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Ethan Hawke Thought Robin Williams Hated Him on ‘Dead Poets Society’ Set

Hawke talks about how his at-first uncomfortable experience with Williams on the set of the prep school drama turned into a formative one.

DEAD POETS SOCIETY, Robin Williams, 1989

“Dead Poets Society”

Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

This weekend, Ethan Hawke accepted the President’s Award for career achievement at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Czech Republic. As the award is intended to honor Hawke’s entire, Oscar-nominated body of work, it was only natural that questions about his breakout role in the 1989 prep school drama “Dead Poets Society” would come up.

As reported by Variety, Hawke took the opportunity to talk about his experience working with co-star Robin Williams.

“I thought Robin hated me,” Hawke admitted. “He had a habit of making a ton of jokes on set. At 18, I found that incredibly irritating. He wouldn’t stop and I wouldn’t laugh at anything he did.”

But Hawke also added that it was Williams who helped him get his first agent.

“He called, saying, ‘Robin Williams says you are going to do really well.’ There was this scene in the film when he makes me spontaneously make up a poem in front of the class. He made this joke at the end of it, saying that he found me intimidating. I thought it was a joke. As I get older, I realize there is something intimidating about young people’s earnestness, their intensity. It is intimidating — to be the person they think you are. Robin was that for me,” he said.

Hawke also talked about his upcoming projects, including a possible new collaboration with “Boyhood” and “Before Sunrise” director Richard Linklater centered on transcendentalists in the 19th century.

“They were the first leaders of the abolition movement; they were vegetarians; they fought for women’s rights. [Richard Linklater] is obsessed with how their ideas are still very radical. This could be a super cool movie and Rick is writing it right now. He is mad at me [for coming to Karlovy Vary], he thinks I should be at his house,” he said.

Regarding his prior work with Linklater, Hawke said you could look at the films as if they’re all connected. “I could make a case that ‘Boyhood’ is a prequel to ‘Before Sunrise’ — Ellar Coltrane is playing Richard Linklater’s surrogate and then I start playing Richard Linklater’s surrogate. It’s like the Marvel universe!”

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