How Robin Williams Changed Ethan Hawke’s Early Career

Robin Williams made a huge impact on Ethan Hawke's career.

By Jason Collins | Published

This article is more than 2 years old

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Chosen as this year’s recipient of the President’s Award at the 55th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic, one of the oldest movie festivals in the world, Ethan Hawke discussed his career, ongoing projects, and his years-long friendship with Robin Williams. In a roundtable discussion with the assembled journalists, Hawke opened up about his friendship with the late actor and how he changed Hawke’s early career.

According to Variety, a large portion of Hawke’s discussion with the journalists consisted of him talking about his breakout role in 1989’s Dead Poets Society and his experience in working with actor and comedian Robin Williams. He revealed that, during the filming of the school days drama from 1989, he found his co-star incredibly irritating due to his rapid-fire comedic style, which didn’t sit well with the young and brooding Hawke. What’s even worse, he assumed that the feeling was mutual.

Ethan Hawke then explained how Robin Williams had a habit of making tons of jokes on set, which, at just 18 years old, Hawke found incredibly irritating. “He wouldn’t stop – and I wouldn’t laugh at anything he did,” said Hawke to the press. But things weren’t as Ethan Hawke perceived them. In fact, Williams helped Ethan Hawke get his first agent, who actually called Hawke on Williams’ recommendation.

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The scene from Dead Poets Society in which Ethan Hawke’s Todd Anderson had to spontaneously make up the poem really stuck with the younger actor. Robin Williams made a joke at the end of it, saying that he found Hawke intimidating. However, what Hawke thought was a joke turned out to be a life lesson for the now critically-acclaimed actor and a father of four. Hawke professed that now that he’s older — just as Williams did during Dead Poets Society — he senses a degree of intimidation in young people’s earnestness and their intensity.

After influencing Hawke, and entire generations of actors, moviegoers, and cinema enthusiasts, Robin Williams tragically died by suicide in 2014 – a death that instantly echoed worldwide. He was misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two years prior – a disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement, causing its signature tremors. However, an autopsy would later reveal that he was misdiagnosed and treated for the wrong illness, similar to Parkinson’s disease. Regardless, paired with the depression and anxiety issues he was known for, his condition introduced other severe symptoms like sudden and prolonged spikes in fear, insomnia, memory loss, paranoia, and delusions.

Robin Williams will forever be remembered for precious cinematic gems such as 1989’s Dead Poets Society, where he met Ethan Hawke, 1991’s Hook, 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire, and 1998’s What Dreams May Come – a heartbreaking film that was recently added to Netflix. We mustn’t forget his appearance in 1995’s Jumanji, which was probably his most iconic role, according to younger generations, and his appearance in 1997’s Good Will Hunting, for which he received an Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actor. Anyone interested in watching Ethan Hawke and Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society can do so on Amazon Prime.