Ethan Hawke makes no bones about his literary career: his well-received first novel, “The Hottest State,” was written with the movie in mind.
“Actually, I had my heart set on it being MY movie,” says the 38-year-old actor/writer/director who has been working in American cinema since the age of 15. “I was going to write the novel, then I was going to write the screenplay, direct it and maybe perform in it. It all worked out that way, I didn’t think it was possible but it did.”
Because he managed to pull this off, and “The Hottest State” is about a boy who relentlessly pursues the one girl who rejects him, some critics in the U.S. are comparing Hawke’s work with Woody Allen’s landmark film “Annie Hall.” Hawke says while he “really appreciates” the comparison, “the two films are really quite different . . . and to be honest, I don’t think my film is in the same league. But I think I had that movie in mind when I was working on my own project. I wanted to capture the humor, the great lines, the originality of ‘Annie Hall’.” And did he succeed? Hawke goes on to explain what worked about “The Hottest State,” what didn’t and his experiences in the industry.
Mark Webber appeared in your feature debut film “Chelsea Walls.” What made you decide to cast Catalina Sandino Moreno? First, I’d like to talk about how difficult it is for women to get good roles in the movie industry. I know that sounds like a cliche but it’s so true. The smartest, most talented actresses can’t get work because they happen to weigh over 80 pounds or they aren’t blonde. Or they could have an accent. Julie Delpy is one of the most wonderfully talented and intelligent actresses I know and it really surprises me how she’s not inundated with work offers all the time. But that’s the way it goes. It’s just hard for women in general. As for Catalina — I knew she would be perfect for the role mainly because she’s not your usual Hollywood actress, I mean she doesn’t look like Keira Knightley. But she really became Sara and the story would not have worked without her.
How much of the movie reflects you, personally? The whole movie is like a part of me. I kind of stole details from my life and put that in there. . . . I guess that as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to like movies that smell real. For example, I’m like William, I called my girlfriend all the time and bugged the hell out of her. I was insecure and lonely and scared that she would leave, or say something to hurt me. I don’t know why men in movies have to pretend these things just don’t happen to men, because they do!
Do you think the movie says something about relationships in the modern world? To me, the story and the movie are not about William and Sara. I had a much more general theme in mind. It goes like this: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds self. I’ve always thought that men are much less equipped to deal with relationships than women. Most boys grow up not valuing themselves because they don’t think they’re valuable. So they put on this act. They can’t be themselves, so they pretend to be someone else, every single time. It’s like putting on different jackets, because they don’t have enough confidence to show up in front of the girl without a jacket on. And when the girl goes away, that’s when most men finally start learning who they really are.”
So what exactly does William do wrong to make Sara treat him the way she does? The older I get I’ve discovered that when someone needs you too much you become mistrustful, even resentful. Years ago, I was working on a movie called “White Fang” that was about wild wolves, and I learned that in order to be friends with them [wolves] it just doesn’t work if you’re too friendly or get too close. The same applies to people, and relationships. When you need someone too badly, that’s when they reject you. William ultimately realizes that, but it’s a painful learning process. That’s OK, he’s young (laughs) . . . he’ll learn!