Culture

Drive-Thru Window: Ethan Hawke Gets Behind the Wheel

Selena Gomez and Ethan Hawke in ‘Getaway’/Image © Warner Bros.

It’s hard to imagine freezing Bulgarian nights trapped in a car with Disney Channel vet Selena Gomez wasn’t Ethan Hawke’s existential vision of hell, but the forty-two-year-old Academy Award nominee puts a smiling face on the experience of shooting his latest feature, “Getaway,” on location in the streets of Sofia. “It was warmer there than anywhere else,” Hawke shrugs of the Shelby GT5000 Super Snake car where the majority of the film takes place, “when you were in the car under the lights.” Hawke, hot off summer sleeper “The Purge,” is at the southernmost tip of Manhattan’s Central Park in the Ritz Carlton, rakishly attired in a silky, gray, flannel suit paired with his trademarked Hush Puppies, and ready to talk about his entry into this summer’s high-risk blockbuster sweepstakes.

He’s taking the rare day off from his Brooklyn-based reunion with “Hamlet” director Michael Almereyda. The two are re-teaming for another modern-day gloss on the Bard, which casts Hawke as Iachimo, a player so confident in his swagger that he places a bet he can bed the king’s daughter in Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline,” a gun-heavy production that Almereyda compares to television’s “Sons of Anarchy.” Hawke is also prepping another present-day take on Shakespeare for Broadway this fall when he reunites with his “Coast of Utopia” director Jack O’Brien to tackle the lead role in “Macbeth” for what O’Brien describes as “a production drenched in black, and glinting with blood.” So how to explain his latest car chase movie? Could Hawke just be practicing dodging bullets?

“It’s very difficult to make any kind of action movie that might be unique or worth watching,” Hawke admits. “But there was something that was so simple about the idea of making a movie about one car chase. It had simplicity to it that I thought made it unique and fun and one that I would be interested to see. And that’s usually my barometer ... With a lot of action movies, it doesn’t matter who plays the part, really, it doesn’t matter. You know, insert fifty-year-old male, insert twenty-seven-year-old female,” he continues, bumping up his own age by eight years and his co-star Gomez's by seven. “It’s so much about the explosions and things like that, but in this movie, I thought whoever the actors were would have an opportunity to make an impact on the film.”

Indeed, if this were junket as drinking game, “impact” would have everyone shit-faced by now. “We killed 130 cars in the making of this movie,” the film’s director Courtney Solomon, who’s also adapting teen geek bible “Dungeons & Dragons” for the big screen, says. “We actually had a literal junkyard at the end of this movie.” But when compared to the Shakespeare folio, how could Solomon’s lead not sense a junkyard at the outset of this project? “It’s hard,” Hawke admits of his unlikely script choice. “The trouble with these kinds of movies is the repetition and the constancy of the environment can wear down your creativity. If you’re shooting a scene in this room and then tomorrow you’re shooting one in Central Park, each day is different. But being up all night in Bulgaria driving the same car, it’s difficult to try and maintain your excitement and enthusiasm.”

“But it’s really rare in an action movie to do takes of ten pages of dialogue,” Hawke says, struggling to find the silver lining, “and because we’re always in the same place, the set, in a way, never changed. We were always in this car. The background changed, the speed changed and all that other stuff, but it’s rare in an action movie that you could do that level of scene.”

Things quickly downshift into awkward again when a question about youthful rebellion is posited and Hawke’s co-star Gomez jumps ahead to ask, “Am I still in my youth?” There’s an almost imperceptible eye roll from Hawke before Gomez offers, “I stole a Chapstick when I was seven at a store.”

“I don’t know if that qualifies,” Hawke counters, but something about the question brings him back to his own youth and his first ride. “My first car was kind of sad,” he muses. “When my parents had completely worn out their Toyota Corolla, they gave it to me for my nineteenth birthday. It was this really ancient Toyota, but in fact, I loved it. It was not aesthetically appealing in any way. It was not fast. It didn’t handle well, but it lasted forever. I drove it cross-country and back, then gave it to my sister and she drove it for another ten years.”

He takes a beat and laughs, “I’m representing for Toyota here.” And it’s that past-its-sell-date hipster speak -- represent -- that makes one wonder what the hell he and Gomez, only six years older than the eldest of his four children, got up to between takes. “We passed a lot of time running our lines,” Hawke says, “and trying to find something decent to eat.”

“But we would always end up at McDonald's,” Gomez adds, suddenly bumping up the existential vision of car-bound hell to include the stench of pink-slimed burgers and eliciting Hawke’s patented eyebrow arch. “At least I would,” she quickly corrects.

Live a Life Well-Read Get the best of news, culture, and books delivered weekly. Join the Signature newsletter