I’ve always thought it was an interesting transition from director to actor and vice versa. How does your experience as an actor inform your directing?
The first thing is that my experience as an actor influenced me as a director and the understanding that every actor is different. Every actor is a different monster, a different poem. I come from a school of acting where you use yourself, and you use your truth, and you’re only as specific as your thoughts. That said, it’s essential for me as the director to imbue my actors with possession over their characters. That means not giving them the choice but getting out of their way and walking them towards making the choice for themselves because then they own it, and they can live in it in a more real way. When you have a number one like Ethan (Hawke), who had a clear grasp not only of the character as it is written but is an actor who has the ability to elevate writing, good writing, great writing, bad writing. The key to directing him is to get out of his way.
Well, I was going to ask this later, but I may as well know, but what was it like working with Ethan Hawke. I love him. Reality Bites is my favorite movie, and I could go on forever, but I’m curious what it’s like to direct him since he’s also directed and written and has similar career experience to your own.
As far as working together, he was a dream. One of the biggest takeaways from working with Ethan was how much I learned as an actor, not just as a director. The most remarkable thing about Ethan is not just his ability to disappear in character in a three-dimensional way. It’s not just his ability to walk on set every single day and start with, “How can I achieve your vision?” And it’s not just his ability to be so facile and take off his directors and writers cap (which he only had on the week before photography where he was selling his movie Blaze at Sundance). All of the above, all of the above, and his ability to lead. You will not find a greater number one than Ethan Hawke. I learned so much as an actor and as a director. I was so excited to get back on set as an actor because I come from a similar ilk when it comes to work ethic, like Ethan. I found it so refreshing. His ability to come from such a world as buying and selling at Sundance and suddenly be a man who is not himself and drop his Alpha and put on his Beta and stay in that Beta. It’s so tough. Ethan has certainly been given praise, and for good reason, but I actually think that Ethan Hawke is one of the most underrated actors of his generation.
“…had a clear grasp not only of the character as it is written but is an actor who has the ability to elevate writing, good writing, great writing, bad writing.”
I agree, one hundred percent.
There are all of these things that he has accomplished without any need for attention. It’s a remarkable feat. I’d been an acquaintance of Ethan’s before because we have many mutual friends in the theater. I’ve been a huge fan of his theater and Jason Blum‘s. They started Malaparte together. We approached Ethan, and then we approached Jason, and it was all kismet in the room that they happened to have this incredible history together, and they’re very good friends.
How involved was Jason Blum in the process of making Adopt a Highway? What would you say he brought to the table?
I mean, Jason brought a lot to the table. He makes all the decisions and has the quality control and not just in the money, but in the art and Jason’s ability to do both is what makes him so exceptional. It was also the ability to allow his artists to go and make their films. It’s kind of what put them (Blumhouse) on the map, and that’s exactly what happened. I certainly felt a level of trust from the beginning. I knew I wanted to make them all look really good, and I had my own work ethic, so I didn’t ever feel anyone looking over my shoulder. I just simply knew they wanted to make the same movie I did, and they knew that too. It was only from the very first conversation with Cooper Samuelson, Jason’s right-hand man, that they wanted to make a tender mercy and not a genre film. That’s certainly not what Adopt a Highway is. They get a great rap for being a genre house. I think it’s a misinformed rap that that’s all they do because that isn’t what Blumhouse only does. They have been making a substance-driven narrative for a long time.