundy in Rolling Stone. "The people he emulates aren't stars, they are people who have done interesting things. It's amazing how hard the guy works."

Publishes First Novel

In 1996 Hawke's debut novel, The Hottest State, was published. The Hottest State is the story of William Harding, a twenty-one-year-old actor, and Sarah Wingfield, a bright, slightly plump, and not conventionally beautiful singer/songwriter and preschool teacher who makes an unusual departure from Harding's usual female companions. The two meet in New York City. He's interested in sex, and she's not, preferring to read him poetry by Adrienne Rich and hand him a tract on "Rape and the Twentieth-Century Woman." They spend time in Paris before she dumps him, needing "her space." According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, Harding then turns to "self-loathing and homosexual panic" and tears up his apartment. The novel received mixed reviews. Jeff Giles in Newsweek called The Hottest State "a pleasantly honest book, ardent about love and New York, cynical about acting and sex." A Publishers Weekly contributor stated that "Hawke's emotionally raw account of a world inescapably contracted is oddly affecting." In 1997 Hawke starred opposite Uma Thurman, his future wife, in Gattacca, "a cautionary science-fiction tale" set in an Orwellian future, noted Time critic Richard Schickel. Hawke and Thurman married in 1998, the same year he appeared in two more feature films, Great Expectations and The Newton Boys. In Great Expectations, an update of the classic 1946 film adaptation of the classic novel by Charles Dickens, Hawke portrays Finn, an aspiring artist whose career is aided by a mysterious benefactor. The Newton Boys tells the true story of four brothers from Texas who pulled off the largest train robbery in U.S. history. Schickel observed that Hawke "has a nice slippery charm as the gang's smoothest talker." After starring in the 1999 film Snow Falling on Cedars, Hawke nabbed the title role in Hamlet, a contemporary remake of William Shakepeare's epic tragedy. "Twentysomething alienation reverberates through Hawke's Hamlet, who is encumbered not only by treacherous parents and denied love, but also the numbing gloss of 21st-century advertising, surveillance, and media saturation," wrote Entertainment Weekly contributor Daniel Fierman.

Important Career Moves

2001 was a pivotal year for Hawke. He directed his first feature film, Chelsea Walls, described by Jerome V. Kramer in Book as "a resolutely independent paean to New York's Chelsea Hotel and the bohemian arts community that calls it home." When Hawke moved to New York City, he stayed briefly at the Chelsea, which has attracted such artists as Dylan Thomas, Thomas Wolfe, and Bob Dylan. "The Chelsea is kind of the shining beacon—the Notre Dame of hotels, in a way," Hawke told Jamie Painter Young in Back Stage West. "It was built as a home for artists. If you're a child of the myth of bohemia and you're drawn to that dream, you dream of the Chelsea Hotel." Hawke teamed with director Linklater and Thurman for Tape, a film version of Stephen Belber's stage play. Set entirely in a seedy hotel room, Tape features Hawke as a drug dealer who attempts to pry a long-buried secret from an old high school friend. "The unraveling confessional structure is familiar, but Hawke, cast as a 'Hey, dude!' wastrel who's a lot more articulate than he looks, gives every moment a tiny punch of surprise," noted Owen Gleiberman in Entertainment Weekly. Hawke also appeared as a young narcotics officer in Training Day, a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. In the film, idealistic rookie Jake Hoyt spends a day patrolling the streets of Los Angeles with a rogue detective, the fast-talking, enigmatic, and brutal Alonzo Harris, played by Denzel Washington. According to Entertainment Weekly contributor Scott Brown, Hawke plays Jake as "a conflicted straight man to Washington's high-blown hustler. Those little-boy-lost eyes register—sometimes simultaneously—fear, resentment, and guilty, grudging admiration."

