Ethan Hawke opens up about stage fright, Robin Williams and a current career high

TELLURIDE – Actor Ethan Hawke is in the middle of a career high right now. In the space of a year he has been a part of two landmark films from director Richard Linklater, “Before Midnight” and “Boyhood,” each of them the result of years and years of work exploring characters as they change across a wide spectrum of time. He has two films set to play the Venice Film Festival next week in Andrew Niccol's “Good Kill” and Michael Almereyda's “Cymbeline” and he's here in Telluride with his own directorial effort, an emotional documentary that is ostensibly a portrait of pianist Seymour Bernstein, but on a deeper level is an exploration by Hawke of finding satisfaction in one's art.

It's a delicate piece of work that played like gangbusters to a Telluride premiere audience Saturday, rapt as the so wonderfully well-spoken Bernstein rattled off philosophical nuggets throughout a lively Q&A. And it holds an interesting place in Hawke's filmography right, as he is absolutely an artist who has been looking for something after all these years. And as of late, he seems to be finding it.

I sat down with Hawke to discuss all of this and much more. He remains, for me, one of my favorite people to talk to in this business, ever thoughtful, a really cerebral guy who is nevertheless unaffected and never elusive, even though you can tell there is just so much going on inside his head. Read through the back and forth below.

Sundance Selects picked up “Seymour: An Introduction” ahead of the festival. It's set for release in 2015. “Good Kill” and “Cymbeline” premiere next week and “Boyhood,” of course, is currently in theaters.


HitFix: You're really on a bit of a tear lately. I actually think you're an actor who keeps hustling admirably regardless, but the last couple of years in particular have felt really streaky. Does it feel that way to you?

Ethan Hawke: It feels like the best profession in my life to be in, only because I'm doing the kind of work I really want to be doing. A combination of the work with Rick [Linklater] really going over, “Before Midnight” and “Boyhood” – coming out basically within 12 months of each other. I mean, I know enough to know that the life of an actor is one of ups and downs. I find it fascinating being at this festival, hearing how brilliant Michael Keaton is in this new movie [“Birdman”], and God, actors have to suffer so much. The guy has always been brilliant. You have to kind of go out of fashion to come back in fashion. There's a scene in “Seymour” where it says “you have to have dissonance to have resolution.” But yeah, it is a weird moment. I feel like I'm going to get hit by a bus or something. You know that feeling? “Who's going to come down with cancer now?”

Let's dive in with the film you have here, “Seymour: An Introduction.” I was going to ask why you thought a film was a good idea but it kind of becomes obvious when you watch it. The way Seymour is so drunk on the art of music, it's rather seductive, to just hear him talk. I just want to hang out with that guy.