Wednesday, June 19

Hawke surpasses ‘Gen X’ label in ‘Before Sunrise’


Hawke surpasses ‘Gen X’ label in ‘Before Sunrise’

Actor succeeds in showing diversity, rejects role-model
responsibilities

By Lael Loewenstein

Daily Bruin Staff

His movies may have made him a Generation X icon, but Ethan
Hawke doesn’t want to be anybody’s role model.

Through his roles in Dead Poets’ Society, Reality Bites, and the
current Before Sunrise, Hawke, 25, has come to personify
twentysomething angst, but he refuses to be held up as an
example.

"It’s not my problem to be a role model," Hawke insists. He
speaks with a casual air that could easily be mistaken for
indifference.

The issue arises in part because in Before Sunrise Hawke’s
character Jesse has sex with Celine, a woman he has known less than
24 hours. There is no talk of AIDS, pregnancy, or condoms. Hawke
shrugs off any notion of social responsibility.

"I think if people are going to run off and have sex they’ll do
it because they want to, not because our movie told them to," he
says. "You can ruin your whole artistic life worrying about being a
role model. You’ve got to be true to yourself."

Being true to himself means that Hawke has selected roles that
most interest him, not necessarily those that advance his career.
He has chosen films for their challenging subject matter, such as
Alive, which depicted the disaster that befell the South American
soccer team when their plane crashed in the Andes Mountains.

Other projects have attracted him because he wanted to work with
a particular actor, such as Jack Lemmon and Ted Danson in Dad, or
Jeremy Irons in Waterland. He has also cultivated a stage career,
with parts in repertory theater and an acting group Malaparte, of
which he is artistic director.

But his most successful parts so far have been in Dead Poets’
Society, and in last year’s paean to Generation X, Reality Bites.
Because of those two films’ popularity, Hawke has been stereotyped
as a thoughtful youth at odds with the world around him.

"The whole thing (typecasting) is ridiculous. When I did Dead
Poets’ Society, people thought I was this really shy, introverted
kid, and then I did Reality Bites and they thought I was that
person. But all you have to do is keep working and then people give
you a different label," he says.

Before Sunrise may help open Hawke up to more adult roles. In
it, courting co-star Julie Delpy, he combines the existential
despair of his earlier "teen angst" roles with a romantic maturity
and deft comic timing.

Because Hawke and Delpy are in just about every frame of the
film, Before Sunrise is his most challenging role to date.
Comprised of two hours of intense conversation, soul-searching, and
character exploration, the film largely hinges on the actors’
ability to make Celine and Jesse credible. They succeed, and the
result is a fresh and fascinating romance.

But rather than going for a Hollywood-style happy ending, the
film concludes on an ambiguous note. Although they plan to meet
again, Celine and Jesse go their separate ways. Their reunion is
left to our imagination.

"A lot has been said about communication, about how hard it is,
and how beautiful it can be, and the idea of seeing your day-to-day
life as poetry. For example, the play ‘Our Town’ is entirely about
somebody you don’t notice and about how you don’t know how
beautiful and wonderful your life is until it’s gone away," he
says.

"That’s why the ending I think is so right. It’s kind of a
metaphor about life. We spend all this time together, we don’t know
if we’re going to meet again, we don’t know if it has any meaning
or if it’s going to amount to anything. That’s what the jist of
human contact is about and that’s a major theme of the movie."

Working on the film was a unique experience because director
Richard Linklater worked so closely with his two stars, constantly
relying on them to improve the script. Consequently there were very
few ego clashes.

"With the three of us working on this script, it was easier for
us to get along because if you saw how passionate we all were about
the movie, we could never get angry," Hawke recalls. "Everybody
wanted it to be good so badly. And Rick was very clear about what
he wanted so there was never a possibility for disagreements."

Linklater’s laidback style made for a comfortable work
environment, in keeping with Hawke’s background in theater.

"The trouble with a lot of movies is that they’re not a creative
process at all. As an actor, you’re hired to do what you do. But
the nice thing about theater is that immediately you eliminate all
the people around who want to make a buck. Everybody who’s in the
room with you wants to work together on telling a story or putting
on a show. And you get that a lot independent film too. I got that
in heavy doses on this film."

Of the differences between theater and film he adds, "If all
movies were like making this one, then there wouldn’t be a
difference in the world."

For now, Hawke has no plans for his next project. He may try
something lighter, but he isn’t losing sleep over his next career
move.

"I don’t really think about making a particular type of movie.
You want to have a nice mix of taking what you do seriously and not
taking it too seriously and figuring out that balance. You just
want to make a good movie."

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