Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Ethan Hawke: a Renaissance man at midlife

Ethan Hawke allows himself what is either a self-deprecating grin or a smirk when he's told he was James Franco before there was James Franco.

It's true, though. Franco gets a lot of attention these days for the multiplicity of his talents and interests, but the guy with the really enviable track record – as screen star, stage actor, novelist, filmmaker, theatre director, hunk – is Hawke, who turns 41 in November.

He's at TIFF this week to promote The Woman in the Fifth, a smart, intriguing and unsettling feature from Polish-British director Pawel Pawlikowski in which Hawke plays a struggling, emotionally fragile American novelist returning to Paris to be closer to his six-year-old daughter, now in the sole custody of his estranged wife. It's a fine performance and, with ugly, thick-lensed Ray-Ban glasses, Hawke looks thoroughly down, out and distressed.

Story continues below advertisement

On Tuesday, however, he was the very acme of Ethan Hawke-ness – attentive, engaged, blue eyes flashing, easy in his skin, looking fit in a smartly tailored suit and tie. But he acknowledged tempus fugit. "One of the ways in which I think that this movie was personal to me … was this moment of feeling at this midpoint in your life," he said in an interview. "Being 40 means you're already so far down the path. I mean, Dead Poets Society came out 22 years ago. That's starting to be a while ago, y'know? And next year is the 20th anniversary of the first time I came to the Toronto film festival. Is the festival much older than that?

"When I was younger, I gave myself permission to try a lot of things," he observed. "But there's something about turning 40 that makes me feel that I'm not allowed to experiment any more, like I should know what I'm doing … that there's a kind of acting I want to do, a kind of writing I want to do."

Indeed, when Hawke was in his early 20s, he thought his life would be like that of Albert Schweitzer – the first half devoted to the arts, the second to public service. "But now that I am at that midpoint, I feel like I'm at such an entry place, not an ending … To be honest, I'd just like to keep being a student until I arrive somewhere. But does that mean I'm going to direct more theatre or wind up writing another novel? I don't know."

Almost 10 years since he published his and second novel, Ash Wednesday, Hawke says he is "really working hard on" finishing a third. "But at the same time, the older you get, the higher your standards are. I feel like if I'm gonna write another novel, it had better be good, for Chrissake. I didn't use to feel that way; I just used to feel it was fun to try. Now I have this other agenda with myself."

If Hawke has a model as a screen actor, it's probably Jeff Bridges. But, really, he confessed, "my first love is the theatre. More and more I've found that most in tune with who I am … And if you look at actors who grow old well, theatre actors just do it so much better."

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

James More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.