He’s made a trilogy of films covering the long course of a college-age romance, love the second time around and a marriage that may or may not endure the later, bitter years. And then there’s “Boyhood,” in which Ethan Hawke invested a dozen years of his movie stardom into showing the arc of three lives — a son, growing up, an always-adolescent dad maturing and a struggling, insecure mother finding herself.
Hawke, at 44, is no longer the rising star or hot young hunk, though he remains the hipster icon, even with a little grey around the temples. He’s finally aged and ready to play his idol, jazz great Chet Baker. And these days, he’s taking stock of where his acting career has taken him and what he can give back to a business that has kept him in the public eye for 30 years.
“One of the things that happens as you cross the ’40’ line, is you start to think a lot about your relationship to younger people,” Hawke says. “I’ve been going through that a lot, thanks to all this time I’ve spent with Ellar Coltrane (the kid in “Boyhood”). He’s now the same age I was when I started in movies.”
Hawke‘s first film was “Explorers,” which he made when he was 15. The Austin native (raised in New Jersey) went on to make many a commercial film, plucking an Oscar nomination for “Training Day,” for instance. But the hallmarks of his career, even when he was tabloid fodder, have always been risk, generosity and loyalty.
He signs on to a no-budget horror film with a pointed political message and “The Purge” becomes a hit. He was the “name” that helped Sidney Lumet get his last film, the terrific “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” made, and his participation has gotten many a stage production or indie film off the ground.
And loyalty? He’s made eight films with his fellow Austinite Richard Linklater, with commitments that have often been years in the making — “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” “The Newton Boys,” “Fast Food Nation” on through “Boyhood.”
“For those of us who have been his champion for a couple of decades, it feels really good to have people, well, start to GET it,” he says of Linklater, finally earning Oscar buzz for “Boyhood,” widely regarded as one of the best films of 2014.
Hawke‘s latest is another risky endeavor and yet another demonstration of his loyalty. He took a chance on the Australian Spierig Brothers (Michael and Peter) with their offbeat vampire tale “Daybreakers,” which became a January hit a few years back. “Predestination” is another Spierig Brothers genre piece, and another gamble. This time, the dice roll on yet another time travel tale.
“I love to take chances on people, which is why I follow my gut on what seems like original material, something I haven’t seen before,” Hawke say. “Everything is trying to be like something else. You find something you haven’t seen before, you take a chance on filmmakers that aren’t as experienced.
“‘Predestination’ isn’t just a time-travel movie, it’s its own weird thing.”
Hawke plays a government agent sent back in time to foil a terrorist bombing. The story takes us from the 1940s to the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s as his character hears the tortured life-history of a barfly (Sarah Snook) who might be his prime suspect.
“If anybody claims to have understood this script before we started shooting, I’m calling them out,” Hawke jokes. “‘LIAR.'”
The film’s early reviews praise Snook’s breakout performance — Hawke generously takes a back seat to her for much of the film — and Hawke for his “darkly shaded hero” (FilmInk).
“The truth is, I had done ‘Daybreakers’ with these guys, and I’m willing to just go with their ideas, however weird. Because ‘Daybreakers’ was like that, really good and original.
“All we have to go on in our life is our gut, right?”
Pondering his new film’s themes, the idea that our fates are somehow predestined, Hawke will allow that it “seems like such an interesting thing to think about. We think, as we live our life, that we have no idea what’s going to happen next. But when we look back, it seems like everything that did happen HAD to happen. Some given day, you can’t decide whether to go left or right. It’s a big decision in your life. Then, twenty years later, you think ‘Well, I was ALWAYS going to go right.’ It’s predestined, in a way. It just never feels like that in the moment.”
But 30 years into a screen and stage career, Hawke‘s still in it for the surprises that life has to offer.