Ethan Hawke visits Byrd for ‘Blaze’ screening, Q&A

Actor and director Ethan Hawke visited the Byrd Theatre on Sunday to promote his newest film, "Blaze." Photo by Liza Hazelwood

Andrew Ringle, Managing Editor

Ethan Hawke started his acting career at age 14 — since then, he’s found fame through his starring roles in “Dead Poets Society” and, more recently, in the A24 indie favorite “First Reformed.” But last year, Hawke found himself offscreen and in the director’s chair for his newest film. 

The actor and director spoke in a Q&A at the Byrd Theatre on Sunday after a screening of “Blaze.”

Ethan Hawke. Photo by Liza Hazelwood

The 2018 biopic features Blaze Foley, a country singer of the ’80s whose music was largely forgotten after he briefly experienced the rockstar lifestyle before his untimely death in 1989. It captures intimate moments from Foley’s relationship with his wife, Sybil Rosen, who helped screenwrite the film.

Here are the highlights from the event’s Q&A and Hawke’s interview with The Commonwealth Times. Responses have been edited for space and clarity. 

On Blaze Foley

The beauty of Blaze Foley is that nobody has heard of him. And so we had this stockpile of gorgeous music that you don’t know, that most people don’t know, and we could make a movie. His life lent itself to the story of creativity.

On working with friends

I made this movie with a bunch of people that I love. And if you’re really doing that, nothing can go wrong. I love their performances, I love the music, I love the guy who shot the film, I love the guy who edited the film. I love the woman I wrote it with, I love the woman who I produced it with. When you get to create something out of that old-school theater troupe mentality where everybody’s looking after each other — it’s hard to do that when you are in big business, everybody’s trying to make a living. But in this, we found a way.

On showing his film at The Byrd

There’s so little respect for cinema anymore. People watch “The Godfather” on their phone. I mean, I do. Everything gets downloaded and soundbited and excerpted. Our attention span is getting smaller. When you see a place this beautiful and you see the kind of respect it pays to the idea of a community getting together and watching a movie, it makes the movies better. Because you see how your friends relate to it, you see how your community relates to it, and it gets treated with respect. I love it.

On the difference between acting and directing

Every experience informs the one coming, and sometimes it informs it in positive ways and sometimes negative. I’ve had a long time of working as an actor, and it felt fun to be able to try to create an environment where actors could excel. That’s the fun of directing, is giving other people a chance to succeed.

On human creativity

The movie kind of clearly, as you work on it, it kind of clearly divides itself. In a way, one part is more enjoyable and one part less enjoyable. But they were always equally important to his story to me was the two wells of human creativity in my experience. 

One, you’re in a treehouse, you’re falling in love, the birds are singing … and you write a song for no other reason but to share it with a lover, to share it because you can’t not write it. It’s Whitman, it’s the song of the self, it’s just nature. Human creativity as nature expressed through us.

Then there’s this other side of human creativity — In this movie it’s represented by his relationship with Townes Van Zandt — which is “What if I was really good?” “What if I was important?” “What if I could live forever?” “What if I set myself on fire?” This idea of getting something back from it. What haunted me as a kid is how both these wells work.

On Hollywood

These big-budget movies, they do all the work for you. The music cranks up, close-up on the eye, the tear falls. There’s no doubt how you are supposed to feel. You’re not allowed to have your own reactions. … Most contemporary movies to me look like a Heineken ad. They look like they’re selling something, there’s a product you can buy after this is over. My daughter says this the best — most modern movies make you feel like shit about your own life. How come I don’t look that good in tights? How come I’m not a superhero? How come I don’t meet blue people and fall in love? Or whatever it is. I like the kind of movies that are about ordinary life so that our lives are as magical as they are.

The tickets for the film screening sold out prior to the event. Photo by Liza Hazelwood.

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