If you were sitting in a movie theater in 1989, chances are you were watching Ethan Hawke and the late Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society. Yet while onscreen their student-teacher relationship that was an integral part of the film may have brought a tear to your eye, it seems Ethan Hawke wasn’t sure if Robin Williams liked him. Turns out, he did.
As he attended the Karlovy Film Festival to pick up the festival’s President’s Award, Hawke told reporters his patience for Robin’s on-set joking and antics would wear thin. Being a young actor at the time who was trying to make a good impression on both directors and audiences, Hawke often thought Williams disliked him. Since Hawke was intent on staying in character even when the cast had downtime between shooting scenes, he found it hard to do so with Williams constantly trying to make him laugh. While he didn’t appreciate it at the time, Ethan has come to realize Robin actually considered him to be an extremely talented actor.
Now 50 years old himself, Ethan Hawke credits Robin Williams for not only making him a better actor during the filming of Dead Poet’s Society and beyond, but also with helping him hire his first Hollywood agent. In fact, he said the agent called him one day, told him Robin Williams said he was set to have a stellar career in Hollywood, and offered him his services. As they say, the rest is history.
Having gone on to become not only an acclaimed actor but also a screenwriter and even a director himself, Ethan Hawke has reflected back on the making of Dead Poet’s Society and now feels he has a much better understanding of Williams. Pointing to a part in the movie where Williams stated he found Hawke’s character to be intimidating, Hawke now realizes that in a weird way, this was the case. As a young actor whose intensity and honesty were coming through day after day on the set, Hawke believes Williams quickly developed a respect for him that went far beyond anything he imagined.
Choosing to learn from his experiences with Williams during Dead Poet’s Society, Ethan Hawke now tries to return the favor to young actors on the sets of his movies. By doing so, he hopes to plant the seed that will help another young actor go on to a stellar career.