Oscar Actors: Hawke, Ethan–Actor-Director

Ethan Hawke said that the acceptance of his new documentary, Seymour: An Introduction, into the selective festival meant a lot to him.

Why?

Hamlet was rejected here. Before Sunrise was rejected here. Tadpole was rejected here. Before Sunset was rejected here. It’s been a lonely 30 f—ing years — I needed Seymour Bernstein to get my ass in this chair!”

Bernstein, a professional classical pianist turned piano teacher who has become a life coach to Hawke and the subject of Seymour, rose and offered a tribute of his own to the man who has made him, at 87, a celebrity.

Bernstein, who had performed publicly only once since walking away from his recital career in 1977, for Hawke’s doc, said, “This afternoon I went over one piece and I thought, ‘Well, I’m gonna give it a try.'” He walked over to a grand piano in the corner of the room, which had theretofore been manned by his former NYU pupil Jiyang Chen, and after a humorous introduction, played a beautiful Brahms intermezzo.

Bernstein received a standing ovation and an emotional Hawke hugged him. But prior to that point, he and Jones had covered a wide variety of topics pertaining to his life and career, which is in the spotlight due to his back-to-back IFC films: Boyhood, for which he is a frontrunner for this year’s best supporting actor Oscar, and Seymour, which will be a frontrunner for next year’s best documentary Oscar.

Hawke publicly acknowledged IFC chief Jonathan Sehringand AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan for “the passion and dedication it took to make Boyhood.” He emphasized, “The biggest miracle of that movie is that somebody believed in the idea enough to potentially not recoup on their investment in a world where everything is about money and what’s happening next year. These guys, who are here tonight, said, ‘You know what, I’ll take a break from that line of thinking for a minute and I’ll give Richard Linklater a chance.  I am really indebted to you guys. I wouldn’t be here tonight if you guys didn’t greenlight that movie.”

Hawke also discussed his long relationship with Linklater, a fellow native of Austin, Texas, with whom he has collaborated on many films — most famously, apart from Boyhood, the three Before films, Before SunriseBefore Sunset and last year’s Before Midnight. He credited Linklater’s 2008 documentary about a zen-like baseball coach, Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach, for helping to inspire Seymour.

A fourth Before film? “This idea of making a third film was very important to me. I’m not sure about a fourth. It’s possible — but if the second film was a call, the third film was an answer, and I feel that if there were a fourth film it would be starting a second trilogy. It would be a new call-and-response.”

Hawke says that having the Before franchise and the 12-year-long Boyhood project “both end within these last 14 months has felt like a huge loss.”  Moreover, he added, “Seymour and I had been working on this documentary for a few years and it finished this year. I did Macbeth across the street last year, which was kind of a culmination of a decade-long rededication to the theater. And so, for some reason, I feel incredibly naked here tonight. This moment is a finishing moment for me, and I don’t really know what’s next.”

Hawke then shared a memory of the making of Dead Poets Society, the movie that made him a star 25 years ago opposite the recently deceased Robin Williams. He referenced Norman Lloyd, the vet actor who played the headmaster and who will turn 100 in November, but who, Hawke said, “seemed ancient to me” even during the making of Dead Poets, when Hawke was just 18.

When Hawke was around on the set, Lloyd, with whom he had bonded, pulled him aside for a talk: “‘You have no idea what’s happening now, do you?’ I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘You’re having one of the most amazing experiences of your life and it’s not the right time to be joking around. I forgive you for not understanding, because you have nothing to compare it to,’ he said, ‘But you know, I worked with Orson Welles — we were part of the Mercury Theatre Company — and I thought I was gonna have dozens of these experiences. I thought I was gonna meet a million people like Orson Welles. But instead I was having one magical experience that would light my whole life and give me things to work toward. You’re having one of those right now and instead you’re making it small.'”

Hawke more or less cleaned up his act after that conversation.  To this day, he thinks about Norman Lloyd all the time.”