Hollywood star Ethan Hawke says he wanted to make a film about someone “nobody’s heard of” when he wrote and directed Blaze — a biopic on the life of musician Blaze Foley.
“The subtext of it is you’re celebrating regular life — that’s a beautiful thing — and a lot of what makes biopics TV movies is they are constantly tipping their hat to the trope of the famous person,” Hawke said. “So what I try to do is take this beautiful poet-singer-songwriter, Blaze Foley, who never made it and make a meaningful work of art for you … about his life.”
The actor joined Morning Shift host Jenn White to talk about making the film, choosing creativity over money, and what he wants to pass on to his daughter Maya Thurman-Hawke, who is joining the season three cast of Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Making ‘magic moments’ as a director
Ethan Hawke: There’s a certain atmosphere where creativity can take place, and there’s a certain atmosphere where it’s very difficult. Good musicians often know how to generate that.
If you work with Denzel Washington, he knows how to move space and energy. People think acting is about a line reading or something like that, [but] it starts a long time before that. It starts when you arrive on set. How to create energy to that magic can happen — that’s what you’re always hunting for, some piece of magic to happen.
Creativity over money
Hawke: I don’t know what other people feel but the more money, the less creativity. It’s why the theater is such a beautiful [thing]. You don't have to wonder, when you're acting in a play, why your scene partner is there. They’re there because they love acting, they love sharing writing, they love the theater. They’re being paid $234 a week or something — they’re not there to get rich.
One of the problems, sometimes, when you get into TV shows and movies and stuff is that the actor you’re working with might not even like this script; they’re saving money to do what they really want to do or whatever it is. And it’s just a lot of water in the beer.
Capturing inner life
Hawke: That’s the beauty of my job. I’m in the best of the arts. There’s some kind of spiritual aspect to it, where you’re like talking about what’s real: We’re all born, we all have to die, we don’t know why there’s injustice, we don’t know why good things happen to bad people. There’s so much mysterious in life, and one of the things that’s been so mysterious to me is why so many of us don’t feel we’re worthy of success. … I honestly believe that to contribute to others, which I think is the point of our lives, it begins with self-respect. And without it, it’s impossible to take the next step of loving other people.
What he hopes he’s shown his daughter about the arts
Hawke: The joy of creativity — that if you are in service of the profession, it will serve you, and if you are in service of yourself, you’ll be miserable. … You have to try over and over again to give it away, but it can’t be about what it’s giving back to you, because you can never get enough back. The goal line always moves. …
It’s a daily practice thing of saying, “I want to contribute, how can I contribute?” That’s how I try to live my life and I don’t think there’s anything I can say. She knows how I feel about what’s phony and what’s not phony.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview, which was adapted for the web by Arionne Nettles.