Ethan Hawke ran by me at 116th Street and Fifth Avenue just before 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 1, an official entrant in the annual New York City Marathon.
“I’m sorry you saw me at my darkest hour,” the prolific actor, screenwriter and author confessed less than 24 hours later over the phone. 116th Street and Fifth Avenue is right around Mile 22, a spot when most participants competing in the grueling 26.2-mile race across the five boroughs hit what runners refer to as “the wall.” Hawke was familiar with the feeling, as he says miles 20–24 were the most difficult.
“I never used to run, and it’s always interested me,” says Hawke about his decision to join the race. His wife, Ryan Hawke, a committed runner, also inspired him to take up the sport. “It’s fun to go to the gym for a reason other than what you look like. It’s good to be training for something.”
Best known for starring in the critically acclaimed films Dead Poets Society, Training Day and Boyhood, Hawke has pursued many ventures outside of acting—and running. This Saturday, he will team up with acclaimed guitarist G.E. Smith for the finale of Smith’s “Portraits” series at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. Hawke will be playing guitar and singing.
“I’ve never done a gig in my life before,” says Hawke. “I don’t exactly know what possessed G.E. to ask me… no one has ever asked me to do something like this before,” says Hawke. But his passion for music and admiration for Smith’s craft prompted him to agree to join.
Despite never performing music on stage, Smith has been playing guitar for over 20 years. “Playing guitar is incredibly conducive to a film set because there’s a lot of waiting,” he says. “And so it’s fun to doodle around on guitar.” He first picked at chords while on the Dead Poets Society set under the instruction of fellow actor Robert Sean Leonard. “It’s one of those things where acting and music meet,” says Hawke of performing this Saturday, noting that he likes songs that tell a story. “I’m not really a singer, but I can play one.”
G.E. Smith is a guitar legend, once the lead guitarist in the band Hall & Oates, and later the musical director of Saturday Night Live. This weekend’s performance is the final installment of this year’s “Portraits” series at Bay Street. These concerts have each featured Smith playing with special guests; other guests included Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, as well as Dan Rizzie, Ralph Gibson and Carter Burwell.
“I’m not very good, but the band that I’m playing with will be really good,” says Hawke. “Come at your own risk—but it should be a lot of fun.”
Hawke broke into the acting scene in 1989, when he portrayed shy Todd Anderson opposite Robin Williams’ unorthodox English teacher, John Keating, in the critically acclaimed film Dead Poets Society. Hawke, who always dreamed of being a writer, dropped out of college to audition for the role. “My main thought was, ‘I’m not going to get the part and then I can join the merchant marines and be a [writer].’ I wanted to be like Jack London, but that didn’t really happen,” says Hawke.
Hawke has since fulfilled that childhood dream. He is the author of two books, with a third, Rules for a Knight, a young adult novella that he wrote with his children in mind, set to come out later this month.
“There is an old Buddhist expression: To be a master at one craft, you have to apprentice at three. Acting is my great love. Everything derives from acting for me [and] I’ve learned about acting from writing,” he says.
Will running become one of his apprentice crafts? “Right when I finished it, I wanted to do [another one] immediately,” he says of marathons. “Today, I feel like a half marathon would be just fine.”
Catch Ethan Hawke and G.E. Smith this Saturday, November 7, at Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor. The show begins at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit baystreet.org or call 631-725-9500.