PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Ethan Hawke

By Harry Haun
08 Jan 2011

Ethan Hawke
photo by Serge Nivelle
You directed two things for The New Group, and I remember you working on all those plays for Malaparte. You were the artistic director. Do you miss Malaparte? Are you glad you had that experience?
EH: Of course, I'm glad I had that experience. In many ways, what we have going with The New Group now is some kind of rebirth of that community. One of the plays I directed for The New Group, in fact, was Jonathan [Marc Sherman]'s play, Things We Want. Josh and Jonathan were founding members of the Malaparte Theatre Company, along with me and Robert Sean Leonard.

You and Robert were part of the "Dead Poets Society," Class of 1989. Do you have any plans, or hopes, of working together again?
EH: His show [TV's "House"] is about to end, and I said, "Let's get you at The New Group. What do you want to do when the TV thing is over?" So, hopefully, we'll get him. When we did "Dead Poet Society," he was the greatest actor I'd ever met, and he still is. I love that guy. I'd love nothing more than to direct him in a Tom Stoppard play where he could blow everybody away. I know what he is capable of. Did you ever see him in The Invention of Love? That guy deserved the Tony for that. I know he got it, but he deserved it.

Would you ever want to be an artistic director again, or have you cashed in your chips?
EH: To be totally fair, I would. This is not reality. I've now had two drinks, and I'm happy, but, if I can hand-paint my life, it would end with my running the first National Theatre of the United States of America. I'd take over for Jack O'Brien, after he started it. He's the guy who’s really capable of doing that.

I even loved the curtain calls for The Coast of Utopia. It was like rolling waves of the sea reaching the shore.
EH: It was like a poem. I have a journal entry about watching Jack sculpt the curtain calls of The Coast of Utopia. That man knows about stage, how the eye works and how it doesn't work — he's brilliant.

Hawke in The Coast of Utopia
photo by Paul Kolnik



If you did have a season as an artistic director, what would you have in terms of product?
EH: I dunno. The thing that I think is important for America to have — whether it's O'Neill, Shepard, Tennessee or a new play — is the proper umbrella. We need for our country to do what the Moscow Arts Center does for Russia and what the National does in London. I don't know how to achieve it because this country doesn't care that much about the arts — or it feels that, somehow, somebody else should take care of it.

You're one of the few people I know who actually has an award for your theatre commitment [the Michael Mendelson Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Theatre in 2008]. You've earned it, too. You have a wonderful film career, but you keep coming to the stage all the time.
EH: It's a big surprise to me that theatre is my first love. I didn't know that when I was young. I loved theatre, but, as technology explodes more and more, I'm learning to love it even more.

There's a beautiful Milan Kundera quote in his new book where he talks about the birth of a new art form called cinema. It was completely usurped by big business. Basically, now, it's big business. It's not cinema as art. What qualifies as an art picture is not what qualifies as literary fiction — and what a shame that is.

As people start watching "The Godfather" on an iPhone on the subway, the theatre becomes more and more relevant, and you realize that this ancient art form is going to survive all of this. It's funny, with rock music, music is cheaper and cheaper…but a live Bruce Springsteen concert is still priceless. A great work of theatre is priceless. It can't be repeated.

There's a great Meryl Streep quote I heard recently. When she was younger and really into theatre, they were saying, "Movies are immortal." Now that she's older, she realizes, "God, all the movies are dated." The only thing that's immortal is her production of The Cherry Orchard 33 years ago. The people who saw it love it and remember it. That hasn't dated, whereas even "Silkwood" is dated. Theatre lives. When I meet somebody who says to me, "I saw you in Jack's Henry IV," the first thing that comes to my mind is "What night?" They say, "Oh, Christmas," and I say, "Was my voice hurting?" "Yeah, your voice was really ragged." "I know. I was having such trouble." It hasn't aged a day. That's the beauty of theatre. You can't buy it on your iPod. You can't download it on iTunes. That makes it more special now.