Capone talks with Ethan Hawke about DAYBREAKERS, BROOKLYN'S FINEST, and Linklater's 12-years-in-the-making BOYHOOD project!!!
Published at: Jan. 4, 2010, 2:51 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
I first got to interview Ethan Hawke about two years ago when he was doing press for the Sidney Lumet film BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD, and I immediately realized that Hawke is an extremely passionate man about the films that he chooses to do, and as a result, he is the best spokesperson said project could ever hope to have. That initial interview was further made interesting for me, because at the end of the conversation, Hawke took the time to thank me for my very positive review of his second directing effort THE HOTTEST STATE, based on his autobiographical first novel. For that reason alone, I had hoped that Hawke would remember me (he did) as we geared up to talk about his latest work, the visionary vampire/sci-fi work DAYBREAKERS, directed by The Spierig Brothers (UNDEAD).
One of the more interesting aspects to our first talk was that it was the first time I could uncover that any real details started coming forth about his years-in-the-making BOYHOOD project that he's making with long-time collaborator Richard Linklater. Now that details about the project are starting to slip into the collective cinematic knowledge base, some writers who spoke to Linklater when he was promoting ME AND ORSON WELLES actually asked him about it. And while he gave some somewhat detailed answers, I'm pretty sure what Hawke told me two years about and during this more recent talk give you much more of a sense of what the film is attempting to do. We also got a little time to talk about his next film, a re-teaming with his TRAINING DAY director Antoine Fuqua, BROOKLYN'S FINEST, coming out in March. Enjoy my conversation with Ethan Hawke…
Ethan Hawke: Hey, man, how are you? Good to talk to you again; it's been a while.
Capone: Yeah, like two years or so. Something like that.
EH: I talked to you with BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, right?
Capone: That’s the one, but I definitely had some questions about THE HOTTEST STATE, only because I really liked it and you remembered that I had written a good review of it.
EH: I know, which made me so happy. It was easy to remember because it was one of the few I got.
Capone: I think that’s why you brought it up, yeah. Anyway, I think at the time, you were either on your way to go make this movie or you had just finished it. Where you just about to go into DAYBREAKERS?
EH: Yeah, that must have been.
Capone: Because I know it’s been a while since it was shot.
EH: It really was… I’m just trying to remember when BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU ARE DEAD came out… it was the fall like two years ago…
EH: You know what, I think when we talked, I had just finished DAYBREAKERS. I had just come back from Australia.
Capone: I remember you were very excited about it.
EH: That’s right, because I had just wrapped and I was doing press for BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU ARE DEAD.
Capone: That’s right. Well, I saw the film in September, and I'll admit, I was really surprised how much I liked it. I didn’t know what to expect. The filmmakers just took their time to really think about what this world would be like under these conditions. They changed one thing about the world, and it changes everything, and they really thought it through and I really appreciated this new world, not unlike GATTACA actually. What did you think of their vision of this altered world?
EH: Well, I think you are dead right. I felt, as soon as we started getting into deep conversations about it, that they were big GATTACA fans. And the way that Andrew Niccol did the future where it was also retro, they found really interesting and I think it’s incredibly smart. Andrew would keep Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, so you weren’t sure whether it was a '50s movie or a futuristic movie. I know the Spierig brothers thought of that, too. They love the film noir aspect of it, but the biggest thing you pinpointed is that they saw it through. The great advantage of having two people direct a movie, two brothers, is they lacerate each other. When Quentin Tarantino wants to make a movie or P.T. Anderson goes to make a movie, nobody says boo to them, because they are the creative genius, but these two brothers go to each other “That’s a dumb idea, it needs to be better!” “If they can’t see the sun, how would they drive?” “Well, they have to drive at night and here’s how they do it…” They were such movie fans. They feel such an obligation to all of their friends… They live in a huge community of people that love movies and watch movies together, talk about movies, and they didn’t want to make one that was stupid. It’s such a hard thing to do to not lose your sense of humor, but also not just kind of give in to being silly.
Capone: Did they sort of tap some of the actors to spot check their vision and say “Does this make sense? In a world like this, would these things would be different and these things would be the same?” Did they kind of run these things by everybody just make sure their thinking was right?
