Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with actor Ethan Hawke about his work in True West.

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? I believe you started performing onstage at age 15 in Princeton, New Jersey. Did you go for traditional training as an actor or did you learn on the job? Were there other actors or any teachers who had a profound influence on you? Ethan Hawke: Much like Trofimov in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, I seem to be the "perpetual student." Perhaps because I have little formal education, it has never really stopped. I did my first professional play when I was 12 years old at the McCarter Theatre of Princeton. I played Dunois' Page in George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan. The actress playing Joan was named Stacey Ray and she was absolutely incandescent. Listening to all of the professionals around me discuss the nature of faith, war, politics, and love—it seemed like acting was the most amazing job a human being could have. My informal education continued with the various actors and directors I worked with. Because I was so hungry for learning, I turned everyone I worked with into a mentor. The names that come to mind especially are Jack O'Brien, Gary Sinise, Sam Shepard, Jonathan Marc Sherman, and Tom Stoppard

TS: What attracted you to the role of Lee in True West? How is this character relevant to you? What do you find most challenging/ exciting about this role? Is it difficult to play a character who seems to become a completely different personality during course the play? EH: I like playing people who change. A lot of dramatists make the mistake of having their characters be only one thing. Sam Shepard speaks a lot about the "divided self," the battle between "the masculine and feminine" that exists in every person, regardless of their gender. It's a pretty ancient theory, whether it's yin and yang, night and day, or Jekyll and Hyde—many people have struggled with the nature of identity. Right now the American male's divided self is on full display and our nation is struggling with its own identity—this is a perfect play to do right now.

TS: What kind of preparation or research did you have to do in order to play this role? Can you give us some insight into your process as an actor? EH: I've been researching Sam Shepard since 1984 when my mom let me stay up late to watch a televised production of True West with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise. As an actor with a secret dream of writing, Sam Shepard has always been a special inspiration to me because he acted AND wrote at such a high level. The film The Right Stuff had come out the year before, and to see an actor write at such a high level was an inspiration to me.

TS: Can you talk about your understanding of Lee’s relationship to his father, whom he refers to as the “Old Man”? Why do you think the Old Man haunts the brothers, especially Lee? EH: In all of Shepard's writing, there is a fear, love, and respect of a father character. In a lot of his prose writing, he is particularly revealing about his fear of insanity and alcoholism. It seems there was a wildness to Sam's own father—that both called to him and


Ethan Hawke

repelled him—which he made vivid in the portrait of Lee in True West.

TS: Do you believe there is such a place as True West? How would you define that term? EH: There is a speech in True West where Lee talks about the Kirk Douglas movie Lonely Are the Brave, where a man dies for the love of his horse. In a lot of Sam's work there is a longing for an idealized America that just doesn't exist. He searches for a version of the American male that can be admired, whether it's John Wayne, Gary Cooper, or Gregory Peck. But there is a disappointment suffered when you realize those characters are iconic, but not real. "True West" is about the brothers' longing for a father worth admiring, to be men worth admiring themselves, and their inability to manifest either of those things.

TS: You have worked with the author Sam Shepard on a film version of Hamlet, and you also directed his play A Lie of The Mind. What did you learn from those two experiences that you are willing to share with our readers? EH: I truly feel that Sam Shepard is of the first order of American poets. He was a true maverick and, to risk being cliche—a true original. I remember every second we spent together because he was so interesting and always surprising, whether he was talking about artistic theory, how to grow a strawberry, or playing the piano. I remember once walking into a bookstore in Portland,

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24