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Ethan Hawke Flying High On Life!
an emily blunt interview

 

 

 

This guy's one of those multifunctional men, a Swiss army knife of people. He also happens to exude a smooth ready to pounce energy that is, frankly, refreshing.

Ethan's 100% alive and has decided to grab his world by the cahounas. No one thing is all things for this Cuteyassnarus Rex. He's going to try different things, experiment with careers, and be artistical to the tenth power.

With the opening of his first long length directorial debut, Chelsea Walls, Ethan sat and chatted about DV production, getting it all made and working with Uma.

Hawke's got an eye for picking work that won't pigeon hole him, and his directorial debut is no different then his acting choices. His goal, ultimately, seems to be wanting to take DV to a different level, make a film of beauty combining friends, experiences and sacrifice long hard hours behind the lens to get there. No short cuts with a short cut medium for him!

Some may notice the theme of Chelsea Walls is reminiscent of Dylan Thomas' Under Milkwood, which ironically was written at the Chelsea Hotel. Here Hawke's film also touches into the private lives of people, and paints a montage portrait. As the scruffy handsome cutey said, "Our idea was to do Under Milkwood Bohemian Manhattan"

Enough babble on with the Hawke:

 

EMILY: So you're just over the whole Academy Award high huh?

ETHAN: Yeah, I had the flu for two weeks had to purge. I had a social hang over. You can't get that much attention and not feel sick to your stomach at some point.

EMILY: Are you hoping that Training Day's glory at the show will bring people to Chelsea Walls?

ETHAN: Yeah, sure, I have to admit I don't have the highest aspirations that Chelsea Walls is going to top the box office do you know what I mean? You don't really make a movie like this…if that's your primary agenda…it's helpful. Getting the press, getting you here…that kind of venue. I really loved making the movie. I'm really proud of it so, you go out and hawk Warner Brothers' stuff so why not go hawk your own? I think it undoubtedly helped.

[An unspoken question came to mind: How much hawk can one hawk if you're name is Hawke, Hawke?]

EMILY: Why the choice of Chelsea Walls for your directorial debut?

ETHAN: Well there's some skepticism about whether it was a good choice [laughter]!! You know for me in many ways this movie was an extension of a theater group we all had together. And something that when I got married and had a family I didn't have that in my life anymore. I wanted to do something really experimental and playful…I had seen celebration I felt like digital cinema was the wave of the future I felt like God you make a story, a movie for so little money that you have so little obligation to your financiers to be…you can make a specialized movie for a certain group of people. I just don't think that was possible in the same way a few years ago. So I always…come across this play this young woman had written about the Chelsea hotel and I was her you should send this out to certain vendors…somebody could make this a great movie…It's out to lunch and neat! And when Celebration came out she [author Nicole Burdette] called me up and said "Still wanna do that? We can probably afford to do it now." So I said lets do it…we decided on a whim like that. Really I just looked at the whole thing as an experiment I had no idea …I think it's really a success for the movie that it's finding its way out at all.

For me he was a real natural choice…I've known the writer Nicole Burdette for a long time. I always kind of felt she had this really special unique voice. My brain works so associatively, some people's brains work a narrative way you know a beginning, middle and an end. I'm a little A.D.D. like that. I'm doing a tapestry. It sounds a little weird but to me the movie's a collective consciousness movie. We all think we're these creative artistic people, I'm an individual that needs to be heard and yet we're really kind of a collective. There's people desperate to be heard, but, wont take the time to listen.

EMILY: You're really a Swiss army knife of people! Is there anything you don't do?

ETHAN: I like THAT! A Swiss army knife of people! That's cool! I don't …um… I try not to do crack…I stay away from crack! [laughter] Yeah, because I started acting so young I think I gave myself permission to try other things and not be …it's hard. I try not to be precious about it. I try to do other things that use the advantages I've been given, the success I've gotten to experience and have to get to have an interesting life.

EMILY: How about the casting?

ETHAN: Part of how you cast a movie like this, when Nicole [Burdette] conceived the play it would have no reoccurring characters you know? It would literally be a collage, a bunch of people. And I was like okay that is less interesting to me you have to have some kind of threads through this piece. I would speak about the movie and it was going to be a jazz movie. The movie was kind of jazzed the way we would riff with this one person and then another person would take over. It wasn't leading the way that jazz was structured, but in a different kind of way. That was our idea! So we thought we've gotta have some actual jazz in the movie! So maybe we should get, if he was alive-we could get Miles Davis and something to play this little part. She [Burdette] had written this little part . A little hustler musician thing. Frank Whaley, one of the actors, actually said you should really go hear Little Jimmy who was playing that night…I went over and to see little Jimmy is to love Little Jimmy.

So I asked him to be in the movie and we conceived this whole thing of the bar and Uma could be work in the bar…we had lots of different ideas of how to weave the hotel's life together, little Jimmy is just one of them.

Little Jimmy insisted on singing the song he does in the movie…It was perfect. But, I knew the rights to that song would be more than the budget of the film! I kept saying, "Little Jimmy it would be so great to hear you sing one of the ones that you wrote! Everybody's Somebody's Fool maybe? I have an in with you... He's like "yeah, you know in the Chelsea I wanna sing Yellow Sky" Also Wilco the band that did the score, Jeff Tweedy did the whole score. I had him do the whole score, and it was one of the few songs they both knew…then Yoko [Ono] gave us the rights for free! [laughter] Yoko's off the bad list! [laughter] She agreed cause she loves Little Jimmy. It had nothing to do with me or the movie. She said anything Little Jimmy wants.. . She said anything that would help Little Jimmy! She'd heard Little Jimmy's cover of that song thought it was magic and said he should have it.

EMILY: Very cool. I loved the subtle use of color.

ETHAN: Yeah! Each storyline has its own color. There's a blue room, a yellow a red room, Kristoferson's room is void of any primary colors. That's a total rip off of Alphonso Cuarón when he did Great Expectations he inundated the whole movie with green. It's a totally far-out thing to do. And when you're doing people think you're a little nuts because they'll say, " I have a great idea I'll wear this hat" and you're like "Is it red??? Cause everything in this room has to be red!" And they're like "that's going to be weird." And it's not weird you don't even really notice…your eye doesn't really notice. But, it gives the image some continuity and the truth of the matter is with DV you have to work extra hard to make it deliberate and provocative so blue room and Uma's room is all gold and hippied out, each one of these had a timeless feel. Kristofferson's room is kind of set in the sixties…weird feeling the way the Chelsea Hotel is. So he doesn't have any of the primary colors. Then the Uma's is the seventies the whole hippie vibe with the yellow, and then the eighties is the invention of the steady cam and it's all floaty around like that. Then the nineties is all red and hand held, available light. So, I tried to give the movie that kind of continuity. I don't think I would have the guts to do DV if I hadn't met Richard Linklater [indie writer/director great - Tape, Waking Life, Slackers].

I really wanted the movie to be color inundated. Did you see Buena Vista Social club? That's what really turned me on to doing this color inundation thing, not only the Alphonso film. That movie was so beautiful. Celebration was great, but it didn't look great. Buena Vista social club looked great! It looked like a watercolor! Cuba… they walked into a room and everything would be green. The colors were kind of blurring outside on the water! I thought it was really beautiful. This guy who photographed the movie, Tom Richman and I. We weren't going to apologize for DV we were gonna make it dv and try and get what was beautiful about it. We thought if we did this inindation of color it would have this…it would feel like it was painterly…it would feel like a watercolor. And I think it comes off.

EMILY: Finally, gotta ask, how was it to work with Uma [Thurman -his wife]?

ETHAN: She was the one person who didn't take me seriously as a director [laughter] …you know. It's just the way it goes. I was like "Okay we really have to get this shot of you walking out of the hotel right at sunset!" blah, blah…she'd say" hmm, let's do that one tomorrow…" "We're doing the shot at sunset…" and she'd say " no, um I really, um, nah, Mia's tired " [their daughter] I'd inevitably I'd say yep "okay, tomorrow…we'll do the sunset shot tomorrow!"

Doing a movie like this is a giant negotiations of schedules. Okay Little Jimmy's in town on the 11th. Kris only has a week to do his thing. Steve's starting his movie and has x days, so Uma was really the one I abused. Okay Kris is gone, Bob's gone lets shoot your stuff [laughter] of course it's now four in the morning and I'd say "okay, I'm ready for you lets' shoot your stuff! " [laughter] She's there you know?

No, the thing about Uma that separates her from our generation of actors is she's worked with some of the best people working in cinema…Quentin Tarantino, Gus Van Zant, Terry Gilliam, James Ivory and Phillip Kaufman. She's worked with so many filmmakers. She's been about of that whole aesthetic of cinema. You separate yourself form the whole…this town is so oriented towards selling movies…

EMILY: Did she give you direction?

ETHAN: [laughter] No, she didn't. She's very nice actually, of course. Why I bring that up is that she has a very high bar of what a set is suppose to feel like… And what kind of creativity is supposed to go on. Ultimately I'm so grateful for her to be in the movie she really helps in so many ways!

END

So, is he sweet or what? Obviously the man is filled with joy right now…his first directing job is out and being seen, he just had an Academy Award nomination, a new son to add to the beautiful daughter and wife family set! But, after speaking with him and the way he enthused about his friends-that he has worked with for years (prefame and on) I felt this guy's genuine. Ethan's a genuine talent, human, and creator. If you dig art-house films check out Chelsea Walls. If you are into action packed films that give you an actual plot with neat closure…skip it, rent Training Day.

Emily

 

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