Ethan Hawke on Robin Williams: It Was Obvious He Was in Pain

Ethan Hawke opened about the tragic death of Robin Williams, sharing what it was like to work with the comedy legend as a young actor and how he always sensed sadness behind all the jokes.


Hawke, who is at the Toronto International Film Festival, appeared on the Canadian radio program Q with Jian Ghomeshi and the discussion eventually veered towards the subject of the late actor. