All that creativity, along with raising four children, requires enormous energy. I conjecture about how early in the morning he must get up.

“People can’t be other than who they are,” says Hawke. “The negative side of my qualities is that I’m incredibly restless. And I have the tendency to get depressed if I’m not engaged in a project. So I’ve kept busy my whole life.”

How does he choose what to focus on?

“I enjoy the arts in general,” Hawke tells me. “There’s a great Dennis Hopper quote that I love, that he never saw any of the arts as any different, whether it’s acting, ballet, painting, photography, costume design, filmmaking, it’s all the arts. I have been interested in all of them my whole life. But one of the things I loved most about acting was who it introduced me to. Meeting Seymour Cassel was incredible.”

We exchange a knowing glance. John Cassavetes was one of the inspirations for my starting the Avignon Film Festival back in 1984, celebrating independent filmmaking from the U.S. and Europe.

“For a lot of people,” says Hawke, “Cassavetes is an idea, an ethos, a spirit energy, and his movies are cool and interesting. But for me, they’re an actual person. I never met John, but Seymour Cassel was very real to me. The year after Dead Poets, I did White Fang with Seymour. They don’t make movies like that anymore where you disappear for six months with a camera crew into the Alaskan wilderness. It seems old-fashioned now, but it was so magical. There were a lot of days when we got rained or mudded out, or a moose attacked the set. So I got a VHS player to watch all of the Cassavetes movies with Seymour. Seeing them on the floor of a hotel room in Haines, Alaska as Seymour talked to me about what it was like to shoot them, that really awakened something.”

Awakened what?

“My education had been Raiders of the Lost Ark, Hollywood movies, like all American teenagers,” Hawke explains. “There were a couple of things that happened. I had some mental illness in my family that had had a profound effect on us. A shrink that we were seeing told me to go see Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence a month before I met Seymour. The confluence of energy, those movies, it all had meaning for me. They became real, tangible things. And independent moviemaking became an exciting idea to me.”

What does “independent” mean to Ethan Hawke?

“Making movies that don’t necessarily get released,” he says. “Movies as art.”

Ethan Hawke in Brooklyn, New York in December 2017

I asked him if he wasn’t being a bit cavalier about people seeing his work.

“Well, yes and no,” he answers. “Attracting mass audiences can’t be the reason to do it. There’s a great Henry Miller quote I love. They asked him at the end of his life if he was happy that all his books were in print then. He said yeah, but they’d be out of print soon. I remember reading that when I was young and thinking that all stories come and go. The point of it should be about the experience of doing it.”

But once his film is released or his book published, he surely wants it to go on and have a life of its own?

“Sure,” says Hawke. “That’s what’s beautiful about the theater, it has no other life. It’s a living art form. But there’s something about film that is instantaneously nostalgic. Everybody’s focused on what’s going to happen to it next, ‘Oh, it’s going to open here, it’ll be really big.’ If you make an indie movie, it’s Sundance. If you make a Hollywood movie, it’s the Oscars. If you make a commercial movie, they want a sequel. Nobody’s ever doing what they’re doing right now. It’s always about what’s gonna be.”

I turn the conversation towards his 12-year labor of love, Boyhood.

“One of the most beautiful things about that movie,” says Hawke, “is that people really love it now. But when we did it, we had no idea whether we’d ever finish it, or if it would ever come out.”

Wasn’t getting the actors together every year for 12 years challenging? Wasn’t a 12-year production period preposterous?

“Look,” says Hawke, “if you care about movies and you know Richard Linklater, it’s easy to make time. You don’t think anything’s preposterous with him. You think that’s the most exciting frigging idea I’ve ever heard.” He explains that Boyhood germinated when Linklater came to visit Hawke after his son was born. “Our fathers are very similar men, both in insurance, both from the same part of Texas. We’re both children of divorce. We’d already done Before Sunrise, Newton Boys, and Tape. Rick was talking about Tolstoy’s trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, that the problem with most movies about childhood, even The 400 Blows, is that they have to be about one short moment. Whereas with novels, you can cover a whole arc of time. We thought we could use time as clay if we were willing to make that kind of commitment. We were already best friends, so the idea of working together for 12 years sounded like fun. It was all done on a handshake.”

The Before triptych was another thought-provoking experiment in bending the time continuum for cinema, three films with the same actors made over an 18-year stretch, from 1995 to 2013. Will the series continue?

“I doubt it,” says Hawke. “The trilogy feels finished now. I’m not saying we couldn’t continue, but it would be in a different way. If you watch them as a whole, the third one ends exactly the way the first one begins. It’s a nice symmetry. I might change my mind in a couple of years. Or Julie Delpy might call me tomorrow with an idea.”

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