September 2004 By Philip Berk
Celebrity is a double edged sword.
Before his highly publicized Canadian caper, infidelity, I had no interest in writing about Ethan Hawke except as the person Uma Thurman chose to be the father of her children.
In New York to publicize his movie Talking Lives, now I am eager to talk to him.
Not because the paparazzi are after him.
Nor because Uma’s brothers have threatened to beat him up.
But because I have read his soul searching tell-all in Details magazine and can’t wait to ask him what prompted that.
In the interview he wants his kids to know that “their parents’ love was substantial and that the dream was real.”
That as a result of the break-up of the marriage, he’s been a physical wreck, he’s lost fifteen pounds and can’t seem to rid himself of “the anxiety running through his body.”
He doesn’t feel monogamy is necessarily a virtue; however, infidelity did not cause the split; there were serious problems before.
For seven years she was “a thrilling person to share his life with,” but that “the details of day-to-day living drained us of our joy.”
Ultimately it’s been the “most painful wound” of his adult life and “the saddest most agonizing” period of his life.
Did anyone, I ask him, meaning his publicist, advise him not to go public with his pain?
“We all have advisors, whether it’s your publicist, your friends, or your mother, people we look to for guidance when we’re having trouble making a decision. Ultimately I feel it’s never those people’s responsibility for what happens in your life. The most obvious person you could turn to would be your agent because it’s his job to get you work. But at the end of the day it’s your job to nurture your own health. Nobody can do that for you. So it was something I wanted, to have a dialogue with other people about it. It’s a very difficult road to navigate, whether or not the smartest thing to do is to shut up. I mean silence is a great tool, but if I really want to continue in this profession, how do I effectively move on if this is the only question I’m asked? Am I going to spend five years making people angry by avoiding it, or could I find a way to answer it now and elevate the conversation; so that was my goal in doing the Details interview, and time will tell if I’ve achieved it.”
I remind him that even after the story broke (that he and model Jenny Perzow were having an affair) Uma had this to say about him, “He was the first man I ever met I wanted to have children with. And that’s because he’s so good. He has a very good heart. He has a lot of real integrity and an incredible backbone as a person. People worry about their marriages, will they work out? I’ve always felt that no matter what happens to him, I will always be proud that he was the father of my children.”
He’s not surprised.
She also expressed regret that her brothers “had weighed in on the whole thing, were caught off guard and later felt terrible about it.”
How is he helping his kids cope with the situation? I ask him.
“I came from a divorced home, and I’ve had a really wonderful life and love both my parents, so I know it’s possible. One of the keys of being a father is recognizing that you can never give your kids what you think they deserve. You want to give them candy and sunshine and beaches and flowers and laughter every day, but life doesn’t give that to us every day; so you have to help them learn to deal with reality. It certainly is challenging, and you know you’re going to do a lot of things wrong. I’ve always wanted to fault my mother even though she loved me tremendously, but I was able to understand her flaws and that gave me confidence in life; so my aspirations is to give my children that. If I can give them the time they need and the love they need whatever flaws I have will be overcome.”
Is he partly to blame for the media frenzy, or does it come with the territory?
“It’s part of the territory in our culture right now. Think about F.D.R; he was paralyzed from the waist down during his years of the presidency, but the public hardly knew it because the press didn’t think it was relevant. The fact that he died not in the White House but at Lucy Mercer’s home, they didn’t write that he was with his mistress. There was a certain respect given. People magazine didn’t exist then. Now it has fifteen spinoffs. So you have this giant vacuum that has to be filled, and after Ben and JayLo died down, they had to find something else. I would hope we could bend our minds to something a little bit more substantial, but I guess it’s always fun to gossip about people you don’t know.”
Does he feel victimized?
“Look, if I never wanted that to happen again, all I’d have to do is quit acting in movies. I could just stay in New York and do small plays, and in five or seven years my name would never appear on page 6 (in the New York Post.) It’s being in movies that creates this, and obviously this is the price I am willing to pay because I like making movies, good movies. I wish the culture was different. But it isn’t.”
So how does he avoid the pitfalls of being in the movie business?
“It’s something you have to navigate constantly. I achieved success as a young actor — I was eighteen when I did Dead Poets Society — and I made up my mind to quit acting and become an English major at N.Y.U. I wanted to run. Today I see these young guys and girls, and I see how the culture has become more obsessed with money as the sole barometer of how well you’re doing in life. That’s a real poison. People are amazed when British actors get all this acclaim and yet how small a part of the English speaking world they are, but they forget what a long history they have of cultivating the craft of acting. It’s part of their legacy. We on the other hand have a tendency as soon as somebody shows any talent we just suck them up before they know who they are or what they are about and what they can contribute; so then you have thirty-year olds who have lost touch with their chosen profession. There’s a real pressure on young people to do it all immediately. I was lucky because even though I had that success at eighteen, I realized I knew nothing about acting, that I was running on whatever raw God’s gift I possessed. I had worked with Peter Weir who’s never had a bad performance in a movie he’s directed. I didn’t know if it was me that contributed or him. I didn’t know who I was as a performer and yet I was being offered a bunch of money and opportunities. So I ran. I’ve always wanted to know more about acting. Even today it’s a very difficult thing to navigate, so I keep learning.”
In fairness to Ethan, it should be noted that not only has he been a star for fifteen years — in 2001 he received an Academy Award nomination for Training Day — he’s also a respected novelist, and a film director of note.
Taking Lives, in which he plays opposite Angelina Jolie, could well be his biggest commercial hit. And later in the year he’ll be seen in Before Sunset which was the surprise hit of the recent Berlin Film Festival.
So things are looking up for him
To lighten the mood, I ask him what it was like making love to Angelina?
Embarrassed by the question, he replies, “I don’t think there is any intelligent way to answer that question, but I call tell you I got more calls from friends asking if they could come visit the set. It’s amazing the kind of interest she draws.”
Did he enjoy it?
“If I say yes, you’ll write that drool was coming out of my mouth and that I’m some kind of lascivious sophomore. But if I say I didn’t, I’d be lying.”
Over the years he’s done more theatre than film, and most of the movies he’s appeared in have been the work of auteur directors.
Taking Lives is a departure from that, involving scenes of grizzly violence, unlike anything he’s done previously.
Was he comfortable doing that?
“I struggle with all that violent stuff. That’s not something I enjoy. But Angelina has a great sense of playfulness when doing those scenes. You have to have a good sense of joy about it, a playfulness that we’re just putting on a play here. It’s just a popcorn movie. One of my great flaws is I take these things too seriously. So it was good to work with Angelina who takes her work seriously but has a great sense of play as well.”
Is there any chance that he and Uma will reconcile?
“In all probability we’ll get a divorce,” he told Details.
But shed no tears!
Uma was married once before, to Gary Oldman, and Maya, Ethan’s daughter, was born two months before they were married.
He who lives by the sword dies by the sword!