The world, however, saw him as representative of a generation, and not always in a good way. “When I was younger, I was always so sad that I couldn’t ride with the Merry Pranksters, or that I didn’t get to hang out with Allen Ginsberg,” says Hawke. “I found the label Gen X kind of irritating, sure, but I actually like the other people associated with that time, Douglas Coupland or Kurt Cobain, so no shame in that. When Before Sunrise premiered in Berlin, Linklater and I took off to Barcelona to see R.E.M., and for some reason at the hotel we ran into Michael Stipe and went to his room and smoked cigarettes. Rick and Michael were both vegetarians, and they were talking very passionately about that. It felt very exciting for some reason. Then we went to the concert, and Michael dedicated his first song to Rick, and we looked at each other like, ‘That is so cool. You just got a song dedicated to you in a 35,000-seat stadium’—Gen X! Yeah!”
Though Thurman and Hawke’s lives remain intertwined—“We’re both so busy, we need each other to take care of the kids,” he says—the existences that they are leading today significantly diverge. Thurman, who has been dating hotelier Andre Balazs, bought a $5 million, three-story, six-bedroom house on 19th Street, with intentions of moving in, then flipped it. Hawke, who has indulged in dalliances but says he’s found no one special, landed in a hotel in Chelsea that’s been the site of numerous haute-bohemian triumphs and tragedies, and inspiration for Hawke’s first feature movie as a director, Chelsea Walls, a dreamy pastiche of Kris Kristofferson monologues and Beat poetry. The two-bedroom he’s renting is the kind of place he always wanted to live in, the apartment he had in mind when in younger days he’d dream of living where Henry Miller might’ve lived. “I’ve struggled with the belief that anyone who is a really, really serious artist should be poor,” says Hawke. “When the revolution comes, who’s going to be hung? I don’t want some fancy apartment, ’cause I don’t want them to hang me from a chandelier when the revolution comes.”
In a lot of ways, Hawke takes after his mom, who left the city five years ago to work for the Peace Corps in Romania, sick of feeling like a middle-aged person in New York looking for a date. “She likes to read books about Eleanor Roosevelt and great people, and I think she started feeling like her life was incredibly empty,” he says. “I think it also did a weird whammy on her when I got married and had a kid: My son’s an adult now.”
Hawke steps into the elevator. “Are you an actor?” asks a woman with pinkies linked with a toddler daughter.
“I am,” says Hawke.
“Do you know Ethan Hawke?” she asks.
“I do,” he says. “I was born the exact same moment as him.” She looks confused.
“I am him,” says Hawke.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she says. “I thought you were Ethan Hawke, and then I noticed your hair was a different color.”
“Hmm,” says Hawke. “I’ve never been a hair-dye guy. That’s not my trip.”
The sun beats into Hawke’s apartment, and the A/C is on the fritz. It’s cluttered and messy, with toys strewn all over, dozens of furry things in a pile near white bunk beds in his kids’ room, the only air coming in through a small window looking out on an air shaft. Once inhabited by Andy Warhol star Viva, Hawke’s bedroom is painted gold and deep blue, with a fresco of the Holy Trinity on the ceiling. An impish Gabriel lurks over the doorway. He has a bar-code label stuck to his ankle. “I can’t take it down,” says Hawke. “It’s too funny.”
Mostly the apartment functions as a show-and-tell of Hawke’s many hobbies. Wistful black-and-white portraits that he took of his kids rest on the lip of a piano, next to a few guitars—Hawke likes noodling around on them, especially during downtime on film sets, and is currently teaching himself to play Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain.” (“Modern music lacks the spit and piss of good soul music,” he notes.) A portrait of the Newton Boys that Hawke painted on that set hangs on one wall. There’s a manual typewriter on his desk; he wrote both his books on it. “The computer has destroyed fiction,” he declares. “Paragraphs get so perfectly sculpted they lose all their juice.”
In the living room, there’s an art project of a sort going on, though Hawke doesn’t have much to do with this one. Two women are kneeling by a massive slab of plywood that almost covers his threadbare Oriental carpet.
“What happened to my coffee table?” asks Hawke, scanning the room.
“We threw it out the window,” one of them deadpans.
The coffee table is actually shoved up against a wall with a dartboard, to make room for the construction of this collage, a housewarming gift from Linklater. It’s made up of index-card-size frame grabs—numbers from a projectionist’s reel, stills of women’s faces. The workers are clearly nervous around Hawke, though, and keep asking if he has any advice. “Just do it as you think is cool,” he says, flipping through the rubber-banded stacks of cards. “God, this is going to be awesome!” he says, and shakes his head. “This thing is totally odd! It can’t be pretentious, because it’s too odd.”
If Hawke sees Before Sunrise as the high point in his early adult life, then the filming of Before Sunset seems to be functioning as a kind of marker for this phase of life as well. “Dead Poets Society was all about how brilliant Peter Weir was—anyone could’ve played my part,” says Hawke. “But being in Before Sunrise was the closest thing I ever came to being in a band. Both of these movies are really personal. There’s not a goddamn thing Rick, Julie, and I don’t know about each other.”
Before Sunrise is the perfect summer movie, recording only the beginning of a romance, with no bitter contrail. It’s one night between the Eurailing Hawke and a French graduate student: Adulthood has just arrived for both, and though they fall in love, they don’t feel compelled to seal their future together. Before Sunset chronicles one day nine years later, after Delpy appears at a Paris bookstore to see Hawke’s character read from his new novel, which is largely based on their encounter. She is now in a dead-end relationship; he is in an unhappy marriage and makes comments such as these: “What is love? Respect, trust, admiration. I felt all those things. So cut to the present tense and I feel like I’m running a small nursery with someone I used to date. I’m like a monk. I’ve had sex less than ten times in the last four years. I feel if someone were to touch me I’d dissolve into molecules.”
“I don’t know who wrote that,” says Hawke. He adds, “You don’t make a movie like this without putting some blood, spit, and piss into it.”
The next day, Hawke had to fly back to Toronto for Assault on Precinct 13, so he couldn’t go to a concert at Irving Plaza he’d planned to see with some friends, which was a bummer. So his last night in New York for a while was spent with two of his best buddies, playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman and actor Frank Whaley, and their wives. They took him to a nice restaurant near Madison Square Park, somewhere he’d never been before, and he ordered some “fancy catfish.” It was very weird to be sitting in that restaurant with them talking about kids, at the kind of place that they wouldn’t have been caught dead at ten years ago. “I don’t know what it’s like to be anybody else,” says Hawke, “but what was nice for me about being young is that friendships have a real power and a weight because nobody’s hooked. And then slowly everybody starts getting hooked and you have a priority above your friendships, you have a relationship and wife and kids, things that are more important to you than making sure your homey’s doing all right. Now here I am, 33 and single again, and all of them are married. It’s like, who wants to hang with me, man? Nobody.”