Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Untold Truth Of Ethan Hawke

He seemed set to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood when he received an Oscar nomination for his supporting turn as rookie cop Jake Hoyt in Training Day, but Ethan Hawke went on to pursue mainly passion projects over blockbusters in the years that followed. He found himself nominated in the same category over a decade later when he teamed up with regular collaborator Richard Linklater for the decade-spanning drama Boyhood, and again, he refused to capitalize on the hype. When The Guardian asked the actor why he'd yet to suit up as a big screen superhero during a 2020 interview, he answered, "That's not my dream."

Hawke's actual dream began in childhood. A native of Austin, Texas, he grew up in a religious household where faith played an important role. His father was from a Baptist background, while his mother's family went to an Episcopal church. "I had zealots on all sides of me, so I got to experience it from a lot of different levels," he told Reader's Digest. "My answer to myself was to pour all that thinking into art. ... That's been the church of my choice: movies, books, rock 'n' roll." He made his acting debut at the age of 12 and never looked back, though there were a few bumps along the road to stardom. From his turbulent childhood and disappointing film debut to his highly publicized relationship woes, this is the untold truth of Ethan Hawke.

Ethan Hawke 'felt totally abandoned' by his father

Ethan Hawke's parents were still young themselves when they brought him into the world in 1970. His dad, Jim, was 20 years old, while his mother, Leslie, was just 18. They moved east to start a new life but ended up divorcing when Hawke was four, beginning a period of turmoil for the future star. His father returned to Texas after the split, and Hawke would try hard to impress him during rare visits. Speaking to The New Yorker, the actor revealed that he "affected a Southern accent" and made an effort to be "a lot more religious" around his traditional dad. "I loved him so much," Hawke said. "I wanted him to like me. I was aware that I was performing for him. I hated myself for it."

Things came to a head when Hawke was 16 years old. Pretending to be one person in his father's company and another with his mother (he admitted that he "played up the artistic, literary, conscientious political thinker" side of himself when his mom was around) was taking a real mental toll on him, and he ended up having a meltdown on a flight home to New Jersey. An inconsolable Hawke reportedly emerged from the plane shirtless. "When I was young, my father was a hero beyond heroes, because it's so easy to love someone who's not present," the actor told Reader's Digest. "And then getting older, I really resented him and felt totally abandoned."

He stole and crashed a motorcycle during his first movie shoot

Ethan Hawke decided that he was "all in on being an actor" at the age of 12. His mother enrolled him in an after-school theater group and, buoyed by the positive reaction to his performance in the group's production of classic play Saint Joan, he started auditioning for movie roles. When it became clear that he was close to landing one of the lead parts in Joe Dante sci-fi flick, Explorers, his mother got cold feet. "She couldn't leave her job," Hawke told The New Yorker. "She couldn't let me go to L.A. What were we going to do as a family?" Mom eventually relented and agreed to take Hawke to the final screen test, and the rest is history. 

Hawke was 13 years old when he debuted as teenage space traveler Ben, best friend of child prodigy Wolfgang, played by the late River Phoenix. "We were sure we were going to be movie stars," Hawke said. The pair had a blast making the picture. They even stole and crashed Phoenix's dad's motorcycle, breaking Hawke's leg and derailing the production in the process. But audiences hated the film. Hawke was devastated when people came out of the premiere thoroughly underwhelmed. "They were talking about what a piece of s*** the movie was," he recalled. Explorers ran for just a few weeks, but it went on to gain cult status and is considered required viewing for '80s sci-fi fans nowadays.

Dead Poets Society was 'life-altering' for Ethan Hawke

Ethan Hawke stepped away from Hollywood when Explorers bombed, watching from the sidelines as his friend and co-star, River Phoenix, wowed critics in 1986's Stand by Me. It was a bittersweet experience for Hawke, who fell out of love with acting for a spell. He enrolled at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University on the advise of his mother, who would break down when he decided to drop out and move to New York City at age 18. "The only thing I remember is my mom on the phone crying," he told The New Yorker. "Then — I don't know if I've ever done this since — I got on my knees and prayed that I was making the right decision."

He chose New York because he was ready to get back into film, and that's where director Peter Weir was auditioning for a new teen drama called Dead Poets Society. "The experience on that movie was, for lack of a better term, life-altering," Hawke, who starred as elite prep schooler Todd Anderson, told The Guardian. And as he revealed during his Reddit AMA, his most memorable moment was the "I sound my barbaric yawp from the rooftops of the world" scene. "I had to make up a poem in front of the classroom, and it was the only time I really had to 'work' with Robin Williams. And I feel like it was the first time I was ever really challenged to act."

