"I've never tried to excel too quickly," Hawke says of maintaining his career. "Sometimes that trips people up."
The sensitive guy is now the tough guy: Ethan Hawke picks up a gun and grit for Assault on Precinct 13, playing a Detroit police sergeant trapped on New Year's Eve in a battle with crooked cops and prisoners. It's a role that 10 years ago would have been unlikely for the goateed star known for long walks along the Seine (Before Sunrise) and rejecting the establishment (Reality Bites). But since doing 2001's Training Day – for which he earned an Oscar nod – mainstream moviemaking has become acceptable in his book. "My taste has kind of expanded," Hawke, 34, says. The father of two (with ex-wife Uma Thurman) recently chatted about going commercial, playing the action star and chalking it all up to good fortune.
There are about a dozen deadlock moments in this movie. How do you think you'd do in a real-life standoff? Terrible, I'm sure. How many real Mexican standoffs do you think
that there've been in the world? Usually someone pulls the trigger and the other people run.
You've taken some hits for being such a renaissance man. Does that fuel your creativity? Real renaissance people are people who are into the sciences and also are an athlete and are also in the arts. Those are people like Benjamin Franklin and Da Vinci. These are truly great men. I operate in the small area of the arts.
Where you've been a writer, a stage actor, a director ... I think that anyone who has a notoriety or a certain celebrity at the age of eighteen, you're going to watch that human being try different things. I mean, I couldn't just do the same thing for my whole life. ... I've had to mature as a human being while people were watching me.
Are you writing anything at the moment? I'm trying to write a third book. ... It'll probably be years before I'm done with it.
Why do you think you've succeeded at making the transition from teen actor to serious contender? Part of it is good fortune. ... And, you know, I think that a lot of young actors get in trouble because they're in a hurry and they end up burning themselves out. And maybe because I've saved my money well. I mean, something as little as that means something. A lot of young actors end up having to do a lot of jobs that they don't like because they owe someone a lot of money or something.