Recently, Ethan Hawke quietly popped up at the iconic Houston music venue Rockefeller’s to entertain a small crowd with anecdotes and music. The musical part of the evening came courtesy of a couple of friends of his: Southern singer-songwriters Jack Ingram (Texas’ own) and Ben Dickey (from Arkansas).
They were also there to promote Hawke’s latest movie Blaze, which he co-wrote and directed. It’s a biopic on the life and career of Blaze Foley, a struggling Texas musician played by Dickey, in his feature-film debut. Both Hawke and Dickey have been making stops all over Texas to promote the movie, which has already played this year’s SXSW to acclaim.
“I guess it’s tipping our hat to the South,” says the Austin-born Hawke about the film. “In a lot of ways, the movie represents a kind of Southern bohemia you don’t see very often. You hear a lot, in the news, that the South is one thing, or people think they know the South, or they think they know. And one of the things I love about country music and roots music or the blues is it’s shot from the heart, and it’s got a personal feel to it and a personal touch. And we try to do that with the movie.”
The movie is mainly about the doomed romance between Foley and actress/ex-wife Sybil Rosen (played by Alia Shawkat) and how their idyllic love affair was destroyed by Foley’s erratic behavior, behavior that eventually cost him his life when he was shot and killed by a man in 1989. “There’s an underlying thrum throughout our movie, which is that Blaze is not well and he’s suffering in a way,” says Dickey, who won a special jury award for acting when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year.
“And I have people in my life, who are now gone, that maybe if someone would’ve helped out a little bit earlier, they might’ve been able to figure it out for them. But a lot of artists and a lot of creative people — and some that aren’t — struggle, and I think that love and music and art often intertwine when it comes to people who struggle.”
Hawke says he and Dickey have had the idea to do a Blaze Foley biopic almost as long as they’ve known each other. The two have a strong friendship, thanks mostly to their wives, who have been friends since the third grade. (Dickey’s wife was an art director on the movie, while Hawke’s wife served as a producer.) When they met, they instantly found that they had a lot in common.
“I’m a huge Steve Martin fan. And, on one of his records, he’s got these little, like, lightning-fast jokes and he says, ‘Grandpa — bought a rubber!’ And I was just walking — we had just met. We were having breakfast, and I was walking to his car and I said to myself, ‘Grandpa —’ And he said, ‘Bought a rubber!’ And I was like, ‘Oh yeah!’”
Blaze is yet another high point in the great year Hawke is currently having. He has already received universal praise for his performance as a conflicted priest in First Reformed and will also star in the upcoming romantic comedy Juliet, Naked. In that movie, Hawke stars as a washed-up rocker, yet one of the many musicians Hawke has played throughout his film career. Between this movie and Blaze, it makes you wonder how much does music play a role in Hawke’s life.
“It’s really everything to me,” he says. He recalls the time he saw Bill Clinton bring a very divisive crowd together during a Willie Nelson concert. “And Bill Clinton — the newly former President Clinton — came onstage to introduce Willie. And people booed him so severely and cheered him so severely, that fights were erupting all over the Beacon Theatre.
And Clinton said, ‘Whoa, I see some of you support me and some of you hate me, but all of you love Willie Nelson.’ And the place just erupted. And there’s this meeting ground, and that’s this place where music lives, where it’s beyond language. It’s an empathy generator, you know, and we can hear each other’s souls. And I love it so much.”