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It’s been a great summer for actor Ethan Hawke.
“Before Midnight,” the third installment in the series of films he made with actress Julie Delpy and filmmaker Richard Linklater, opened to wide critical acclaim, giving him undeniable indie credentials. (See trailers for all three films below.)
He also had had a number one hit at the box office with the horror film “The Purge.”
On the ‘Before’ trilogy
In an interview with Here & Now, Hawke reflected on how his character in “Before Sunrise” (1995), “Before Sunset” (2004) and “Before Midnight” has, at times, mirrored his own life.
“It’s a unique experience to watch yourself age,” Hawke said. “I’m also watching myself learn. That’s what’s so strange about it.”
The latest installment leaves the possibly of continuing the film series, which is the product of close collaboration between Linklatter, Deply and Hawke.
“If we all agree on where we imagine them to be, and we all want to write about the same subjects,” Hawke said. “That’s what’s so mysterious about the second and third films — we all saw them in the same place and wanted to write on the same themes. If that little magic happens again, there will be a fourth movie. If it doesn’t, we’ll be done.”
On ‘The Purge’
Hawke’s “The Purge” began as a small project among friends, and became a box office hit.
“What’s awesome about ‘The Purge’ is we made that film for 3 million bucks — it’s a little movie. A movie like ‘World War Z’ is a giant event of a movie. What’s kind of thrilling to me about the subversive nature of ‘The Purge’ is that it’s a movie that’s just based on ideas. It’s the ideas that are commercial about it. To have it do well is … fun.”
Hawke feels that horror movies like “The Purge” have roots in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, a play that’s steeped in blood and murder.
From ‘The Purge’ to Shakespeare
“Macbeth” has centuries of superstition behind it. Actors often don’t call it by name; they refer to it as “The Scottish Play.”
Hawke will be playing the title role in “Macbeth” at Lincoln Center in New York this fall. He tells Here & Now the play “is the first horror movie. It aspires to be as thrilling as ‘The Purge.’”
He hopes the production will be “entertaining, and on top of it have the beauty of that poetry.”
So why is Hawke taking on one of Shakespeare’s biggest roles?
“I think it’s important to scale these walls. You spend time with the most brilliant minds of humanity — Shakespeare, Chekov — there’s a reason why all the great actors throughout time have tried to do these parts. It’s cause they make you better. You know, Alec Guinness, when he came time to play Obi-Wan Kenobi, the reason he could pull it off with such gravitas is because he tackled all these parts. My hope is that somehow by walking down these parts, a little will rub off on me. And it’s also just fun — if you do a Shakespeare play well, it’s kind of thrilling.”
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
And this is the summer of Ethan Hawke. A number one film at the box office with the horror film, "The Purge." He plays a father in an America where every year for one day, all criminal activity, even murder, is legal. Here, his character explains to his son why that's a good thing.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE PURGE")
ETHAN HAWKE: (as James Sandin) Look, I know this is difficult to understand at your age. But tonight allows people a release for all the hatred and violence and aggression that they keep up inside them, OK? And, yes, if your mother and I were so inclined, we would participate because it works.
YOUNG: But you may have chosen Ethan's other film out this summer, "Before Midnight." In fact, you can have an Ethan Hawkapalooza this summer and watch all three films in the "Before" trilogy that Ethan made with director Richard Linklater and co-star Julie Delpy. In the first film, "Before Sunrise," their two characters meet on a train. In "Before Sunset," they meet again years later, and now, "Before Midnight." The pair has two children, and Celine, Julie Delpy's character, wonders if the magic has worn off.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEFORE MIDNIGHT")
JULIE DELPY: (as Celine) If we're meeting for the first time today on a train, would you find me attractive?
HAWKE: (as Jesse) Of course.
DELPY: (as Celine) No, but really right now as I am. Would you start talking to me? Would you ask me to get off the train with you?
YOUNG: A scene from the film "Before Midnight." But Ethan Hawke is not done yet. He has a thriller, "Getaway," opening at the end of the month. And in the fall, he'll be taking on Shakespeare's play that cannot be named at New York's Lincoln Center Theater. And somehow, he has found time to join us from the NPR studios in New York. Ethan Hawke, welcome.
HAWKE: Oh, thanks for having me.
YOUNG: So others are having an Ethan Hawke festival with your trilogy of films.
YOUNG: Are you - I mean, do you - have you looked back recently at "Before Sunrise?"
HAWKE: You know, Julie Delpy, Richard Linklater and myself, we all watched that film. We watched the first two as we got serious about writing the third. It's a unique experience to watch yourself age, you know?
YOUNG: Right. And it's a character, but it's also you as a younger actor. Are you looking at it and saying, I can't believe I did that?
HAWKE: Yeah. That's exactly what I was thinking. And, you know, mostly watching myself learn. That's what's strange about it. I remember when I did that movie, I had never been asked to speak on film before. Young people are always asked to pose and posture, and Richard Linklater wasn't interested in that all. He hates posturing. He hates cinematography that looks like advertising. He really wants to make movies about real life. It seems like an easy thing to do. Oh, just be yourself in front - on screen. But the truth is a real person is really, really difficult, and I was watching myself learn about that.
