Ethan Hawke’s Advice to Young Actors

February 20, 2017

Ethan Hawke wants to give advice to aspiring actors. In recent interviews with CNN and The Off Camera Show, the star revealed what lessons he learned along his acting journey.

Indeed, Hawke’s actor resume seems to go on forever. After all, he’s been dedicated to the craft–and busy–for almost 30 years. The Texas native starred in films like The Magnificent Seven, Boyhood, Training Day, Before Sunrise, and the Generation X drama Reality Bites. He’s also branched out to theater, directing as well as novel writing.

After watching Top Gun as a youngster, Hawke knew he wanted to be an actor. “I knew that I wanted to be involved in the arts, and it didn’t feel far-fetched to me. I meet some young people and it just feels so far-fetched to them. I sometimes wish I could just give them the DNA, the gene that says, ‘Nobody else knows what they’re doing either. Don’t worry.'”

In their early teens, budding stars Hawke and River Phoenix, made their film debuts together on the same major Hollywood production. They were cast in the 1985 sci-fi movie Explorer– which turned out to be a box-office flop. At the time, Hawke found the disappointment hard to bare, and he decided to quit acting. Now Hawke reflects, “That was a great lesson for me. You know, just to have failure right off the bat, and to see that everything’s not going to get handed to you.”

But as he withdrew from acting, he observed Phoenix move on to starring in the hit movie Stand By Me. Hawke felt assured if his acting partner could do it, then he could do it as well. Remembering Phoenix’s tragic and premature death, Hawke now shares the following insight:

“River Phoenix was one of the brightest of my generation, but if you don’t take care of yourself, it doesn’t matter. Punishing yourself does not hurt the people that hurt you or the situation that hurts. All it does is hurt yourself, and so that would be my biggest advice: Love yourself. It sounds corny to say, but it’s incredibly hard to do–to really believe you’re worthwhile and that it does matter what you do.”

Hawke’s persistence paid off with his breakthrough appearance as a shy prep student in Dead Poets Society at the age of 18.

He recently told CNN what has served him well throughout his career: “I’ve always just tried to never be a professional. I try to always see it with a kid’s eyes.” He continued, “It’s easy to have humility if you see yourself in service of the arts. If it’s in service of Ethan Hawke, it immediately becomes smaller, and not as interesting, and limited.”

As for those considering entering the field, he advised, “If you would be comfortable being 58 and teaching it, if that’s what you mean when you say you want to be an actor, then I’m really excited for you. And if what you mean is you want to be at a party or be celebrated then I would say that you should think twice. If you really love telling stories and being a part of an artistic community, and you would imagine yourself wanting to learn it so you could teach it to others, then I’d be really excited for you.”