Ethan Hawke on "Boyhood," Chet Baker, and What Makes a Good Artist
Actor, writer, and director Ethan Hawke discusses what qualities make a good artist, and why it's important to be accept ridicule for taking risk on the path toward artistic success.
Ethan Hawke: Almost every manifestation of our personality is artifice. How we dress. How we do our hair. How we speak. You know there is truth that is way beyond where you were born and what school you went to and whether you smoked Marlboro cigarettes or whether you’re a heterosexual or a homosexual. I mean there’s a greater truth of the essence of who you are and that’s the actor’s job to get through. And that can handle any accent or any wig. I mean like it’s fascinating and it’s opened up doors for me later in life as I’ve started to learn and understand what people would call character acting. And it’s opened up possibilities for me that weren’t there before. But I made a lot of mistakes turning down really good projects in this kind of knee jerk idea that I had what was the truth, you know. And I’ve come to believe that that was a lot of bullshit and self-preservation, you know.
If there was one thing that I’ve learned that I feel whatever good fortune has put me in the position of realizing this is that without risking looking like an absolute fool you cannot do anything original, unexpected. Anything that comes from your heart. You have to shed that fear of judgment and that means you may fall on your ass. And one of the wonderful things is that’s our job as members of the artistic community. Your job isn’t to succeed. Your job is to be one of many people throwing – you’re the wind at the door. You’re the wave. One wave is going to crash through and it may be you or it may be somebody else. But there’s a lot of waves that are going to add up to somebody breaking through. I mean do you think people really – look when Linklater and I were first going around trying to pitch the idea of Boyhood. I got an idea, right. We’re going to make a little short film about a little boy for 12 years. We’re going to cut it together. It will be one movie. It’ll be all about childhood. It will be amazing.
So wait, it’s coming out in 13 years? And wait, does the little boy sign a contract? You can’t sign a contract for more than seven years. Yeah but if the boy is having a good time. So I put my money in now and if the boy’s having a good time I get it back in 13 years? Yeah, nice. What else do you have. In Born to be Blue I’m playing Chet Baker and I had this idea that, you know, that he would speak differently. He spoke at a higher octave than I do. And I wanted to do the whole part like this. And, you know, at first the director looked at me like oh shit. Is he going to talk funny the whole – it’s going to ruin the movie. But luckily the guy went with me and yeah, we could have fallen on our ass but you have to try. You have to try.
And if you don’t try, you don’t deserve to be there, you know. I remember one of my – I’ve said this before somewhere but like one of my favorite things that Allen Ginsberg ever said was when he went on the Tonight Show as a Hare Krishna and stuff and somebody said you know you’re being mocked. And he said you think I don’t know people are making fun of me? That’s my job. I’m a poet. And some middle aged insurance salesman is lying in bed tonight and he’s thinking what the hell was that guy doing on the Johnny Carson show saying Hare Krishna. And it’s breaking the walls of his perception. And that’s my job as a poet. My job is not to be liked. I think Allen Ginsberg’s highest paying year was $17,000, right. My job is not to make money. I have to, you know, there is some balance at work. I don’t want to starve to death but my job is to be an artist. And to do that a good artist is ridiculed.
Ethan Hawke, award-winning actor and director with titles that include the ever talked about Boyhood, discusses the extent to which appearance matters when playing a role — changing accent, changing hairdo, etc. — and how much it doesn't. For him, understanding character acting and breaking the wall of what the audience expects means coming to something more essential about a character, an essential truth beyond cosmetic changes.
To be sure, people's physical characteristics are not entirely artifice. And understanding the deeper importance of appearance can help an actor get into character: getting their hair right, the perfect costume, and knowing that someone from New York speaks differently than a person who has lived in California their whole life. Most of the time, we expect these changes to their appearance, i.e. normal clothing and an accent not usually too far from their own. Yet reaching that deeper truth about an individual, or about life in general, typically requires departing further from what is taken for granted by an audience.
The film Boyhood, for example, was hard to pitch because it was not what studios expected: the film would take over a decade to create, shooting an actor as he grew from childhood to adolescence. Most films would only take a handful of years to make, and follow a storyline. Boyhood was just about a family growing together, and the ups and downs of family life. Pitching this experimental movie, Hawke had to risk looking a bit dumb. It is not the first time he has taken a risk as an artist — his own actions behind playing Chet Baker in Born to Be Blue involved raising his voice to a "higher octave," something that at first the director didn’t like. It was a risk Hawke decided was worth it as an artist.
That in the end was, Boyhood was made, winning Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards. In his drive to experiment and surprise, Hawke says h takes his inspiration from Allen Ginsberg, who claimed his job as a poet was to be made fun of. Ginsberg was known for singing the Hare Krishna before television hosts like Johnny Carson and William Buckley, not caring if the hosts or their audiences laughed at him for it.
Hawke says that's his favorite Ginsberg moment because, aware of being laughed at, he carried on his shtick: it is not an artist’s job to be liked, or to make money. Instead it is his or her job to be poked fun at, and challenge the idea of normal.
Ethan Hawke's graphic novel is Indeh: The Story of the Apache Wars.
Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
While not the first such minister, the loneliness epidemic in Japan will make this one the hardest working.
- The Japanese government has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to implement policies designed to fight isolation and lower suicide rates.
