With Hollywood currently fighting over artificial intelligence and the future of the movie industry, actor and Wildcat director Ethan Hawke is sure about one thing.
He doesn’t want to be brought back as a digital zombie. And by digital zombie, we’re talking about actors who’ve been digitally recreated on screen, whether it’s because they’ve died or aged out of the role.
“It would probably offend me to my core,” Hawke told Narcity during a sit-down chat for the Audi Innovation Series in Toronto on Monday. He went on to compare it to being “misquoted in the papers,” and said he wouldn’t want it to happen with him in the future.
“It’s upsetting,” he said, while taking time out from his schedule at TIFF 2023 in Toronto. “I don’t know why exactly it’s upsetting, but it makes you not trust mankind. It makes you not trust reality.”
The digital zombie effect has become a definite trend in big-budget films over the last few years. The Flash revived several dead actors, including Christopher Reeve and Adam West, for one particularly uncanny scene, while Disney has used similar technology to de-age or deepfake characters such as Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in its Star Wars films. Harrison Ford was also de-aged for the latest Indiana Jones film.
If Hawke could time travel to a point when someone has done that sort of thing with him, he says he "probably wouldn't watch" the movie, and he wouldn't be pleased that it happened in the first place.
He also weighed in on the use of artificial intelligence to write movie scripts, and what that could mean if it becomes common in Hollywood.
"There's two parts of my brain. There's the optimist which says to me that I don't really worry about AI because AI can't do anything new," he said. "And what I'm trying to do my whole life is to do something new. And on the other level I'm like, well, what do any of us do but regurgitate old ideas anyway?"
But while AI might be able to regurgitate a script that looks and sounds a bit like every Oscar movie you've ever seen, Hawke says there's still no substitute for a real human on screen.
"I believe that we respond to life and breath in each other, and that there's a certain stunt to technology," he said.
"It's not the same as connecting to a performer. And that I think is what people really like to do, is see actors, musicians, painters — see these people who are alive today. Feel their breath in the frame."
He went on to say that he doesn't think AI will ruin art, although he does worry about how it might impact the money side of movie-making.
“How do we define progress?” he said. “Because I’m not sure a lot of these things we’re doing are helping. Well, they’re making somebody a lot of money, but I don’t know if they’re helping anybody.”
Hawke's been lending a helping hand these days to his own flesh and blood: daughter Maya Hawke, whom he directs in their new film Wildcat.
The flick made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Monday and sees Maya playing short-story writer Flannery O'Connor, along with several of her characters. The film also stars Laura Linney, Vincent D'Onofrio and Willa Fitzgerald.
Maya Hawke with "Wildcat" co-star Laura Linney after the film's TIFF 2023 premiere.Audi Canada
The Stranger Things star actually adapted one of O'Connor's stories for a Julliard audition several years ago, and she was the one who ultimately enlisted her dad to make a movie about the author's life and works.
"She hired me," Ethan Hawke told press on the red carpet.
Hawke has directed a handful of films over the last few decades, though he's best-known for his diverse projects as an actor. He starred in Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, paired up with Denzel Washington for Training Day and was part of the star-studded cast of Dead Poets Society, among many other memorable roles. More recently he played the villainous Arthur Harrow in Marvel's Moon Knight on Disney+ and appeared in The Northman and The Black Phone.
Despite the family ties, Ethan says he and Maya weren't worried about setting ground rules for the partnership before filming together.
"I think maybe if you had to talk a lot about that, maybe you shouldn't do it," Hawke told Narcity on the Wildcat red carpet. "If things like mutual respect and commitment and excellence, aspirational excellence — if those have to be written out as ground rules, maybe you should not work together."
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If Hawke seems to be forcefully pushing back on that idea, it's likely because he's been getting so-called "Nepo Baby" questions for a while now. Yes, Maya is his daughter, and yes, her mother is Uma Thurman, with whom she's also working on another film.
But famous parents will only get you so far, because at some point you have to deliver on screen. And when it comes to Maya Hawke, the 25-year-old has been piling up plenty of praise and fans from films outside of her parents' shadows, with roles in such movies as Do Revenge, Asteroid City and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. She also remains beloved for her role as Robin in Stranger Things, which is slated to end with one final season on Netflix sometime soon.
This actually isn't the first time that the Hawkes have worked together on a project, although it is their first feature. And while Narcity staff have yet to see the film, the early reviews have been positive.
Wildcat is one of the smaller productions at TIFF that was not made through the big studio system, and so the cast was allowed to promote it in Toronto even with the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike.
Several other films were also granted exemptions for their actor to walk the red carpet at TIFF 2023. That included such films as Gonzo Girl starring Camila Morrone, The Dead Don't Hurt with Viggo Mortensen and Hell Of A Summer, the slasher comedy from Maya Hawke's Stranger Things co-star Finn Wolfhard.
TIFF 2023 runs until September 17.