Hawke published his second novel, Ash Wednesday, in 2002. The novel is told in dual first-person narration by U.S. Army Staff Sergeant James Heartsock and his girlfriend Christy. As the story unfolds, Christy learns she is pregnant and wants to go home to Texas, telling Jimmy that he must come along or never see her again. She leaves after Jimmy breaks up with her, but he goes AWOL a day later, begging her to marry him. The remainder of the novel is about their travels across the country, run-ins with "prophets," who all have something to say about their situation, and the couple's philosophical musings about life and marriage. As Hawke stated in an interview with Teen People, "The book is a meditation on the change that occurs within someone when you are trying to learn how to love somebody else." A Publishers Weekly critic noted that "the novel's conversational tone . . . and, above all, direct exploration of the simple truths of life and love make this a worthwhile tale." Sam Leith of the London Sunday Telegraph acknowledged that "Hawke captures very well the exhausting emotional push and pull of a couple in love." Hawke and Thurman separated in 2003; the couple share custody of their two children. "I always felt like a marriage works best on, say, a farm, where you are together and everyone has real clear-cut roles," Hawke told Michelle Tauber in People. "But you know, our whole marriage was time negotiation. You hear actors say, 'Oh, we rotate taking jobs,' but that means that someone is always away."

If you enjoy the works of Ethan Hawke

If you enjoy the works of Ethan Hawke, you may also want to check out the following films:

Say Anything, directed by Cameron Crowe, 1989.

Clockers, directed by Spike Lee, 1995.

Thirteen Conversations about One Thing, starring Matthew McConaughey, 2001.

Hawke earned a second Academy Award nomination for his contributions to the screenplay for the 2004 film Before Sunset, the sequel to Before Sunrise. Directed by Linklater, Before Sunset reunites Hawke and Delpy as the former lovers. Nine years after they parted ways in Vienna, Jesse and Celine meet again in a Paris bookstore. Their lives have changed significantly: Jesse, now married and the parent of a baby boy, is touring Europe to promote his new novel; Celine is an environmental activist who lives alone in Paris. As the pair wander the city streets, they realize that the possibility for romance still exists. New Yorker critic David Denby observed, "The movie is an O. Henry-like conceit—the slenderness of the initial premise is part of the charm—but the anecdote becomes almost momentous as it goes on, and the fluidity of Linklater's technique, which brings the streets, the gardens, the Seine, and the Paris light into Jesse's decision—all of them working against his obligation to go home—allows the dramatic issue to play out freely. There's nothing predetermined about what happens. It could go either way." Reviewing Before Sunset in the Guardian, Geoffrey Macnab stated, "In its own, small-scale way, the new film is beautifully crafted. The editing is unobtrusive. The dialogue seems spontaneous, though Hawke, Delpy and Linklater spent months refining and reworking it." Macnab continued, "There are no big emotional set pieces or plot revelations. Instead, the film-makers try to capture the pathos and humour in seemingly throwaway moments."

Hawke continues to test his limits as an artist. As he told Jamie Painter Young in Back Stage West, "You have to think of yourself, first and foremost, as a human being, and when you do that the whole world opens up. For sure, acting is the thing from which all things come to me. Any knowledge I have about writing or directing comes from acting. Acting is the center part of the wheel for me. But I feel like I enjoy acting so much more if I have a full and rich life that involves doing lots of other things and putting myself in new situations."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 43, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.

International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 3: Actors and Actresses, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.


Back Stage West, April 25, 2002, Jamie Painter Young, "The Art of Reinvention," pp. 1-3.

Book, July-August, 2002, Jerome V. Kramer, "Can't Sit Still," p. 38.

Booklist, May 15, 2002, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Ash Wednesday, p. 1555.

Boston Globe, February 18, 1994, p. 33.

Chicago Tribune, February 26, 1995, p. C12.

Commonweal, August 9, 1991, p. 484.

Details, January, 1998, pp. 79-83, 120-121.

Entertainment Weekly, March 18, 1994, p. 19; August 11, 1995, p. 9; September 13, 1996, October 18, 1996, p. 70; December 27, 1996, p. 143; October 31, 1997, Ty Burr, review of Gattaca, p. 76; January 30, 1998, Owen Gleiberman, review of Great Expectations, p. 39; January 7, 2000, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of Snow Falling on Cedars, p. 47; May 19, 2000, Lisa Schwarzbaum, "Mourning Danish," p. 43; June 2, 2000, Daniel Fierman, "The Dane Event," p. 40; September 21, 2001, Owen Gleiberman, "Dirty Harris," p. 52; November 9, 2001, Owen Gleiberman, "Room with a Feud," p. 81; February 22, 2002, Scott Brown, "Ethan Hawke: Training Day, " p. 60; April 26, 2002, Lisa Schwarzbaum, "Shot from the Hip," p. 119; August 9, 2002, p. 66; December 31, 2004, Gregory Kirschling, "Great Performances/Memorable Moments from 2004," p. 74; January 28, 2005, Rebecca-Ascher Walsh, "Thrill Ride," p. 16, and Owen Gleiberman, "Ambush League," p. 63.

