Ethan Hawke is barely recognizable in Maudie, a new drama from Sony Classics. The veteran actor plays one of the most unusual, but eventually endearing characters of his storied career. Maudie Dowley (Sally Hawkins) was a diminutive, crippled woman who would become Canada’s greatest folk painter. Maudie had juvenile arthritis. She was abandoned by her awful brother after her parent’s death. Forced to live with a mean aunt, Maudie took her life into her own hands. She answered an ad in a local Novia Scotia store for a housekeeper.
Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) was an irascible fishmonger who lived in a tiny, 12 x 12 house. A solitary man of few words, he was surprised to see this tiny woman ask for employment. Maudie was a live in maid under tough circumstances. They had to sleep in the same bed. He barely tolerated her presence and was abusive at times. Maudie began to paint their little house. She also painted cards that Everett would also sell with the fish. A famous New York art dealer who was vacationing in Canada saw her work, and then commissioned her to do bigger paintings.
Maudie and Everett got married. They decided to sell her paintings by the side of the road. She became renowned for her folksy, beautiful artworks. Maudie even painted for Richard Nixon. All the while, she and Everett remained in their tiny house. She painted very inch of it. Her health declined dramatically over the years. Everett took care of her, establishing a deep bond that is the heart of this wonderful film. Sally Hawkins is a clear early awards contender. She’s amazing as Maudie.
Ethan Hawke is the definition of cool. He walks into our interview with his trademark moustache and big smiles. He was so proud of the film, the rave reviews, and the spotlight on his costar’s performance. His portrayal of Everett is very physical and mannerism based. The character does not have a lot of dialogue. The love story between Maudie and Everett is a truly unique tale, wondrous to see. Hawke excels in these small, deeply personal relationship stories. Just as in the Linklater films with Julie Delpy, and Boyhood with Patricia Arquette, he gives Sally Hawkins the space to be great. It’s unselfish acting and a rarity in Hollywood. Please see our full interview with Ethan Hawke below:
Sally Hawkins is incredible in this film. Did you know of her work previously? Was she the reason you wanted to do this?
Ethan Hawke: Yes, I have been a big fan of Sally Hawkins. I had a great belief in her ability in this role. I was excited about the possibility. For example, I read Training Day when Denzel was already attached. So I read the script picturing Denzel Washington. What’s he going to do with that scene? I wanted to be in that movie. It was something special. If he could have the right partner, then this thing could be ice hot. That’s the way my brain thinks. I read this script the same way. This is a really complicated character. This woman [Sally Hawkins] could do it. I’ve spent a lot of time in Nova Scotia, so I could kind of picture this man. What he might look like? What he might sound like? I know these guys. I saw a window of opportunity here.
You and Sally have amazing screen chemistry? Especially when considering most of the scenes are in that tiny house. How much rehearsal time did you have together?
Ethan Hawke: The drag is we had all of these great plans for rehearsal. But I was shooting Magnificent Seven. It went over and over and over. We had all of these rainstorms. So I was late showing up for this film. They wouldn’t let me go, blah blah. I had to work on everything by myself. I showed up a week before filming. Sally was painting three to four hours a day. She had a dance teacher, a body movement person, who helped her study juvenile arthritis. She was perfecting her Canadian accent. It became clear to me that I was working with someone who was working on perfection, a high level of excellence. So you just dive right in. The fun thing about these movies is also the hardest thing. We’re in the middle of nowhere.
Ethan Hawke: Yes, my kids weren’t there, no friends. My wife wasn’t there. My life wasn’t there. So I took my imagination and disappeared into this character. That’s what Sally and I did.
Everett married Maudie when he was forty. He was so gruff and irascible…
Ethan Hawke: Yes, he was a World War I vet. When I discovered that…the Canadians sent a bunch of people to World War I…they came back different. He didn’t want to talk to anybody. That’s war. He grew up in an orphanage. Joined the war, came back, and lived by himself in a 12 x 12 house. He was a pretty haunted guy I think. He was scared to be intimate with a woman, to let someone in his heart and space. That’s not something he was interested in.
A lot of people view Everett as an abusive guy that never loved Maudie, but just exploited her for the painting money. Do you think that might be true?
Ethan Hawke: (Emphatically) That’s not true. I’ve read that as well. Look, he was definitely a tough guy. He didn’t see art as art. He thought people were idiots to pay for these things. But it’s clear at the end of his life that he had deep and powerful feelings for her. This is what I love about the story. He is a very serious misogynist. He only sees her as a maid. He has no ability to let a woman near him. He ends of marrying here. Then they spend many years together. He ended up feeding her, washing her, getting her paint boards, taking them all over his world. I was very moved by that. If that’s true in any sense, then I am not interested in that.
