An interview with actor Ethan Hawke, who brought his upcoming directorial effort, “Blaze,” to SIFF Cinema Egyptian in Seattle.
It was lovely that the Seattle International Film Festival chose to honor Ethan Hawke for “Outstanding Achievement in Cinema,” and bring his upcoming directorial effort, “Blaze,” to SIFF Cinema Egyptian the other night.
But Hawke couldn’t get comfortable in that chair at the front of the theater.
“It’s a little strange,” he said a few hours before the screening and Q&A. “But I do have to remind myself that I have been doing this for 30 years. And there is some cumulative effect to that.”
The true star, he said, is SIFF itself. The festival, which closed on Sunday, is now in its 44th year. With more than 400 films from 90 countries, it is also the largest and best-attended film festival in the country.
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It succeeds, Hawke believes, because it is all about the love of the art of filmmaking. Of telling stories.
“If it weren’t for film festivals, the only criteria by which films would be judged would be money,” he said. “And so I am very indebted to film festivals. And if it helps them to pay a tribute to me, I am all about it.”
Still, he doesn’t make the mistake of thinking that he deserves to be feted, to walk into a room and be surrounded, as he was at a reception before the screening, by people who love the films Hawke has been making since his teens: “Dead Poets Society” and “Training Day” and “Boyhood,” a 12-year effort by director Richard Linklater that played at SIFF several years ago.
Or maybe they remembered him from his performance in “Cider House Rules” in the mid-1990s at The Seattle Rep.
They asked to be photographed with Hawke, whose face still carries the innocence of the sensitive and doomed Todd Anderson of “Dead Poets Society.” He was gracious, posed, chatted and smiled.
But still, he said. It’s not about him.
“I don’t make the mistake of thinking that I deserve such a tribute,” Hawke said. “It’s a fool’s errand. I think a lot of actors, directors make the mistake of thinking people love them. What people love is the movies.”
He pauses to look around, gather his thoughts. Deep breath.
“You know, I didn’t invent the camera and I didn’t invent storytelling,” he continued. “I’m just riding the same wave that, you know, that generations have.
“People love going to the movies and hearing stories. I love it, too. I love telling them. What I like about retrospectives … when somebody talks to me about how ‘Gattaca’ moved them, or ‘Dead Poets Society’ or ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,’ it means that somebody is out there who cares. Especially when it’s one that wasn’t fiscally successful, and knowing that they’re still vibrating.
“I love it when somebody talks to me about one, weird specific moment that happened in a movie that I did 17 years ago and that I didn’t think anybody noticed but that we obsessed on creating.
His face lights up: “Aw! Dude! You got that! I’m so glad!”
He’s hoping that happens with “Blaze,” a biopic of the outlaw country music artist Blaze Foley starring newcomer Benjamin Dickey. Hawke directed, produced and co-wrote the film, which will be released this fall.
“What’s nice about looking at 50 is that I am making the work I always wanted to put into the world. That’s the kind of art I always dreamed I could make. And sometimes you get an opportunity and sometimes you don’t.
“And sometimes you have to make an opportunity. And I did with this one and it feels really good.”
In the end, so did the SIFF award.
“I’m going to be the first person to win this prize twice!” he told the crowd. “I want to be here at 87, saying ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet!’ ”