A Hawke Builds His Nest
Which suited Hawke just fine. "He's a pretty mellow dude," says David Ayre, the screenwriter of Hawke's new film, Training Day, which opened Oct. 5. Until recently Hawke has mainly appeared in such low-budget fare as the 1994 slacker film Reality Bites and art house outings like last year's Hamlet. But the dude is now a dad, and his latest role—as a rookie cop opposite Denzel Washington's corrupt vet—signals a move from artsy outsider to mainstream marquee star. "When I first worked with Ethan, he was 24," says Richard Linklater, who directed him in 1995's Before Sunrise. "I was looking forward to the older actor he was going to become. He's a man now and a great father. It's cool to see."
Once a restless night owl with few commitments, Hawke is expecting his second child with Thurman, 31, in January. Before they met in 1997 on the set of the sci-fi thriller Gattaca, "marriage and fatherhood were not major priorities in my life," Hawke has said, "but I'm grateful they found me." Three years after they wed in a traditional ceremony at Manhattan's historic St. John the Divine cathedral, friends say the pair still can't get enough of each other. Makeup artist Kyra Penchenko, who has worked with both, recalls a recent night when Hawke schlepped from Manhattan to Paterson, N.J., just to surprise Thurman, who was there shooting a movie. "Uma's face just beamed," says Penchenko. When she visits his sets, she adds, "Ethan is all big smiles."
Which is not to say their marriage doesn't have its moments. "They're affectionate," says theater director Nicholas Martin, a friend of the couple's. "But there's some sparring too." While Hawke "will act just like a kid and offer some crazy idea," says Penchenko, Thurman "is the responsible, mature one."
Marriage and fatherhood have given Hawke a newfound perspective. "My parents were teenagers when I was born and they didn't have enough love for each other to keep them together," Hawke has said. "It's only since I've become a father that I understand the incredible pressure parenthood put on them at such a young age."
Hawke's own father was 18 and his mother just 17 when Ethan was born in Austin, Texas, in 1970. His parents split when Hawke was a toddler, and he moved to New Jersey with his mother, Leslie, at age 10. After appearing in local stage productions as a teen, Hawke landed a role in the 1985 teen adventure Explorers. When the movie flopped, he enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, only to drop out a few months later to film his break-through role as a sensitive schoolboy in 1989's Dead Poets Society. Even then "I hated the idea of becoming a teen hunk," he told the Chicago Sun-Times last year.
Instead he lived the bohemian life in New York City, moving into a small two-bedroom bachelor pad in Greenwich Village and juggling movie gigs with writing and theater. Partners in a now defunct theater troupe, he and his friend, producer Jason Blum, "used to go to the half-price ticket booth in New York and stand there handing out flyers trying to hustle people into our theater instead," Blum recalls. After his first major foray as a writer—the 1996 novel The Hottest State, about a sexually voracious actor—some critics labeled him a literary wannabe.
Friends say he shrugs off such naysaying. Says Andrew Fierberg, who directed Hawke in Hamlet: "He doesn't mind taking chances."
Nor does he mind the sometimes stinky business of being a new father. "I'm a full-service dad," he told The San Francisco Chronicle last year. "I change diapers and do everything." With another baby Hawke about to hatch, the renovations on the family's newly purchased farmhouse in Woodstock, N.Y., might have to wait. But after making the transition from grunge to grown-up, Hawke is in no hurry. "I feel so much less sure of anything than I did when I was 21," he says. "Then, I thought I understood the industry and acting and relationships and the world." And now? "I see how Democrats could 5 become die-hard Republicans, once they become parents."
Jennifer Longley and Amy Longsdorf in New York City, Elizabeth Leonard in Toronto and Alison Singh Gee in Los Angeles