MICHELLE WILLIAMS: How important was it for you to premiere your movie here in Austin?
ETHAN HAWKE: I don’t know. I want to make sure that I sound as sincere as I am. The biggest collaborator of my adult working life has been Richard Linklater. And the work that he has done with the Austin Film Society is so impressive and has been such an inspiration to me. Before Sunrise came out, which was over 10 years ago, we would do these joint benefits—one for my theater company and then another for the Austin Film Society, which we raised a bunch of money for. And Rick just ran with this. They have raised so much money and helped start so many young people’s careers and given so much money to young filmmakers. In some ways when I was making The Hottest State my dream of the finish line was always premiering it at the Paramount. If I could finish this movie, and get a distributor, I would get to come down, we could raise money for Austin Film Society, and I still have a lot of family in Texas so they could come here and watch it right at the Paramount. So that was tonight and I’m really happy about that.
MW: This movie was adapted from a book you wrote of the same name The Hottest State. Tell us about the story.
EH: It’s a very, very simple story. Well I should say when I wrote the book I was in my early 20s and really struggling with relationships and realizing that it is through relationships that we define ourselves and learn about who we are. The truth of the matter is there are so few books about young men in relationships and there is so much stuff about young women. Men are too insecure to talk about these things and I thought I would try and write a story about that. And I did and it was really fun and I learned a lot about writing. It was a cathartic experience for me. And then 10 years went by and these producers approached me about making this and it seemed like maybe it would be fun to revisit it as a grown up. I’m a father now and my life is so different. The book was so personal and I thought, Maybe it would be interesting. And I also wanted to make a movie and it’s hard to get the money together and people were interested in giving me the money to do this one so I did.
MW: I understand one of the stars of this movie that was also in Chelsea Walls, helped inspire you to go ahead and push this project along.
EH: Absolutely. When I was making Chelsea Walls I met this guy Mark Webber who I just fell in love with. We were a lot alike. And I thought, Wow he would be really right to play this part of William Harding. So I started adapting it with him in mind. He gave me the energy to do it and I never seriously considered anyone else for the part.
MW: Is that how a lot of the casting was?
EH: No, just really that part. In many ways this movie is not like other movies that get released are in that it’s like cinema self-expression. It’s the kind of style of movie that used to be popular in the 70s. The movie is so much about William I had no idea who else to cast. Catalina came in and the part was written for a little Sarah Lawrence white girl but Catalina had such a great take on the character it just changed that whole dynamic. And once she’s Latino then her mother had to be Latino. The whole movie changed because I cast Catalina. In the book they go to Paris and I thought wow, Maybe I’ll play with The Hottest State themes and mix those metaphors a little bit and have them go down to Mexico instead.
MW: The music is really such a big part of this film. And Catalina’s character Sarah is an aspiring singer. Was there any thought to having her do some of the singing or did you already have it worked out in your head how you wanted the music handled?
EH: It is such a big part of it. I always thought of the movie as a kind of musical. When you are 21 and falling in love it is set to music—it is a mix tape. So I wanted the whole movie to feel like a mix tape but I wanted all the music to feel original. I don’t like that so much when you go see a movie and they just bought a bunch of music and it’s like, “Oh what’s the best scene in the movie?” “That scene where they played that Rolling Stones song that everyone loves so much.” But to answer your question, we wanted Catalina to do all her own singing in it and we started on it and then Catalina finally said one day, “I think it would be so much better if you get somebody else to sing the song.” It’s hard to do. And she did a great job–she learned to play the guitar and she was there when we did all the recording. We found this great Argentinean singer to sing the songs and we were there and Catalina was there and we worked on how we should do them and how insecure the song should sound, you know, to just find the character together. It was a lot of fun.
MW: The rest of the music was all original music by Jesse Harris.
EH: He wrote a bunch of those songs for Norah Jones’s first record and he is a beautiful songwriter. I knew him when I first moved to New York and I knew that I had a character that was a songwriter and so I called him up and asked him if he had some songs or if he could write some songs for this movie. The idea just bloomed out there and we thought, Well why doesn’t he just right all of the music for this movie? That way it would have a continuity of authorship and the music would be this kind of narrator–like a Greek chorus–and then we would get other people to record Jesse’s songs. So Catalina’s character would sing some of them. For example, the movie starts and it’s a flashback of Texas so what should the score to that be? Well, Willie Nelson. So I went back to Jesse and said, “What’s the best thing you got? Let’s send it to Willie and see if he will do it.” So that’s how we kind of worked it out
MW: There are a lot of personal aspects of this movie and of the book of course and you get the sense of having Texas in your heart and New York in your head. That sort of juxtaposition was really made apparent through the music and through the movie. Just to see that was great. And see that men do go through just as much pain and heartache as a lot of women do. I hope that more men go out and see it and don’t think that it’s a chick flick.
EH: They probably will.
MW: They will be so mistaken. Hopefully the girlfriends will take them.
EH: I want it to be the movie where the classic guy has a tear in his beer over some girl who broke his heart and his buddy will say to him, “Did you ever see that movie The Hottest State?” And he’ll just slide him the DVD and the guy will feel a little bit better and be like, “All right, I can carry on.”