Julie Delpy made Ethan Hawke feel 'so American and so dumb'

It was 1993 when Ethan Hawke met Richard Linklater and a creative partnership that endures to this day was born. Linklater was looking for actors who were willing "to be brutally honest with themselves, with each other, and with the process," and as he told The New Yorker, "Ethan was willing to walk that artistic tightrope." It was here that Hawke and his co-star, French starlet Julie Delpy, wound up rewriting portions of the film that would become Before Sunrise, with Linklater's encouragement. And the director knew the first time he saw them together that they would be perfect as star-crossed lovers Jesse and Céline, who spend a day and night together in the stunning city of Vienna after a chance meeting on a train.

"Meeting Julie was like meeting a character from a novel, like Anna Karenina or something," Hawke told The New York Times on the 25th anniversary of the critically acclaimed indie film. "She's a very deep person. I'd never felt so American and so dumb in my life." He learned a lot during the shoot, both from his co-star and his director. Linklater encouraged him to forget everything he thought he knew about acting and give himself over to gut instinct. "I never looked back after Before Sunrise," he said. "I could stop imitating other actors. I guess it's about breaking the mask we wear for the world and letting as much truth seep out of the cracks as possible."

His personal life 'fell apart' after his Oscar nomination

Ethan Hawke met Uma Thurman, the woman who would become his first wife and the mother of his first two kids, when they signed on to co-star in 1997's Gattaca. The Blade Runner-inspired film didn't exactly make waves at the time, though it went on to gain a cult following, earning a reputation as a must-see for fans of dystopian sci-fi. Unfortunately, the movie's appeal outlived Hawke and Thurman's marriage, which began in 1998 and officially ended in 2005. It was a divorce that sparked a media frenzy, one that Thurman refused to be part of. "I cannot participate in anything critical about my children's father," she told Parade at the time (via People), adding, "I think it's fair to say that I haven't said one mean thing, and I'm not going to start now."

Both of their careers thrived during their marriage. Thurman was riding the Kill Bill wave, and Hawke was getting widespread praise for his Oscar nominated performance in Training Day. Being considered for Best Supporting Actor alongside Ben Kingsley, Ian McKellen, Jon Voight, and eventual winner Jim Broadbent was "the best moment of his career," Hawke told GQ. "In a lot of ways, it could have been the beginning of something," he said. "Like, 'Maybe, maybe you could be commercially viable.' But I got divorced, and my personal life fell apart." The couple had a daughter, Maya, and a son, Levon, before calling it quits.

Julie Delpy helped Ethan Hawke get out of his post-divorce funk

Ethan Hawke was awestruck when he was introduced to his endlessly cool Before Sunrise costar, Julie Delpy, back in 1993. And he apparently made a good first impression on her, too. "He was like a puppy, so young and sweet," the Paris born actress told The New York Times. "He hates that, but really, he had a beautiful naïve quality about him. I mean naïve in a good way, naïve but very smart at the same time." 

When Hawke's marriage to Uma Thurman hit the rocks, he was preparing to reunite with Delpy and director Richard Linklater for the second film in their eventual trilogy, 2004's Before Sunset. Making the Paris-set sequel was a cathartic experience for the actor, as he revealed during an interview with GQ. Talking to the men's mag, Hawke said, "Getting to spend that summer with Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater. ... That was a great summer. And it really helped me put myself back together."

Throwing himself head first into his work would only get Hawke so far, however. The Hollywood lifestyle was starting to feel "phony" to him, so he regularly shunned it in favor of spending time with his kids. Being around Maya and Levon helped Hawke conquer his post-divorce depression. "That's the wonderful thing about children is they just need you every day," the actor said. "It gives your life balance. Meaning your whole life isn't just about yourself."

Ethan Hawke's favorite onscreen kiss was with Angelina Jolie

Generally speaking, Ethan Hawke doesn't enjoy being intimate on camera. When the actor joined Reddit so he could take part in his first AMA back in 2013, he was asked about the most difficult scenes he's ever had to film, and his response was surprising to say the least. "People don't ever want to hear this because it destroys the fantasy, but anytime you have to kiss anybody," he said. "It's never stopped being strange." Strange isn't always a bad thing, however. When Hawke appeared on Watch What Happens Live that same year, he revealed the name of the actress he shared his best ever onscreen kiss with.

"With all due respect — the woman has been in the press a lot lately — but I will say, the best onscreen [kiss] I ever had was [with] Angelina Jolie," Hawke told host Andy Cohen (via Us Weekly). "What made it so great? Pillowy lips, a lot of tongue." When pressed for more detail, Hawke compared Jolie's "genius" to that of Mozart. "Angelina Jolie was born to whittle men, to make them weak," he added enthusiastically. "When she kisses you, you don't know your name." The critics enjoyed the kiss, too, but that was about all they liked about 2004's Taking Lives. The film scored just 22% on Rotten Tomatoes, where it was described as a "stylish, but predictable thriller where the only thrills are offered by the sensuous Angelina Jolie."

