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Ethan Hawke: 'Hollywood films don't last'

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

image captionHawke plays an American writer in Paris in Pawel Pawlikowski's film

US actor Ethan Hawke thinks it is possible to make a good film in Hollywood - but says it is increasingly hard "to make one that will last any amount of time".

The Training Day star admits it can be "heart-breaking" not to see "beautiful" movies get made - particularly when "ones that have lots of women beaten up or zombies being killed" are.

The 41-year-old was speaking at last year's International Rome Film Festival, where his latest movie The Woman in the Fifth - a romantic drama shot in Paris - received its European premiere.

"I feel I got to be in a real European art film," he says of the picture, an adaptation of a Douglas Kennedy novel published in 2007.

"It's not trying to make any money," he continues. "It's trying to be a work of art."

British audiences can make up their own minds about Pawel Pawlikowski's film when it opens in the UK on Friday.

The battle between culture and commerce is one that has much exercised the Texan star, who shot to fame as a teenager in such films as Explorers and Dead Poets Society.

'Odd moment'

The 1990s saw him come to represent the so-called "Generation X" in Reality Bites and Before Sunrise and play the lead role in an updated version of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations.

Training Day, in which he played a rookie officer reluctantly partnered with Denzel Washington's corrupt LA cop, earned him an Academy Award nomination in 2002.

image captionKristin Scott Thomas plays Margit, the film's elusive title character

Yet Hawke has enjoyed less mainstream success over the past 10 years, prompting him to try his hand at writing novels, directing and performing on stage.

"I've hit this odd moment in my life, in that it's been a lot harder than I thought it would be to make the films I dreamed of making," he confesses.

"It depends on your inner goal. If it is to be a big shot, you've got to make films in Hollywood.

"But if your goal is to tell the truth and try to make something beautiful, you're going to be less likely to do that."

Perhaps that is why Hawke has decamped to Paris - the city where he and Julie Delpy recreated their Before Sunrise double act in its 2004 sequel, Before Sunset.

According to the actor, though, the setting is peripheral to his new film's story of an American writer drawn into a criminal web while fighting his estranged wife for custody of their daughter.

"You're aware that Paris is near him, but he's so in his own box I don't even think Paris is a part of the movie," he muses.

Femme fatale

"That's what depression is like; you don't see too far outside of yourself.

"I don't think the movie would be that different if we'd shot it in Prague or New York."

One thing alleviating his character's gloom is Kristin Scott Thomas, cast as a mysterious femme fatale whose address - in the 5th arrondissement - explains the film's intriguing title.

media captionActress Kristin Scott Thomas says she is getting some of the best roles in her acting career.

Hawke is full of praise for his British co-star, whom he believes is "on her way to being the Vanessa Redgrave of her generation".

"The culture beats women up so badly about what they look like," the actor goes on.

"She's one of the rare few whose talent and beauty are getting more interesting, and she's getting the jobs to go with it."

With roles in such other forthcoming literary adaptations as Bel Ami and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, that would indeed appear the case.

Her facility with the language has also helped her forge a notable screen career in France, the country she now considers home.

"I try and make films I would want to see, with people I want to work with and brains I find exciting," shrugs the English Patient actress.

"If I was locked into some Hollywood persona, I wouldn't be able to make the films I make.

"We're lucky in Europe not to be put away in a drawer at a certain age," continues the 51-year-old, who trod the boards in London last year in a revival of Harold Pinter's Betrayal.

"People see wrinkles not as something ugly, but as something that tells a story - something to be admired, not tightened."

The Woman in the Fifth is out in the UK on 17 February.

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