Ethan Hawk and Patti Smith refer to themselves as “abstract
friends” living in parallel universes. Hawke has played numerous musicians in his career, while
Smith turned out performances in several plays before becoming a
singer-songwriter. During a panel conversation at the Tribeca Film Festival in
New York Thursday, the pair traded stories ranging from Hawke’s process of
portraying the late jazz trumpeter Chet Baker in the festival’s biopic “Born
to Be Blue,” to Smith’s early experiences acting on stage alongside Sam
After some confusion over which of them was supposed to be
the moderator (it was Hawke), Smith praised the filmmakers behind “Born to Be
Blue” for creating a sense of pacing in the movie that mirrored the
slightly slower state of people on methadone, of which Baker was one.
“It has a motion and rhythm that’s true to the drug,
and there is a lot of that particular drug in the film,” Smith said,
adding that she herself has never taken methadone.
Hawke explained that prior to taking on the role of Baker,
he received some advice from fellow actor Vincent D’Onofrio about how to create an accurate portrayal of someone suffering from an opioid addiction.
“He said, ‘Make sure before you play this part to spend
some time with people who are on methadone, look at them, feel them, and know
that energy,'” Hawke said.
Asked why she didn’t act more after her brief theater stint,
Smith explained her complicated relationship with acting. “I love being on stage, but I couldn’t take the
repetition,” she said, adding that acting is “much” harder than
rock ‘n’ roll. “You have to shoot the same scene from 40 different angles,
and if it’s Michael Mann, 75 angles.”
For Hawke, one of the challenging aspects of working in film is reconciling what the industry at large considers to be a successful
performance with the emotions that come with each new role. “When somebody is getting a lot of credit for
succeeding, sometimes they’re failing inside,” he said. “Success really
atrophies people and they get caught in a glass box, trying to repeat it or
live inside of it,” Hawke said.
As an example, Hawke pointed to Daniel Day Lewis’s “great”
performance in “Lincoln,” for which he won the Academy Award for best
“The actor in me always says, give me [director] Steven
Spielberg, [writer] Tony Kushner, a part like Lincoln, and the best master
craftsman in every profession and I’d do a pretty good job, too,” Hawke
said. “But put me as a guest star on ‘Matlock’—that is hard.”
Watch the trailer for Tribeca entry “Elvis and Nixon” below.
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