It’s not rare at all for Ethan Hawke to have three or four projects on screens in a given year. The four-time Oscar-nominated star of films like “Training Day” and “Boyhood” works. Hard. He chalks it up to perhaps not being as comfortable in his own skin as other people are, but whatever the reason, his output is perennially considerable, and impressive.
This year the 47-year-old actor appears in Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed” (May 18) and Jesse Peretz’s “Juliet, Naked” (Aug. 17). Meanwhile, Sundance Selects will release his third directorial effort, “Blaze,” later in the fall. But while Hawke has clearly covered a lot of ground in a 30-year career dating back to the formative experience of Peter Weir’s “Dead Poets Society,” there are still a few stones left unturned.
“One thing I haven’t been able to do that I really thought I would have been able to do is, before I die, I would really like to give a meaningful performance inside a really commercial film,” Hawke says.
Specifically he cites actor Alec Guinness, who famously afforded a sense of gravitas to George Lucas’ “Star Wars” with an Oscar-nominated performance that gave the film a whole other dimension.
“To be that good in what basically is just a space flick — I mean, the acting in general is not very good in that film,” Hawke says. “But he elevates it with his life, and he actually imbues Obi Wan Kenobi with a spiritual authority. Or you see Ian McKellen say, ‘Fly, you fools’ [in ‘The Lord of the Rings’]. Most American actors couldn’t pull that line off. Imagine looking at the page and seeing, ‘Fly, you fools.’ Tough line. But if you’ve done Lear four times, it’s not that tough. I see those men, or Judi Dench — there’s lots of women, Vanessa Redgrave — these people who’ve lived a life in pursuit of something beyond celebrity and beyond fame, but then they can in turn use it in ‘X-Men’ to great value.”
On that note he recalls seeing a gaggle of “Star Trek” and “X-Men” fans turn out to see McKellen and Patrick Stewart star in a London production of “Waiting for Godot” some years back, the venerated thespians bridging a cultural gap with aplomb. He looks to actors like Christopher Plummer, Donald Sutherland and Jeff Bridges — “these guys who have walked the road a little bit longer than I have” — as guideposts of a sort.
“When you do a movie like ‘Training Day’ and the world sees it and you do a good job, it’s not [necessarily] what I’m after with my whole life,” Hawke says. “Because if all you want to do is make commercial movies, it’s kind of like saying all I want to do is make hamburgers. But I would like to be in a balls-out comedy. And I’d like to do a really interesting performance inside a commercial movie.”
Luckily for Hawke, there is no shortage of opportunities for these kinds of roles in a modern movie climate dominated by shared universes and their ilk.