He set the record straight on those cheating rumors

Hollywood history is littered with tales of stars cheating on their significant others with the nanny of their children, but according to Ethan Hawke, that's not how it went down with him and Ryan Shawhughes. When the press caught wind that his marriage to Uma Thurman was imploding, rumors that Hawke had strayed began to sprout up, dominating tabloid headlines. Thurman added some fuel to the fire when she sat down with Oprah a few months after finalizing her "excruciating" divorce, indicating that her ex-husband may have cheated. "There was some stuff like that at the end," she said (via People). "We were having a difficult time, and you know how the axe comes down and how people behave and how people express their unhappiness."

Hawke vehemently denied that he'd broken his wedding vows when he spoke to 20/20 the following year ("Uma and I did not split up over anybody's infidelity," he insisted), and when the topic came up again a during a 2009 interview with The Guardian, the actor couldn't have made himself any clearer. "I met Ryan through my literary agent, and she was indeed one of Maya and Levon's nannies during a film shoot," he explained, adding, "There were never any scandalous thoughts or actions back then. In the years that followed, my marriage disintegrated due to many pressures, none of which were remotely connected to Ryan." Today, they have two daughters — Clementine and Indiana Hawke.

Ethan Hawke owns an island in Nova Scotia

As someone who's expressed disdain towards celebrity culture, it seems strange that Ethan Hawke would have his very own private island, but this place is far from a palm-laden paradise. During his first Reddit AMA in 2013, the actor confirmed that he was the proud owner of "an 8-acre island off the coast of Nova Scotia" and explained how exactly it came into his possession. "I have friends in Nova Scotia, and often visited them, one of whom was an older woman who could no longer take care of her island," he said. "She asked if I would buy it. A closet in Manhattan costs more than an island in Nova Scotia. So I answered yes. And I'm happy I did."

Hawke loves his island ("There are eagles and seals and raccoons and pine trees for days," he said), and he loves the wider province, too. His relationship with Nova Scotia stretches back to the 1990s, when he began attending writing retreats at a friend's cabin. When the chance to replace Sean Bean in a film about real-life Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis came along decades after his first visit, he jumped at the chance. "I love it up there," Hawke, who plays Lewis' (Sally Hawkins) stern husband in 2016's Maudie, told CTV, adding, "If I didn't have my place up there, I probably would have loved the script and said, 'I can't imagine myself in that part' or something."

His daughter is a chip off the old block

As the first born child of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, it would've been easy for Maya Hawke to crumble under the pressure after she followed them into the family business, but she's already managed to step out of their shadows. The confident young actress blew up after debuting as Scoops Ahoy employee Robin Buckley in season 3 of Stranger Things, becoming a huge star practically overnight. Her dad could barely contain his excitement, and he called her "the real thing" in a gushing Instagram post. "Ladies and gentlemen, get to know Maya Hawke," he said. We've gotten to know her pretty well since then because Maya is like her old man — refreshingly open in interviews.

When she spoke to NME at length in 2020, the actress and singer-songwriter (she released her first single in 2019) revealed that she basically grew up on movie sets. She loved nothing more than being "behind the camera with headphones on, watching the monitors while my mum and dad did the same scene 100 times over from different angles, just sitting and learning," she said. It was her father who helped shape her taste in music, she also revealed. He would compile regular playlists for his daughter, bringing her up to speed on essential artists like Elvis and the Beatles. Their tradition was later used as a plot device in Richard Linklater's Boyhood, which earned Ethan Hawke his second Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Ethan Hawke wants to do a Before film set during the COVID-19 pandemic

Ethan Hawke has had four Oscar nominations to date – two for acting, and two for writing. Both he and costar Julie Delpy contributed to the script for 1995's Before Sunrise, but they never sought any recognition. "I used to joke there were times when Julie and I didn't want credit because we were so sure it was going to be so bad," Hawke told The New York Times

While they didn't earn an Oscar nod for the original script, they used the same process when Richard Linklater got the gang back together for 2004's Before Sunset and 2013's Before Midnight. Both times, they got what they deserved — Hawke and Delpy were nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for the sequels, alongside Linklater.

Speaking to IndieWire in 2020, Hawke revealed that the Before trilogy, which he called "the three best experiences of my life," might not stay a trilogy for long. The actor confirmed that he's spoken to Linklater and Delpy about a fourth Before film, and he even shared his personal vision for it — Jesse and Celine dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. "Wouldn't it be hysterical if the next movie was just them in isolation?" Hawke said. "If there's one person to make the world laugh about what's happening now it's Julie Delpy. "

There's nothing official on Before 4 at this stage, but Hawke has some exciting projects in the pipeline, as he's reportedly playing a villain in Marvel's Disney+ series Moon Knight.