EH: I think so. You would have to ask them how much they took us seriously. [laughs] I don’t know. When Willem Dafoe is on set, it’s pretty hard not to take him seriously. He is a really smart guy and has made a lot of movies with a lot of great people. What made me want to do this movie is it’s just simple originality. It’s not based on a comic book. It feels so well thought out that you just imagine… The thing that’s great about going to see BATMAN or something like that is it’s had generations of people thinking about it and filling out the myth, but to make an original movie that is the old-school genre movie, where not only are you chopping off heads and killing people and making a lot of fun, but there’s this secret subversive message underneath it, and John Carpenter would approve of that, you know?
Capone: I think all the best horror does have those sort of social commentaries and subversive message that aren’t that far from the surface.
EH: That’s what makes them worth a repeat viewing, which makes them worth talking about. That’s what I think. These guys have a lot of love and they have a lot of enthusiasm and they are really smart, but they had really only made one movie before. It was very low budget, and this was a huge endeavor for them. I know that we did the first read through of the script in Australia--and they were smart enough to do it a couple of weeks before we started shooting--and there were so many holes in the script. They literally left this read-through shaking, because the actors just obliterated them. Sam Neill is going “If I did that, why would I do that?”
They just carefully, slowly, and meticulously wrote down what everybody said and went and made a bunch of changes. And slowly the script, while it was always inventive and creative and exciting, it started to actually make sense and get shorter. One of the things that I kept telling them, and I don’t know if you feel this way, is that almost every movie I see is almost 25-35 minutes too long, especially genre movies. You know, STAR WARS is not a frame too long. You can just hint at this stuff. You don’t need to over explain everything. As a filmmaker, an actor, you need to know what the reality is, but you don’t need to spell it all out for everybody, and I think that they did a really good job of doing that. You get just enough of the world. It’s kind of fun that congressmen are vampires and too be honest do to budget restraints dictated some of that too.
Capone: It’s funny that you say that about the length, because I was really surprised when it ended at how short it was. But it was one of those very rare films where when it was done, I wish it had been 20 minutes longer, maybe not 20 minutes at the end, but 20 minutes in the middle, because I was really interested to see more of this world. I wanted to see what else they had messed with. That vampire car was badass. I wanted to see more like that.
EH: I know, isn’t it awesome? My whole theory is if the movie ends and you go “I want to see more of that,” it’s so much better than a movie ending going “I wish I saw 20 minutes less of that.” To be honest, they had so little money, it was so much more important to do what we did well. If you overreach and you don’t do the car right, if you don’t have the money to build the car the right way or get the right shot, I would say you are better off with a shorter film that packs a wallop than you are with a fat film that has a lot of holes in it.
Capone: I love how one of the things that has not changed as a result of this vampire takeover is simple human nature. We are still willing to drain all of our natural resources to the point of extinction, regardless of what the natural resource might be. Vampires aren’t necessarily smarter, they are just immortal, that’s all.
EH: That’s the most wonderful aspect of the movie.
Capone: You mentioned Willem Dafoe earlier, I was actually going to ask you about him. I actually had an opportunity to talk to him just a couple of months ago, and we talked about this film a little bit, but honestly we spent most of our time just talking about stuff that he had coming out in the last year. The guy is a machine. He’s always working and often with some of the most notorious directors around. Give me your best Willem Dafoe story from working with him on this movie.
EH: The thing that strikes me about Willem, he and I come at this from so much the same place. His first love is the theater, yet at the same time has a passion for cinema. He’s never been a guy who’s wanted to be the biggest movie star he possibly can be. He just loves cinema in all of its genres and all of its forms and what it can do, and he enjoys being good at it and for me it was a very easy. He works the same way I do. He thinks the same way about story that I do. A character works when the character is in service of the story. Character for the sake of character becomes…it’s just not very interesting really. I loved working with him just for that reason and to be honest, since he has had such a long and beautiful career, it gives me confidence that perhaps I will be able to as well.
Capone: Yeah and the fact that he would say yes to something like this has got to make you feel a little bit better about saying yes to it too, like maybe you guys saw the same originality in the story.
EH: I remember being really happy when he said yes. You can imagine being me, I was the first one on and so you are so nervous. It’s one of the hardest things about my job, something they can’t teach you in theater school, trying to figure out which movies are going to work and which ones aren’t. If you don’t have a good guy as Elvis, if you have some lame actor playing Elvis, the movie is not going to work. Willem Dafoe was such a smart idea for that part and he said yes, so I remember being so happy when he said yes. He’s just such an interesting actor, and everything he does is smart. He makes it so. My hope is the movie is a big hit and I get to work with him again.
