Ethan Hawke Couldn't Stop Crying When He First Shot with River Phoenix

"Most of the time, when you photograph sex, you cheapen it," says the actor, who tells Lynn Hirschberg about his love for Patti Smith and first-ever movie with River Phoenix at 14.

Released on 9/15/2016

Credits

Starring: Ethan Hawke
Featuring: Lynn Hirschberg

Transcript

00:03
You know, the story of somebody's rise to stardom
00:05
is pretty much always the same story,
00:07
but the middle years are always very different.
00:10
That's how Born to Be Blue came to be.
00:12
Felt like I was being offered the sequel
00:14
to a film I never made.
00:16
What I was interested in is getting into the experience
00:19
of a real prodigy in his mid-life crisis.
00:22
Send me something that I can relate to.
00:24
One of those weird things about, you don't know it when
00:26
it happens but when Dead Poet's Society comes out
00:29
and you're 18 it doesn't leave you very far to go.
00:32
It creates a possibility for a very confusing
00:35
mid-life because are you constantly gonna try
00:38
to repeat the same success?
00:40
It leaves you a long way to fall.
00:43
Yeah, there's a quality to Chet Baker's great performances
00:48
that I really thought a lot about.
00:50
Which is that sometimes you watch him and you're not sure
00:54
he's gonna live through the song.
00:55
And I remember I felt that way watching
00:58
My Own Private Idaho.
00:59
I remember watching River and thinking,
01:02
I just, I worried for him.
01:04
There was such a brilliant light but it seemed so delicate.
01:09
Yeah, River was my first scene partner.
01:11
I did my first movie with River when I was 14.
01:14
And I remember my first day of shooting,
01:16
back then they really had to use a lot more light
01:18
and can't believe I sound so, oh back then, like,
01:21
but it's true, they really did use a lot more light.
01:24
And I couldn't stop crying,
01:26
my eyes would just watering and watering.
01:29
I remember I was so, I really wanted to be an actor,
01:32
and I thought, I'm not gonna be able to do this.
01:35
(Interviewer laughing)
01:36
But after a couple of days, I got it.
01:38
River was a serious young artist, even at 14.
01:42
He already knew more than I did.
01:43
He'd done it before.
01:45
Like, we're doing this movie about kids building their
01:47
own spaceship and he's trying to talk about what's
01:48
in his character's pockets and you kinda knew
01:51
right away that he was special.
01:53
The first time I remember crying at a movie
01:55
was The Killing Fields.
01:57
That movie just wrecked me.
01:59
At the end, when they find each other,
02:02
and you know you kinda hear Imagine on the radio
02:05
in the hospital, so beautiful.
02:08
I can't get ever get over Last Tango in Paris.
02:11
That movie is so profound to me,
02:13
and it's one of the few movies that really is
02:16
genuinely erotic and has something to say.
02:20
It doesn't cheapen sex.
02:21
Most of the time when you photograph sex, you cheapen it.
02:24
And so it's very, it seems like an easy thing to do,
02:27
you know, 'cause just people kissing is sexy,
02:30
but it quickly becomes cheap.
02:32
So, Patti Smith is royal to me, you know.
02:36
She's like Baudelaire, if Baudelaire coulda lived
02:38
a long time and done it right, you know.