Esquire, August, 2002, Tom Chiarella, "The Indefensible Position: Ethan Hawke Is a Decent Writer," p. 32.

Guardian (London, England), June 18, 2004, Geoffrey MacNab, "Forget Me Not," p. 8.

Hollywood Reporter, April 19, 2002, David Hunter, review of Chelsea Walls, pp. 8-9.

Interview, April, 1992, p. 108; February 1995, p. 118.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2002, review of Ash Wednesday, p. 685.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 14, 2002, p. 5634.

Library Journal, August, 1996, p. 112; June 1, 2002, Rachel Collins, review of Ash Wednesday, p. 196.

Maclean's, August 12, 2002, p. 54.

Mademoiselle, February, 1994, p. 60.

Newsday, June 11, 1989, p. 10.

New Statesman, June 24, 1994, p. 34.

Newsweek, January 18, 1993, p. 59; September 30, 1996, p. 80; February 2, 1998, p. 61; August 5, 2002, p. 64.

New York, December 7, 1992, p. 89; October 25, 1993, p. 99.

New Yorker, December 21, 1992, p. 127; July 5, 2004, David Denby, "Wanderers," review of Before Sunset, p. 99.

New York Times Book Review, November 3, 1996, p. 19.

People, September 4, 1995, p. 20; November 11, 1996, p. 168; March 31, 1997, p. 47; April 6, 1998, review of The Newton Boys, p. 19, October 22, 2001, "A Hawke Builds His Nest," p. 121; July 29, 2002, p. 17; April 5, 2004, Michelle Tauber, "Starting Over," p. 71; January 31, 2005, Leah Rozen, review of Assault on Precinct 13, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, June 27, 1994, p. 14; July 22, 1996, p. 225; June 17, 2002, Dena Croog, "PW Talks with Ethan Hawke," and review of Ash Wednesday, p. 39.

Rolling Stone, March 9, 1995, p. 44.

San Francisco Chronicle, May 10, 2002, p. D4; July 28, 2002, p. 3; August 7, 2002, p. D1.

Sunday Telegraph (London, England), August 25, 2002.

Teen People, August 1, 2002, Jennifer L. Smith, interview with Hawke, p. 108.

Texas Monthly, August, 2002, Pamela Colloff, "Ethan Hawke: The Austin-born, Academy Award-nominated Actor on Uma, Travis, and His Second Career as a Writer," p. 49.

Time, December 14, 1992, p. 72; January 30, 1995, p. 88; August 14, 1995, p. 73; October 27, 1997, Richard Schickel, review of Gattaca, p. 134; April 6, 1998, Richard Schickel, review of The Newton Boys, p. 70; December 27, 1999, Richard Schickel, review of Snow Falling on Cedars, p. 169; October 8, 2001, Richard Schickel, "Bad Cop, Good Cop," p. 80; January 24, 2005, Richard Corliss, "Repeat Assault, with Vigor," p. 63.

Times (London, England), April 29, 1993.

USA Today, February 3, 1993, p. D10.

Variety, June 3, 1991, p. 58; November 30, 1992, p. 92; October 25, 1993, p. 85; January 19, 1998, Todd McCarthy, review of Great Expectations, pp. 88-89; May 21, 2001, Todd McCarthy, review of Chelsea Walls, p. 20.

Washington Post, November 7, 1992.

Washington Post Book World, October 6, 1996, p. 4.


IFP Web site,http://www.ifp.org/ (August 5, 2002), "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Powell's Books Web site,http://www.powells.com/ (August 6, 2002), Dave Weich, interview with Hawke.*