44-year old Ethan Hawke plays jazz trumpeter Chet Baker in his next film, Born To Be Blue. It is set in 1969 when the musician and one-time heart-throb was 40 and a heroin addict.

At the time, the quiet-spoken, gentlemanly Oklahoma-born trumpeter had lost the ability to play after having most of his teeth punched out. The film centres on the musician’s relationship with girlfriend Diane Vavra.

“It’s extremely bittersweet because it’s the last period he was ever sober,” Hawke tells today’s Guardian newspaper. “He temporarily could have salvaged some part of his life. But no sooner did he learn to play again than he took on all the same habits. He was just a really beautiful, soulful person who wasn’t in control of his habit."

The actor also talks about losing “two of (his) great heroes” to heroin, referring to River Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. He starred with Hoffman in Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead and with Phoenix in Explorers. Hawke describes both men as two of the greatest actors of his generation.

“It’s very rare that you really would think of an actor as an artist, but River, even though he lived such a short period of time... he was a poet, you know. He was the real thing. And so was Phil. Both of these guys were real inspirations to me, and it’s really sad... I’m just trying to understand all that.”

Hawke will shortly be seen in Predestination, a time-travel transgender thriller, scheduled for a February 2015 release.