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The Ethan Hawke Actors Studio

Hawke in a rehearsal of A Lie of the Mind with Keith Carradine (in the white chair).  

Following a recent rehearsal of A Lie of the Mind, Hawke, Whaley, and Hamilton head across the street for some cheap Japanese. Since Things We Want, the three have found themselves working together again, a lot. Hamilton and Hawke, in particular, now seem to come as a kind of theatrical package deal. When they were doing Hurlyburly together, they got a visit backstage from Meryl Streep. She complimented them, then asked about their rehearsal process. They explained that they’d known each other since they were 18. “Oh. You cheated,” Streep said.

As for the string of collaborations, “it’s not by design,” says Hamilton. “But you’re usually trying to figure out what you’re doing next while you’re doing the thing you’re doing. So you’ll ask, ‘What are you doing next? Oh, that sounds cool. Do you mind if I call them, too?’ ”

“Does being sexually involved have anything to do with it?” says Whaley, deadpan.

“No, not at all,” says Hamilton. “That’s a totally separate thing. Being men, we can compartmentalize very well.”

“Because you have your separate compartments,” says Whaley.

“Where we put things,” says Hawke.

And just like that, everyone is 18 years old again.

Together, they have the easy rapport of brothers. Whaley, who’s 46 and now focuses mostly on writing and directing unflinching indie films (his debut, Joe the King, was a quasi-autobiographical story about a rough childhood in upstate New York and co-starred Hawke), is like the eldest: sharp, funny, occasionally caustic, and not in the least bit romantic. The Golden Globes just aired the night before, and he says, “Every year I tell myself I’m never going to watch it, and then I have a few drinks and forget everything I forswore. So I’m watching, and I’m just cursing. I’m about to throw my shoe at the screen. And my wife is like, ‘Honey, should I turn this off?’ And I’m like, ‘No, no, no.’ ” The name of one winner comes up, someone they all knew from the New York theater scene and who they agree is good but not exceptional. Whaley shrugs. He says drily, “Sometimes luck is with you, sometimes it’s not. Look at me. I haven’t had luck in ten years. I’m sitting here eating seaweed salad. I could be eating seaweed salad in Bel Air.”

Hamilton, with his scruffy beard and easy charm, is like the middle child: conciliatory and quick to steer the stories back on track and remind the others (well, mostly Frank) that he might not want to deride that millionaire blockbuster director right into a reporter’s recorder. Hamilton is a recent dad, and he recalls the breakup of Malaparte like this: “We were all getting a little older. We didn’t necessarily want to hang out with each other every night.”

“That’s it,” says Hawke. “Monogamy was the death of Malaparte.”

Hawke, despite being their director, seems like the youngest brother: the enthusiast. He’s excited by ideas. He likes to collect, and keep handy, memorable quotes: “People who succeed and do not push on to a greater failure are the spiritual middle-classers” (Eugene O’Neill) or “You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way” (Bob Dylan). If he likes a book or film, he wants to know what you thought of it, and if you haven’t seen it or read it, he wants you to run out and see it or read it right away. He’s happiest when he gets to work with his friends. “For me, the fun thing about directing a play is that everybody in it is somebody I like,” he tells me. “It creates a very warm, safe, sandbox feeling. That’s where I succeed.” On the eve of the last week of rehearsals, he wrote everyone in the A Lie of the Mind cast a personal letter. That’s not the kind of thing that happens on a Hollywood set. “I have worked with some very notable actors,” Hawke says, “where I’ve been genuinely moved by the depth of their gift, yet also wanted to fucking jab a stake through their heart. They’re so narcissistic and horrible. I can’t work like that.”

Earlier, he’d said to me of his friends, “Josh is my friend who we’ve really learned about acting together. When we were all younger, he was a good actor, but mostly he was kind of good-looking and had this likable, affable way about him. Over the years, he’s developed into a tremendous actor,” and it seemed clear that Hawke could well have been talking about himself. And when he said of Whaley, “He’s one of the most massively underrated artists in this country. He’s like our Cassavetes. Frank’s out there hustling his movies on the Internet, doing things the hard way, making movies on a dime,” he could well have been talking about the person he sometimes wishes he could be. His celebrity has always insulated him from that kind of hustling. But he can still get a contact high from the romance of struggle.