Capone: Were you relieved when you read the script that the brothers had pretty much stripped the gothic nature of vampire stories? Or did you miss not having to wear a cape and ruffled shirts?
EH: [laughs] I wouldn’t have been interested in the cape. I’m glad that they got rid of the whole gothic/romance element of it and just made it a full blown horror movie, you know?
Capone: Yeah, it’s still very much a monster movie for sure.
EH: That’s what I like. It’s not “vampires in love,” you know.
Capone: I’ve started to see trailers for BROOKLYN’S FINEST. It’s an absolutely killer cast. And two things I’m excited about are you reunited with Antoine Fuqua and seeing Wesley Snipes back on the boards I think is an exciting thing. What can you tell me about what you are doing in that movie?
EH: I’d be curious what you think, but I remember I took Richard Linklater to a screening of it, and the first thing he said as we walked out was, “It is so nice to see Wesley Snipes act again.” He is such a beautiful actor and he got kind of lost in this whole genre world and whatever else happened there, but he is such a great actor with such incredible screen presence. He’s got a little Elvis in him, you know? For me, this was my favorite performance of mine in a long time. I love working with Antoine, and it’s the most rich and complex character I have had in a long time, and when you see the movie, it will be a great double-feature with TRAINING DAY, just so you know. It’s kind of like the East Coast TRAINING DAY.
Capone: I actually got to talk with Antoine before SHOOTER came out, and we actually got to dig into his career and some of his opinions of some of the people he has worked with and films he has done. He does not hold back, that guy. Is he an easy guy to work with?
EH: He’s easy for me to work with, yeah. For some reason we get along, but even if you don’t like SHOOTER, the thing that I loved about SHOOTER was it is so unapologetic anti-authoritarian. This is a guy who hates authority and he hates anybody who puts himself off in the wrong way. I find him very refreshing and appealing to be around. He puts his whole heart into his movies and I love that. When you see BROOKLYN’S FINEST, it is a sweeping epic opera of a cop movie. Everything is on a grand themes and grand scales. I love it.
Capone: You mentioned Richard Linklater earlier, and you and I did talk last time a little bit about the ongoing film that you two are making. He’s actually been talking about it for the first time lately, because people are just now sort of realizing it’s happening and as he’s been doing press for his Orson Welles film, people are asking questions. Were you a part of what he just shot in Austin a few weeks ago?
EH: No. That episode, I’m not a part of. I’m going back to Austin in March or April to do another little bit. Some of the episodes happen with the mom, Patricia Arquette, and some happen with the dad, so we are each in like every other little thing.
Capone: I remember you said that you were jealous every time a segment filmed that you weren’t in.
EH: Yeah. And since I’ve talked to you, we did the best episode that I have been involved with yet.
EH: I’ve seen the first cut of the first seven years, and it’s definitely one of the most interesting things I have ever been a part of, no doubt.
Capone: Even just thinking about it, I just want to cry at the prospect of what he’s trying to do here.
EH: About 20 minutes, your eyes just start tearing up and you don’t even know why. It’s about the nature of time and how it’s crashing into us all. You know that a part of grade school, when they do that--I don’t know if you did it--but that time capsule thing where you take things and you bury them, it’s a little bit like that. There’s even this one little scene that he shot--I don’t want to ruin the movie for people--but where the kid is just in line to get his book signed, the last HARRY POTTER book that came out. It’s almost like a documentary. Richard filmed it. He just got the actor in it and he’s just waiting his turn in line with all of these kids dressed up like Harry Potter. By the time the movie comes out, that is going to be so funny and so interesting and so impossible to recreate.
Capone: That cracks me up, because he’s not trying to be timeless. He’s trying to show a very specific time period and capture it.
EH: The last episode I filmed was like a week before the Obama election, and we shot a lot of very time-specific things. You know, there are just funny things that I think all of us will have forgotten by the time the movie comes out. It seems so important at the time. Already a Sarah Palin joke is so much different than it was a year ago.
Capone: Ethan thank you so much for talking to me again, and hopefully we will get to do it again some time.
EH: Okay, well I look forward to the next time. I’m sure we'll talk again. I tell you what, with the Spierig Brothers, their heart is so in the right place. I’m so happy for them. When people get this movie, I’m just elated for them.
Capone: Cool man, thanks a lot.
EH: Talk to you later.
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