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HAWKE, ETHAN: Gattaca

DANCES WITH ROBERTS
Actor, director, novelist, celebrity: Ethan Hawke, starring in Gattaca, is a new generation of intellectual actor who is not what he seems. Or is he? PAUL FISCHER met him during the recent Toronto Film Festival and discovered the many facets of one of Hollywood's more fascinating players.

It's not easy being Ethan Hawke. His first big role as the "oh, captain, my captain" kid in Dead Poets Society led many to believe he was a shy, intelligent, sensitive young man. His biggest role to date was in the quintessential twentysomething angst movie, Reality Bites, which led many to perceive him as a whiny, goatee-wearing, pop-culture-reference spouting, grunge-looking slacker. The real Ethan Hawke lies somewhere in the middle.

"To me, this was a screenplay that was so incredibly literate, so obviously the work of an intelligent person."

Part of the grunge generation of actors, a kind of sensitive new age guy, he comes across as a young man of intellectual voracity. In the midst of this year's Toronto International Film Festival, there was no sense that Hawke, in Toronto for the world premiere of the futuristic Gattaca, resented being paraded to the world media. "It's just something that comes with the territory", the young actor muses in between mouthfuls of juice.

Unlike other successful "movie stars" of his generation, Hawke has never allowed his popularity to dictate the work that he does. Gattaca is a case in point. Hardly the stuff that Hollywood blockbusters are made of, the futuristic thriller explores the extreme possibilities of DNA. It's clear why the 26-year old actor was so drawn to this complex tale. "To me, this was a screenplay that was so incredibly literate, so obviously the work of an intelligent person. I simply hadn't read anything like it before." In Gattaca, written and directed by New Zealand film maker Andrew Niccol, Hawke plays Vincent Freeman, a "faith birth" - or nonengineered individual - in a society where offspring are designed in petri dishes, diseases are eliminated and more desirable traits are engineered into the population. Faith births are only suited for janitorial work. Though Vincent wears eyeglasses, a sign of genetic inferiority, he refuses to accept he is only as good as his DNA profile. Through determination and ingenious subterfuge by exchanging his DNA profile with another's, Vincent passes for a genetic elite, getting himself selected to navigate Gattaca Corporation's mission to the planet Titan. Then, just seven days away from realising his dream of space travel, Vincent emerges as the leading suspect in the murder of Gattaca's mission director.

"That's what I find so admirable about this guy, the fact that it's so difficult to do what you want to do.." on his Gattaca character

Hawke pauses reflectively when asked to explain his connection to this complex and cerebral man of the future. "You read a script as an actor, and you either start having ideas or you don't. As soon as I started reading it, I instinctively knew that I really wanted to do this." The film explores the notion that in this society, one's life is predestined. From the time of Vincent's birth, he had limitations placed upon him which he consciously decided to defy. Hawke says that it's far from easy to change your established destiny. "That's what I find so admirable about this guy, the fact that it's so difficult to do what you want to do in the face of people telling you not only that you can't, but that you SHOULDN'T do it, and we won't LET you, and yet you go ahead and do it anyway."

Hawke compares the film to the likes of such visually expressive works as Metropolis, and has high marks for the film's first-time director. "He worked so hard, was SO prepared, so meticulous in his preparation, that you couldn't get angry with him about ANYTHING, because anything that wasn't done, wasn't done out of lack of respect for you. He really wanted to do a good job, and it's a tough piece. The language is very stilted and stylised, as is the whole look of the film and the way it's presented. It's a very difficult thing to do to make all that come together."

"Nobody in their right mind should want their child to go into professional acting."

Perhaps Hawke's affinity with the theme of Gattaca has to do with the actor's own life. Born to teenage parents who split up when he was still a toddler, Hawke travelled the country for seven years with his free-spirited mother until she remarried and the family settled down in Princeton Junction, New Jersey. It's perhaps that nomadic lifestyle that drew Hawke to performing, but it was not something he was encouraged to do. "Nobody in their right mind should want their child to go into professional acting. There are just so many demons that live on the first staircase; there's so much disappointment. I remember talking to my father about acting, he'd say: 'Why on earth would you want to be an actor? They're all drug addicts,' ", Hawke recalls laughingly. But he did it anyway. "I guess I love it too much not to do it, and you need to do what you gotta do. I mean your parents will try and talk you out of doing something that they think will make you unhappy, but then if you tell them it will make you HAPPY, they'll get behind it."

Hawke made his first screen appearance at the age of fourteen, as the star of a little-seen sci-fi movie called Explorers, which also marked the debut of another young actor, River Phoenix. While Phoenix's career took off, Hawke's went nowhere, and for the next four years, he attended high school and acted in school plays. He went on to study acting at Carnegie-Mellon College, but when he was kicked out of his first class on the first day, he started to wonder if he and college were made for each other. In 1988, Hawke was offered a role in director Peter Weir's Dead Poets Society: it did not take a lot of convincing for him to leave school.

"In many ways, she's the most impressive peer of mine I've ever worked with." on his co-star Uma Thurman

Dead Poets Society, the actor's first significant film, was a huge hit, and this time, Hawke's career did not subside. He went on to make several critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful films, including a World War II drama, Midnight Clear. While he was well-regarded throughout the industry for his acting abilities, it wasn't until he asked Julia Roberts to dance one night in 1994 that he found himself a household name - and tabloid fodder. Hawke's dance with Roberts, then married to singer Lyle Lovett, was splashed all over the news, and for the first time, Hawke found himself in the upper stratosphere of Hollywood society. For someone who had so much pride in the quality of his acting, it was an uncomfortable place to be. Nothing's changed. These days, he's keeping company with his Gattaca leading lady Uma Thurman, but under the watchful eye of his publicist, won't talk about that relationship except to admit that he and Thurman are still together. "I was filming The Newton Boys in Texas all summer, but I was able to make it back to New York almost every weekend to be with Uma." But asked to discuss her in a professional context, Hawke is far more responsive. "In many ways, she's the most impressive peer of mine I've ever worked with. She's really disciplined, works really hard, LOVES acting, is really smart, and because she's 6 feet tall is also intimidating. She was the first one to commit to this movie, even though it's not a huge part for her, but she had so much belief in it, that she wanted to ensure it got made." Hawke had never met Thurman prior to Gattaca, and he had his own preconceptions. "I was under the assumption that ALL actresses were mad as a hatter, and then eventually I found out that she was only SLIGHTLY mad as a hatter," he concludes jokingly.

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"You read a script as an actor, and you either start having ideas or you don't. "
(Photo: Judy Kopperman)



"The language is very stilted and stylised, as is the whole look of the film and the way it's presented. It's a very difficult thing to do to make all that come together."



"It wasn't until he asked Julia Roberts to dance one night in 1994 that he found himself a household name - and tabloid fodder."



"These days, he's keeping company with his Gattaca leading lady Uma Thurman,"



"I was under the assumption that ALL actresses were mad as a hatter, and then eventually I found out that she was only SLIGHTLY mad as a hatter,"



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