Ethan Hawke: Years ago when I did that Chet Baker thing, I interviewed a guy that played with Chet for ten years. I told him I read this book that said all these horrible things about Chet. Was that true? He said, “F*ck that book. I gave that guy three days of interviews. I told him in one hour of that time how Chet and I burglarized a dealer. The one bad thing in those three days of interviews, us committing a crime, shows up in that book”. That was all that made it in. Chet even played the guy that did the documentary about him. These people didn’t realize that Chet was acting for them. We all know books and documentaries can be manipulated. So let’s face it then. We don’t know the truth. I feel that Everett lived with this woman for thirty years. They celebrated her art. I see the story I want to tell from him.
What about the scene where he slaps her?
Ethan Hawke: Well, we are looking at the issue of misogyny with 2017 eyes. Sadly, it was common for these men to hit their wives at that time. It was rampant. To not show it or do it would make it wrong. So is he an abuser using modern standards of storytelling? In truth, the world is a complicated place. He is f*cked up for all his behavior. There’s a lot bad behavior there, but that doesn’t mean he is incapable of love or being loved. As an example, my mother is going through all of these complicated feelings about my grandfather. She felt neglected. She just found out from a neighbor, about how he helped another young woman who was addicted to heroin. My mother doesn’t recognize this person. People are weird. I find all these issues are interesting. When I read that he slaps her, I thought 90% of the audience will hate this character for the rest of the movie. What could I do to let them get to know him? It doesn’t make the behavior okay. I am not saying that. I’m saying there’s a possibility for understanding and forgiveness, if you have insight. A good movie humanizes people. Ah, I see where they’re coming from. That’s the value of telling stories. We improve our insight of people and the world around us.
Talk about the shooting schedule. This was a small film. Was it a difficult shoot?
Ethan Hawke: Four weeks, two actors shooting in a 12 x 12 room. (laughs) The trick to this movie was letting yourself disappear into that world. We had a wonderful director; an Irish woman [Aisling Walsh] who really embraces actors. Some directors are really excited about this new camera they’re going to use to do a 360 shot around you. This director was excited about human nuance. It’s exciting to be around her. She was hunting for good acting, good portrayals. In many ways I don’t remember making this movie.
So it was a lot of instinct, closeness with Sally?
Ethan Hawke: Yes, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Even working in the fields. It’s rare to have a three dimensional character who’s not just one thing. It’s a full blown love story and we never kiss. (laughs) I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like this.
Where did you get Everett’s grunting from?
Ethan Hawke: It’s the whole thing that made me want to do the part. I have a cabin in Nova Scotia that I got when I was divorced. I’ve been going up there for fifteen years. I know who this guy is. He reminds me of a lobster fisherman I know. I knew his deal. There’s something about a guy who lives out there in a tiny house all by himself. He’s something like a bear, grunts, eats fish. (laughs)
The final question is about your choices. From working with Julie Delpy in the Linklater films, to Boyhood, to here with Sally Hawkins, you’ve made these very close, emotional stories with women. Why take these personal roles? What’s the motivation?
Ethan Hawke: I appreciate that question. It’s my secret priority. It’s not gender specific for me. You a sports fan?
Definitely, big time…
Ethan Hawke: Why does every team that Jason Kidd plays on win? Why? I find it fascinating.
That’s a great analogy…
Ethan Hawke: Thanks, I’ve watched his whole career. The guy had a decent shot, decent moves, but he never had say Carmelo Anthony’s talent. My favorite thing about acting is that it is a collective art form. Set designers, costume designers, actors, writers, music, that’s what is beautiful. It’s a hodge podge of art. If you can figure out how to help other people excel, it feels pretty good, and you know what, you excel too. Figuring out what Julie needs to be great. I watched all of Denzel’s movies before Training Day. When is he at his best? He’s best with Gene Hackman, Viola Davis. He blows people off the screen. You can’t let that happen. You don’t defer. You need to be a good screen partner. It’s very meaningful to me to be a part of great acting performances. If Sally Hawkins has a decent Everett, then Maudie is not a TV movie. It will be cinema. And it will be good for me. I’m not a selfless little monkey. (laughs) Jason Kidd did win a title.
Maudie will be released in the United States on June 16th. From Sony Pictures Classics, Maudie is directed by Aisling Walsh and written by Sherry White. The film stars Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Gabrielle Rose, and Zachary Bennett.