- They are the second country, after the U.K., to dedicate a cabinet member to the task.
- While Japan is famous for how its loneliness epidemic manifests, it isn't alone in having one.
The Ministry of Loneliness<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I5FIohjZT8o" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><a href="https://www.jimin.jp/english/profile/members/114749.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tetsushi Sakamoto</a>, already in the government as the minister in charge of raising Japan's low birthrate and revitalizing regional economies, was appointed this <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">month</a> to the additional role. He has already announced plans for an emergency national forum to discuss the issue and share the testimony of lonely <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/12/national/loneliness-isolation-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">individuals</a>.</p><p>Given the complexity of the problem, the minister will primarily oversee the coordination of efforts between different <a href="https://www.insider.com/japan-minister-of-loneliness-suicides-rise-pandemic-2021-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ministries</a> that hope to address the issue alongside a task <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">force</a>. He steps into his role not a moment too soon. The loneliness epidemic in Japan is uniquely well known around the world.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Hikikomori</em></a><em>,</em> often translated as "acute social withdrawal," is the phenomenon of people completely withdrawing from society for months or years at a time and living as modern-day hermits. While cases exist in many <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00247/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>, the problem is better known and more prevalent in Japan. Estimates vary, but some suggest that one million Japanese live like this and that 1.5 million more are at <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/japan-hikikomori-isolation-society" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">risk</a> of developing the condition. Individuals practicing this hermitage often express contentment with their isolation at first before encountering severe symptoms of loneliness and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200110155241.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">distress</a>.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodokushi" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Kodokushi</em></a>, the phenomenon of the elderly dying alone and remaining undiscovered for some time due to their isolation, is also a widespread issue in Japan that has attracted national attention for decades.</p><p>These are just the most shocking elements of the loneliness crisis. As we've discussed before, loneliness can cause health issues akin to <a href="https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/americas-loneliness-epidemic-is-more-lethal-than-smoking-heres-what-you-can-do-to-combat-isolation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">smoking</a>. A lack of interaction within a community can cause social <a href="https://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/how-religious-neighbors-are-better-neighbors" target="_self">problems</a>. It is even associated with changes in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/loneliness-brain" target="_self">brain</a>. While there is nothing wrong with wanting a little time to yourself, the inability to get the socialization that many people need is a real problem with real <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-loneliness-hunger" target="_self">consequences</a>.</p>
The virus that broke the camel's back<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hp-L844-5k8" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> A global loneliness pandemic existed before COVID-19, and the two working in tandem has been catastrophic. </p><p>Japanese society has always placed a value on solitude, often associating it with self-reliance, which makes dealing with the problem of excessive solitude more difficult. Before the pandemic, 16.1 percent of Japanese seniors reported having nobody to turn to in a time of need, the highest rate of any nation <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">considered</a>. Seventeen percent of Japanese men surveyed in 2005 said that they "rarely or never spend time with friends, colleagues, or others in social groups." This was three times the average rate of other <a href="http://www.oecd.org/sdd/37964677.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>. </p><p>American individualism also creates a fertile environment for isolation to grow. About a month before the pandemic started, nearly<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/23/798676465/most-americans-are-lonely-and-our-workplace-culture-may-not-be-helping" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> 3 in 5</a> Americans reported being lonely in a <a href="https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> issued by Cigna. This is a slight increase over previous studies, which had been pointing in the same direction for years. </p><p>In the United Kingdom, the problem prompted the creation of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The commission's <a href="https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/active-communities/rb_dec17_jocox_commission_finalreport.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">final report </a>paints a stark picture of the U.K.'s situation in 2017, with millions of people from all parts of British society reporting feeling regular loneliness at a tremendous cost to personal health, society, and the economy.</p><p>The report called for a lead minister to address the problem at the national level, incorporating government action with the insights provided by volunteer organizations, businesses, the NHS, and other organizations on the crisis's front lines. Her Majesty's Government acted on the report and appointed the first Minister for Loneliness in <a href="https://time.com/5248016/tracey-crouch-uk-loneliness-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracey_Crouch" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tracey Crouch</a>, and dedicated millions of pounds to battling the problem. </p><p>The distancing procedures necessitated by the COVID-19 epidemic saved many lives but exacerbated an existing problem of loneliness in many parts of the world. While the issue had received attention before, Japan's steps to address the situation suggest that people are now willing to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.</p><p>--</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. The suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.</em></p>
MIT professor Azra Akšamija creates works of cultural resilience in the face of social conflict.
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
Do they really need the human touch?
- In Pinduoduo's Smart Agriculture Competition, four technology teams competed with traditional farmers over four months to grow strawberries.
- Data analysis, intelligent sensors and greenhouse automation helped the scientists win.
- Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as AI are forecast to deliver huge productivity gains – but need the right governance, according to the Global Technology Governance Report 2021.
Pinduoduo<h3>Growing potential</h3><p>Numerous studies show the potential for Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies like AI to boost economic growth and productivity.</p><p>By 2035, labour productivity in developed countries could rise by 40% due to the influence of AI, according to<a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/12/ai-productivity-automation-artificial-intelligence-countries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> analysis from Accenture and Frontier Economics</a>.</p><p>Sweden, the US and Japan are expected to see the highest productivity increases.</p>