Actor Ethan Hawke talks about cops, his career and teaming up with 'Training Day' director Antoine Fuqua again for his new movie, 'Brooklyn's Finest'.
Was it a 'no-brainer' coming back to work with Antoine Fuqua after 'Training Day'? Did you even bother reading the script?
Ethan Hawke: I did read the script. But I did feel exactly as you said. I had such a good experience with Antoine. We’d had so much fun together. It’s always better... It doesn’t matter what job you do, when you’re first getting to know people, you’re feeling each other out. And you don’t have to do that when you don’t have to start from square one. It makes it a lot easier.
And Antoine has such a passion, a feeling for this kind of subject matter. He cares so deeply about it. It makes it exciting to be near. Love it or hate it, it’s not a half-assed attempt. He goes full-out. We rehearsed the thing, and were inundated with cops and inundated with information about what these guys’ lives are really like and what their wives are really like. My house [in the film] was a real ex-cop’s house. These guys are on the set. These guys are reading the script and telling us what’s fake and telling us [about] the time they were shot…
You went on patrol also to play your character in the film, Detective Sal Procida?
EH: Yeah, I went on patrol for 'Training Day' and for this movie. It’s intense! We did it in Paterson [New Jersey]. We couldn’t get access to the Brooklyn cops. Also, we thought it would draw too much attention to the movie even if we did. So we did it in Paterson, New Jersey. There’s a lot of crime there as well. So I learnt a tremendous amount.
So what did they think of 'Training Day' when you went back?
EH: Well, that was the biggest difference. The first time I went on patrol, none of the cops or the criminals were real big 'Before Sunrise' fans! They didn’t own 'Dead Poets Society'! None of them had ever seen me in a movie, which meant I could be completely anonymous. This time, I wasn’t. People couldn’t believe they were getting arrested by the dude from 'Training Day'! Like, ‘Yo Jake! Tell ’em to let me go!’ So that was different.
The other difference was that the cops themselves like 'Training Day'. So there was a tremendous friendly atmosphere: they didn’t just think of me as some punk actor in the back seat. They felt like maybe this movie might be good, so they wanted to make sure we got it right. Like, ‘Make sure you don’t hold your gun [sideways] like that. Nobody does that’. They hate that!
You have no scenes with Wesley Snipes in 'Brooklyn's Finest' but what do you make of him as an actor?
EH: I remember him in 'Jungle Fever' and 'Mo’ Better Blues'... I can speak from experience. It’s impossible to steal the screen from Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes is about the only person who’s ever really done it.
How do you get so close to your character, Sal, in 'Brooklyn's Finest'?
EH: That’s just personal stuff. That’s what I loved about the story. What it’s really about is a guy who’s lost his self-esteem. And when people lose their self-esteem, they don’t have any compass anymore. His whole dignity is rooted in whether or not he can provide for his family.
Can you imagine having seven kids and two on the way like Sal?
EH: That I can imagine! As a father of three, that’s not that big a stretch.
How much pressure do you feel to provide for your kids, in terms of going for bigger movies?
EH: For me, that’s just a question of greed. You’ve got guys who’ve been on the force for 18 years making $36,000 a year. And if you’ve got five kids, you’re going to struggle. You’re going to really struggle. It’s a different ball of wax.
Do the police officers complain about their salaries?
EH: Yes, yes, yes, yes. They complain about it constantly and they’re right to. All that stuff in the movie is true. It’s hard when you... That speech my character has about what happens to all the confiscated money, where does it all go, what happens to all the drugs. Where does that stuff disappear to? Hundreds and thousands of dollars... And these guys are getting paid nothing.
Did they say what a reasonable wage should be?
EH: Each individual is different, with their different thoughts about how they could be paid better.
Is this why you did the film, as a social statement?
EH: I didn’t do the movie because of cops. What’s beautiful about the cop genre to me is that they’re not making that many dramas anymore, and it’s one of the few genre movies that really deals with real people and real situations. It’s the character stuff that interests me.
Each one of these storylines is like a little Bible story about greed. Sal can’t see what’s beautiful about his life. He has a wife who loves him. He has healthy kids. He’s got enough room. He just doesn’t have enough room the way he wants. He can’t send them to Catholic school. You can either see your life for what you have or... It’s two ways to be rich, right? Have a lot of money or need very little. He doesn’t see there are positives.
Do you see the film as a wider trend of social criticism towards the system?
EH: I wouldn’t know about that. That’s just what’s fun about the genre, though. It lets it be socio-political. It makes you think about those kinds of things in a way that maybe you didn’t, while at the same time being wildly entertaining.
Do you see the film’s themes and concerns as very modern?
EH: I don’t think our experiences are really that unique. One of the things that’s amazing about doing Shakespeare, for example, or the Greek plays – which are much, much older – is that the themes are all the same. This movie starts out with what is right or wrong – that’s an ancient story. And each one of these things is like a little parable about the greyness of making a good decision or a bad decision.
Moving on, why was 'Before Sunset' so important to you?
EH: Well, I’m not a police officer. I can play a 15th Century knight and it’s not going to be that personal to me. I might enjoy it immensely but those movies are very personal. That film, and others, I wrote or co-wrote – so they’re drawn from my experiences in life. So I have personal attachment to them that is different than just an actor.
Are you and Richard Linklater ['Before Sunrise' and 'Before Sunset' director] planning any more projects?
EH: We’re always trying to hustle something together. Right now, it’s getting harder and harder to hustle people out of their money!
Will you do more writing?
EH: Yeah, I’ll definitely do more. Wearing those hats is very mysterious to me. I love acting, and if there are good acting projects, I generally take them. And if I don’t like them, I generally start trying to create one and I write one.
So you don’t do money gigs?
EH: I’ve been really fortunate, my whole life. No, I don’t. But that’s been the great luxury of getting to do 'Dead Poets Society' at 18. It created a tremendous amount of freedom that I have tried to enjoy.
'Brooklyn's Finest' is now in cinemas.