Ethan Hawke continues to prove that no genre is without its merits and no story too daunting as he takes on roles as wildly different as the thrillers of Sinister and The Purge to the dramatic romance of Before Midnight. Starting this Friday, Hawke will take his place behind the wheel of a Ford Shelby Super Snake in an attempt to rescue his character’s wife in Courtney Solomon’s high-speed thriller, Getaway.
During a recent press day for the film, we were able to talk to Hawke in a one-on-one interview that ranged from his training and experience driving the suped-up hot rod in Getaway, his reaction on the reception of Before Midnight, and his reflection on his career so far. Hawke also talked a bit about his upcoming roles, including completing his work with director Richard Linklater on their untitled 12-year project, starring in Michael Almereyda’s Cymbeline, Michael and Peter Spierig’s Predestination and even a possible reunion with writer-director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca). Hit the jump for the full interview.
Ethan Hawke: Part of the reason to do this movie was it seemed like it would be fun. I secretly love cars and I wanted an excuse to do a movie that was … it’s extremely simple. There was something that appealed to me about sitting in one car, it’s so simple. Basically, for the whole movie, it’s one car chase. I’m in this seat and I drive around. I went out to this mid-Ohio racetrack and I went out there to get taught a little bit about how to maybe do some of these stunts. I’ve always fantasized about doing the thing you see in movies where you floor it in reverse and then slam on the brakes and spin around, there’s got to be a name for it, but it’s incredibly fun to do that stuff. In truth, it always ends up being a lot more work and it always ends up being a lot more tedious than you want it to be, but the fun was part of the reason to do the film.
I think the work really paid off because I had a blast watching the film. It was just fun from beginning to end. You mentioned that you guys did a little bit of training, and I was talking to Courtney Solomon earlier, who said that you were actually driving in some of the stunt sequences. Can you talk about that process and just getting to play?
Hawke: That’s what it was. Whenever actors tout off about doing their own stunts, it’s always … they’re so protective of you that I always know these stunt guys are so good [and] they’re never going to put you in danger. But it’s fun to do something kind of exciting, even something as simple as driving 70 through a tunnel with five motorcycles … it sounds simple, but it’s actually really nerve-wracking. I had to do this scene with these motorcycles shooting blanks at me, right? So I’ve got to just go through the tunnel at 70, but you’ve got to stay at 70 because they’re criss-crossing. As soon as somebody crosses in front of you, you want to slow down, but if I slow down, the guy behind me? I’m gonna nail him! Literally sometimes I would just stare at the speedometer and …
Just let them do their thing.
Hawke: Yeah. I wanted to do more of it because that’s something you never get to do. Permission to wreck a car? Yeah, I did do some of that stuff and I did have fun doing it, but there’s a small part of your brain that, when you’re doing something like that, that starts getting nervous. You can start imagining the People magazine article about you dying on set in Bulgaria, like, “Right, this is how it happens. 4am. Just going to do it one more time.”
Well luckily nothing like that happened.
You’ve done a lot of these modestly-budgeted films lately that have had huge box offices and they’re fun films, too. Is there a possibility of signing on for a franchise with any of your recent films?
Hawke: The funny thing about Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, my joke about that is that it’s the lowest-grossing trilogy in the history of cinema, you know? No, I always envy these guys, like Ralph Fiennes who’s in the Harry Potter and now Bond movies, or Matt Damon who’s in the Bourne movies, I envy those guys to have a steady quality job that then you can help finance the rest of your artistic life, but I’ve never really found it. I think part of it is, I’m not really usually terribly drawn to mainstream material. Even this movie, it’s extremely mainstream, but there’s something so weird about it, just the fact that it’s only in one car made me like it. It’s different.
Different is good though. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you from getting stale in a franchise.
Hawke: Yeah, I know. You start doing the same crap and that’s what I think, if you just keep shaking it up … even if all you did was art movies … you want to maintain your curiosity.
Sure, like anything you do.
Since you brought it up, Before Midnight didn’t have a huge box office, but it had a great reception.
Hawke: Yeah, I’m really proud of it. It’s a really unique thing. It’s the most meaningful thing in my career, I think, the way that people have related to those movies because they’re so unique and specific that I could imagine nobody but us liking them. And then when people do like them, you feel like there’s a shared sensibility.
Yesterday, I just finished another movie with Richard Linklater; it’s the 12-year project, which is just an amazing thing he’s been doing. We’ve been making a short film once a year for 12 years. My first scene is with this seven-year-old boy – I’m not in the first year they did it – he’s seven years old, and yesterday I just did a scene with him and he’s 19.
It’s crazy how time goes like that.
Hawke: I know! When you watch the movie, I really think it’s going to be incredible.
Has your success with recent genre films changed the scripts that are coming across your desk or your opinion on what you’d like to try next?
Hawke: It does. I’ve been doing this long enough now that you watch the way a career ebbs and flows. When I did Dead Poets Society, people thought I was a prep school kid and they thought that if I wanted to play a cop or something, “You can’t be that!” And then I did Reality Bites and it’s the whole Gen-X thing, and then Training Day and then all of a sudden, “Oh! You’re in cop movies!” There’s these waves. Certainly, when you have success in something … I’ve always had an interest in so-called drive-in, grindhouse movies like Sinister and The Purge; if you can make a good one, it’s a really fun thing. Now I get sent those things all the time and nobody ever used to send those to me! I’m sure the second you do a Western, probably everybody just wants you to do Westerns if they’re a success. I look at it like chapters. There have been these weird chapters in my career and frankly I’m grateful that … the business and the industry keeps changing so much, I’m grateful to be around.
You’ve done so many different styles and genres and so many different approaches, I find it hard to believe that anybody would try to typecast you because you’ve done everything. One of my personal favorites is Gattaca.
Hawke: Me too.
Any projects you’re looking at that have a sci-fi bent to it? Would you like to get back into sci-fi in the future?
Hawke: Yeah I just finished a movie called Predestination with the guys who did Daybreakers. It’s based on a 1950s Robert Heinlein short story called, “All You Zombies”. It’s not about zombies, it’s about time travel. I’m so excited about this movie and those guys are huge Gattaca fans too. The script, anyway, was so smart and so interesting. The woman that I worked with, her name is Sarah Snook …she gave one of the most amazing performances I’ve ever been a part of on screen. I can’t wait for people to see it. It’s a real mind fuck. If you like Gattaca and Before Midnight, you will like this movie. I don’t know whether the rest of the world will, but I loved it.
I’m actually getting really close to … Andrew Niccol and I are going to do another film together. It’s not science-fiction, but everything Andrew does, even Lord of War and even though it’s real, he always has a unique hit on it. He makes normal life seem like science-fiction in some strange way. I’m excited about that.
Can you talk a bit about your upcoming role in Cymbeline?
Hawke: Cymbeline … Michael Almereyda directed me in Hamlet and Ed Harris is playing Cymbeline and I’m playing a smaller part in that film. That starts tomorrow. We start shooting in Brooklyn tomorrow.
Excellent. So like Hamlet, it’s a contemporary take on a classic?
Hawke: Yeah, exactly. It’s reimagining Cymbeline with a motorcycle gang and some cops warring and a young woman caught in between.
What’s your role? You said it’s smaller but I’m not too familiar with the play.
Hawke: I’m playing Iachimo. It’s not that small, it’s not like a cameo or something, but it’s not Hamlet. The woman, her name is Dakota Johnson in the lead, she’s playing Imogen. I think she’s a neat young actress.