Ethan Hawke may not have enjoyed working with Robin Williams at the time, but looking back, he’s grateful for how acting with the late comedian helped kickstart his Hollywood career. Released in 1989, Dead Poets Society starred Williams as an English teacher who inspires his students through poetry. The movie presents one of the comic actor’s more dramatic roles and even earned him a nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards.
Though Robin Williams impressed with his dramatic performance in Dead Poets Society, he was apparently his normal self on set when the cameras weren’t rolling. That is to say, the lifelong funnyman was cracking improvisational jokes with that unique brand of high energy that he would become known for. This has helped make Williams widely known as one of the greatest comedy minds in history, but when it came time to film a serious movie, 18-year-old Ethan Hawke wasn’t quite so entertained.
At the time, the movie was one of Hawke’s very first roles and he had yet to prove himself as an actor. We know how things would turn out for him eventually, but in the late 1980s, the young actor still had a long way to go. At the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Hawke appeared to accept the President’s Award for his achievements. For those in attendance, he also participated in a roundtable discussion, and during the talk, he revealed how he initially didn’t care much for Williams because of all of the joking around on set.
“I thought Robin hated me. 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.”
Despite this friction, Williams clearly saw something special in Hawke. In fact, because of the shoot, Williams even personally got Ethan Hawke his first agent. This came as a surprise when the agent called Hawke to tell him how Williams had hyped him up as an up-and-coming talent.
“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.”
Williams was spot on with that prediction. Hawke himself would years later be nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for his roles in Training Day and Boyhood. He has also appeared in dozens of other roles to great acclaim, serving as one of today’s best actors. Recently, he’s been cast to play the villain opposite Oscar Isaac in the upcoming Marvel series Moon Knight, a character he’s based on David Koresh.
Of course, seeing the potential in Hawke at a young age is just one of the many wonderful things Williams had done while he was still here. The work he’s done behind the scenes goes just as far in preserving his memory as the amazing performances he’s delivered on screen. Rest in peace. This news comes to us from Variety.