Ethan Hawke lives up to Siskel Center Renaissance honor


Ethan Hawke
Vincent D’Onofrio
let loose for the
Gene Siskel Film Center’s
Annual Renaissance Gala
last night

Sitting in a couple of easy chairs on a stage in the Ritz Carlton’s Grand Ballroom, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio traded professional and personal stories like old friends in a living room.

Their “intimate conversation” was the main attraction of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s Annual Renaissance Gala. Loaded with personal revelations and professional observations, the cozy back and forth capped off an evening that began with an opening reception and a lavish dinner.

Hawke was the evening’s honoree. D’Onofrio — his frequent costar, occasional teacher, and close friend — came along to guide the discussion.



“To be here is such an honor,” said Hawke when he joined D’Onofrio onstage. “Before we start talking about my career and everything like that, I want to say thank you.” He maintained this level of exceptional modesty for the rest of the night. After finishing with his gratitude for the audience, he immediately praised D’Onofrio.

“You couldn’t have chosen any better,” he said. “If I was forced to pick one person who has deeply impacted the movement of my acting life, it is this man … This is one of the finest acting teachers in New York. He happens to be a giant, you know, successful actor himself, but he helps a lot of people.”

D'Vincent Onofrio and Ethan Hawke
Vincent D’Onofrio and Ethan Hawke

Then they called for bourbon and talked about acting techniques and career trajectories, victories and struggles, bad habits, fond memories, hopes, dreams, and the mutual love they have for one another.

With hundreds of credits for acting, writing and directing between them, Hawke and D’Onofrio gave the audience a unique glimpse of Hollywood that most outsiders, or even insiders, ever get to see.

Their bond was familiar and obvious from the get-go. They’ve worked together developing Hawke’s characters. They’ve hunkered down in trailers polishing up dialogue. They’ve helped one another grow from famous upstarts to versatile, confident professionals.

They treated the audience like a friend, interrupting profound topics at-hand to tell mundane stories that were juicy and revealing. Since Hawke was the guest of honor, his faults and vulnerabilities were on full display.

According to D’Onofrio, Hawke sometimes “steals pens and stuff,” and was occasionally unpleasant before he got married. Hawke confirmed the latter by recalling that his mother once told him, “Oh, yeah, you used to be an asshole,” and praising his wife, whose guidance and support was the foundation of many successes that he mentioned throughout the evening.

But Hawke’s talent was on even greater display. The nuance, process, and craft of his technique became the subjects of impromptu forums whenever they were mentioned.

Ethan Hawke
Ethan Hawke

Early in his career, Hawke got in the habit of turning down roles that required English accents because they put “an artifice between me and the camera,” until D’Onofrio helped him think otherwise. Hawke keeps a notebook to develop his characters throughout every project, a practice that D’Onofrio finds “fascinating.” Hawke focuses on certain phrases of dialogue to the point of obsession while developing individual characters.

“Directors love him. Writers love him,” said D’Onofrio. And audiences obviously do, too.

When the conversation paused to make way for highlight reels of Hawke’s career, which it did on several occasions, the ballroom burst into applause with every clip. Dead Poets Society, Before Sunrise, Reality Bites, Magnificent Seven, Before Sunset, Training Day, Before Midnight, Born to Be Blue … The favorites never seemed to end.

Ethan Hawke’s incomparable career prompted the Siskel Center to dedicate an evening in his honor, and his outstanding personality made it worth every minute.