Ethan Hawke is having quite a year, with the release of First Reformed in May and Juliet, Naked arriving in August. Hawke’s latest artistic project sees him channeling all of his creative energy in a different way: behind the camera. In addition to his acting gigs, he’s directed and cowritten Blaze (currently playing in limited release), a biopic about the hard-living '70s country singer and songwriter Blaze Foley.
If you've never heard of Foley, according to Hawke, you're not alone. When we spoke to him recently, he told us it’s pretty much a miracle that the film got made at all, especially since lead actor Ben Dickey is a folk singer with zero acting experience and Hawke had his own doubts about the film coming together.
"I thought constantly it would never work," he noted. "If you think it’s easy to get a movie made that stars someone you’ve never heard of about someone you’ve never heard of… it’s pretty hard to raise the money."
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We made the film BLAZE using everything we had. I call it our Gonzo Country Western Opera. It’s the story of Blaze Foley – an undersung hero of the outlaw country western music scene. I always loved his music, but it was my love of the bearded madman in this photo that made my wife and me want to make this film. His name is Ben Dickey (@benjodikito) and he plays Blaze. I directed, and my wife produced. It was an honor to be Ben’s guide through the maze of acting in a feature film. He’s been a great musician since before I met him 15 years ago – but he went through trial by fire – and came out like Gandalf: a purer, better, nobler WIZARD. #BLAZEMovie #Sundance
Luckily, it all came together, resulting in a deeply felt film about an ill-fated country singer. At its heart, you'll find, Blaze is a love letter to the country music of days gone by. For Hawke, a native of Austin, Texas, this comes from a deeply personal place. He recalled how his deep love for country music helped nurture his bond with his own father.
“My first concert was Willie Nelson," Hawke said. "Red Headed Stranger had just come out and my father was obsessively listening to it. I was maybe 6 or 7 years old. It became a way of getting closer to my father. My mom moved away from Texas, and I would listen to country music to be able to talk to my dad about things and feel closer to him. It became a blanket, a source of happiness. It became a well of learning.”
While Hawke shares a deep bond with his father over country music, he now gets to share an artistic bond with another member of his family: his 20-year-old daughter, Maya Hawke (whose mother is Hawke's ex, actor Uma Thurman). Much like her dad's year, Maya's 2018 has been big, with her star on the rise thanks to her performance in PBS’ Little Women and her upcoming gig on Stranger Things season three. As a father and actor, Hawke can’t help but marvel at Maya’s development as an artist over the years to get where she is today.
“I’ve known that Maya was going to be an artist since she was about 4 years old,” Hawke said. “I mean, she’s born to do this, she loves it. It’s unstoppable. She wanted to talk about Louisa May Alcott morning, noon and night before she got that part. After she got that part, it’s even more. I enjoy talking with her about it and she wants to talk with me about it.”
But Hawke admitted that Maya is at the age where she needs to begin forging her own artistic journey: "She’s in a unique position where she needs to separate herself and find her own way and she needs to absorb what her parents know. She’s doing all that at a remarkable pace."
And while he does speak lovingly of all of the great work Maya is doing, Hawke really hopes his own work ethic has rubbed off on his daughter. "Your actions speak so much louder than words. You can say a work ethic is important, but if they don’t see you get up and work every day and take care of your own craft, why would they take you seriously? There’s nothing you can say — whenever I try to give my daughter advice, she always says, 'Dad, do you think I don’t know that? I’ve lived with you for 20 years, I know exactly how you think about that situation,'" Hawke noted with a laugh.
We wanted to pick Hawke's brain about whether he'd change anything in the film industry, given that he's spent a decent number of years in the business and is now watching his own daughter work in an ever-changing industry. His reply gave us some important food for thought: "I mean, you can say what you’d change, but like that movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, if you change the things that went wrong, you wouldn’t have learned anything."
Blaze is now playing in limited release.