I ask about his choice to make Blaze, about the iconoclastic outsider and Texas country music legend, Blaze Foley.

“I was all set to make Camino Real, an extremely ambitious, wild movie, and I’m still really excited to make it, and I’m gonna make it, but I had an actor drop out. I had set aside the fall and winter to direct that movie. When the actor dropped out, I lost my financing. I suddenly had nothing to do, and went into a state of panic. I called up one of the investors and said, listen, I’ve got this idea, I’m available, you’re available, rather than just throw in the towel, let’s do something else! He said, great, do you have a script? No, I said, but I will in two weeks. Just give me two weeks. “Well, I didn’t write the Blaze script in two weeks, but I had a 20-page document, I had the beginning, middle and end. And then we started prep, and I kept writing, writing and writing. It was fun because I was writing for specific people. Ben Dickey and the idea of this movie were completely connected. Ben is 6’4”, 250, he’s from Arkansas, and looks just like Blaze Foley. And he’s a great musician. I’ve been following his music for a decade, watching him struggle. There was no movie without Ben. And the next person I cast was Charlie Sexton. So that’s easier when you’re writing for specific people. You can talk to them about it as you go. So I was all geared to make El Camino Real, which I’m in love with, lost the money, but had another idea for a movie! Which we could make for under a million dollars!”

I told Hawke that to pivot that quickly to another movie based only on a 20-page treat ment about a guy no one had ever heard of, using non-actors, he had to be very fortunate or very convincing, or both. “No, he and I are just like-minded. He saw the same thing in it that I did. And there’s something really fun if you’re willing to go gonzo, and say, all right, I’m going to use these non-actors and make a movie that’s so cheap you’re not going to believe it. But it’s going to be amazing. You just start. I called (Richard) Linklater up because I was so disappointed about the Tennessee Williams thing falling apart. I said I was just going to throw myself completely into this other movie. And he was like, “Do it! Just pretend you’re 25 and do it!” And what he meant by that was, don’t be arrogant, don’t think… He said ‘when you’re 25, you’re not upset that you don’t have a crane, you’re psyched that anybody showed up. Like when I was making Slacker, I wasn’t blue that the visual effects team wasn’t doing a good job. I was psyched anybody showed up at all!’

But why Blaze Foley, I still wondered.

“I think I’ve been attracted to people like Blaze Foley and Seymour Cassel my whole life. Guys like that are crazy, but their desire to protect other people is almost a pathology. I have friends like that, I’m sure you do too. They want to get into fights for others. It’s masked nobility, self-righteousness.

“Look, so much was handed to me when Dead Poets Society came out. I always admired people who worked harder than I did. They struggled. Actors I know who are as passionate as I am, have an equal level of insight, if not more, but haven’t had the luck, whatever it is, the way my life has worked out…

“My favorite line is ‘Luck is the residue of design.’ A lot of blessings have come my way, and I’d be an arrogant prick not to nod my head to it. About Blaze Foley, there’s an authenticity to people who make art without the superficial accoutrements that accompany success. As hard as the movie business is, the music business is harder. There’s something beautiful to me about a person who is a poet of the first order doing it in the face of absolute oblivion. Which is where we’re all headed anyway.”

How did he prepare himself for the total metamorphosis into Chet Baker in Born to Be Blue (2015)?

“You know, I really hate biopics,” Hawke explains. “They’re all a dreadful bore to me because the point of a movie is not to teach you a biography. You approach it with a tremendous kind of love, you are the interpreter. For me, you let the iconography of the person wash over you. And then you start to personalize it. The better I got to know Chet, the more he reminded me of aspects of myself or aspects of other people I’ve known. And you start to create this version, not of me, but with aspects of myself and my life, things that are actually important to me. I think Elia Kazan said you’ve got to leave a little of your own blood on the celluloid.”

Hawke as Jazz Great Chet Baker in 2015’s Born To Be Blue.

What would Ethan Hawke change about the last 25 years? What would he have done differently?

“When I was younger I often would come off as pretentious when it really wasn’t where my heart was. In the first half of my career, I pissed people off unnecessarily, and it cost me. It made the second half of my life harder because I came off as arrogant, as if my own idealism was passing judgment on others.”

Is there any strategy he can point to for his success?

“I think I survived by working really hard,” says Hawke. “Whenever I’ve been most down, the answer has always been to work hard. In fact, it’s really a neat thing to get older now. I look back and I see the moments of most creativity were the moments in my perception when I thought I was failing. I realize that it was in those times that I was formed. When Dead Poets Society came out, that’s actually where I atrophied.”

As a moviemaker and particularly an actor straddling the wildly different worlds of big-budget and indie movies, does he find it necessary to bring a different aspect of his creative process to these various projects?

“The one way I’m really lucky,” explains Hawke, “is that my taste is very broad. I love movies so much that I can enjoy putting on my ‘Let’s make a Hollywood western!’ hat, sitting there in the middle of the desert with Antoine Fuqua (The Magnificent Seven) or sitting with Scott Derrickson (Sinister 2) and go, ‘I want to make a really scary movie.’

“Or Rick, Julie and I will get together and go, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome to make a romance where you actually can’t feel whether it has a masculine or feminine point of view?’ That’s really exciting to me. I’d also love the challenge of making a really funny movie. And doing Shakespeare! How can I not make you bored out of your ass? As far as acting, when I get to work with real filmmakers, then acting is everything I need. It’s such a rich experience to be part of a collaboration with somebody who really knows how to make films!”

What actors does he admire?

“Christopher Plummer, Donald Sutherland and Jason Robards are my heroes.”

I tell Hawke that I think he looks more and more like Kris Kristofferson as he ages. He laughs that boyish laugh again.

“Yeah, I know. Kris is in Blaze as well. Kris has been a hero of mine because he didn’t define himself by one art form.”

Looking forward, how does he see the next 25 years?

“As long as acting can stay interesting and exciting,” says Hawke, “I’ll gravitate toward doing that. And the fun of creating my own projects is that it keeps me active so I’m not taking lame film roles just to stay busy.

“I love directing, but I never wanted to be a ‘professional’ director. I just want to do it for the love. I’m a professional actor. I pay my kids’ tuition, I pay my alimony, I donate to causes I care about, all thanks to acting. I’m a craftsman and I take pride in the challenge of making a good movie. I’d love to work with all the great directors!”

As a director himself, how does Hawke get good performances out of his actors?

“The trick is to do as little as possible. People have this idea that directing is micro-managing. Coaching is a much better analogy. Part of what makes Rick great is that he knows how to let each player play. Julie needs different things than I do. And if you direct us both the same way, you’re going to make one of us really unhappy. It’s like a great basketball coach who gets players in a position to do what they do best. That’s called team-building. Or as the great theater director, Jack O’Brien, said, ‘Casting is like putting a band together.’ You can’t have two bass players. They’re gonna get on each other’s nerves and the audience’s. You need one person playing bass, one on violin, one to be a tenor, another to be alto. Everybody needs to have his or her role for the audience’s ears and eyes. When you cast something right, people can be themselves and you can ask them for their ideas. When you miscast somebody, his or her ideas are wrong. When I’ve been miscast, every idea I have is like making a different movie than the director wants.

“As a filmmaker, I’m in love with the opportunity to try to share something that is unique in me. Do you know what I mean? MM

Blaze opened in theaters on August 17, 2018 courtesy of IFC Films. This article appears in MovieMaker’s Winter 2018 issue. All photographs by Jean Claude Dhien.

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