As a father, too, it's weird because, you know, I watched these young people age all the time. But now, watching myself age, you know, then "Sunset" is 32, and, you know, I can see how unhappy I was in that time period. I was going through a divorce and was incredibly thin. All I do is watch the movie and see how thin I am and how unhappy I look. And then the third film is its own entity.
YOUNG: "Before Midnight." The divorce from Uma Thurman, you know, as you said - are married and have more children, and so you're watching this as a father. It's - I can't imagine what that's like. Let's let people listen in, in this scene in particular. This jumped out at me in watching it because here is your character, Jesse, trying to convince this beautiful woman to get off the train with him in Vienna. She planned on going home to Paris and just walk around for a night. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEFORE SUNRISE")
HAWKE: (as Jesse) All right, all right. Think of it like this. Jump ahead 10, 20 years, OK? And you're married, and only your marriage doesn't have that same energy that it used to have. You know, you start to blame your husband. You start to think about all those guys you've met in your life and what might have happened if you picked up with one of them, right? Well, I'm one of those guys. That's me. You know, so think of this as time travel from then to now to find out what you're missing out on. See, what this really could be is a gigantic favor to both you and your future husband to find out that you're not missing out on anything. I'm just a big as loser as he is, totally unmotivated, totally boring, and you made the right choice, and you're really happy.
YOUNG: And, of course, Ethan Hawke, once you've seen "Before Midnight," you realized he's not only going to be that young man in her past, he's going to be the man in her future.
HAWKE: Yeah. In a strange way, the final scene of "Before Midnight" is a bookend to that clip you just played.
YOUNG: Yeah. So there you have your indie film trilogy. You're also Ethan Hawke, the author. And we saw your film on PBS about the play that cannot be named, so you like to...
YOUNG: ...intellectualize and think things through.
YOUNG: And then "The Purge." What kind of a choice was that for you this horror film that's box office boffo?
HAWKE: You know, it brings up the idea of genre filmmaking, which is, at its best, a way to make subversive idea-based movies and kind of disguise them in the genre. Whether it's a vampire picture or, you know, a home invasion, whatever the genre is it makes a wildly entertaining movie that can also have some ideas to it. And I love that. You know, it doesn't matter whether it's the Scottish play or Tom Stoppard play or "Before Midnight" or "The Purge." You know, there isn't - I - the whole high/low of it all I feel is kind of boring
If I can make Shakespeare thrilling - I mean, in a lot of ways, Shakespeare is the, you know, the Scottish play is the first horror movie. It aspires to be as thrilling as "The Purge." If we can make it that entertaining and on top of it have the beauty of that poetry, then we could really, you know, it's kind of greatest black poem of all time if I could really make that happen on stage.
YOUNG: I was going to say that the Scottish play was sort of "The Purge" of its day. And also, just another thought, that it seems like everyone is doing the apocalyptic zombie - I mean, Brad Pitt. I mean, it just feels like - is that off the challenge? How can I bring terrific acting to something that has been - yeah.
HAWKE: Yeah, yeah. That's well said. That's a good point. You know, what's awesome about "The Purge" is we made that movie for 3 million bucks. It's a little movie. And, you know, a movie like "World War Z" or whatever is a giant event of a movie. But what's kind of thrilling to me about the subversive nature of "The Purge" is that it's really a movie that's just based on ideas. It's the ideas that are commercial about it. And it kind of feels like, Robin, you know, the cookie jar a little bit because we, you know, I made that movie with some friends, and we made it completely independently. And then to have it to do well is fun.
YOUNG: Well, and to - OK. I'm going to name it, "Macbeth." Why this role?
HAWKE: Well, it's challenging, for one. And I think that it's important to scale these walls. You spend time with the most brilliant minds of our - of humanity, Shakespeare, Chekhov.
There's a reason why all the great actors throughout time have tried to do these parts. It's because they make you better. You know, Alec Guinness, when he came time to play Obi-Wan Kenobi, the reason why he could pull that off with such gravitas is he tackled all these parts. My hope is it's so - I hope by walking down this past, a little bit of that will rub off on me. And it's also just fun. If you do a Shakespeare well, it's kind of thrilling
YOUNG: Yeah. I feel like I'm inside your film trilogy.
YOUNG: I feel like I'm Celine, and your hushing something out, and you're trying - it's - I had a moment there where we're on a train.
HAWKE: Well, I wish we were.
YOUNG: What's next? Is there going to be - what's after "Before Midnight?" I mean, is there going to be a fourth, you know, the fans of trilogy want it.
HAWKE: If we all agree on where we imagine them to be, and we all want to write about the same subjects, like if we - that's what so mysterious about the second two films is that we all saw them in the same place and wanted to write on the same themes. If that little magic happens again, there'll be a fourth movie. If it doesn't, we'll be done.
YOUNG: Yeah. That's Ethan Hawke, talking about the film trilogy and the most recent, "Before Midnight," out right now. He's also got the box office hit "The Purge," and the thriller "Getaway" opening at the end of the month. And he'll be taking on Shakespeare's "Macbeth" at New York's Lincoln Center Theater, as well. So I guess, we won't be talking for a while because you're very busy. Ethan Hawke, thanks for very much.
HAWKE: All right. Well, I look forward to it whenever that happens.
YOUNG: He says that to all the interviewers.
YOUNG: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.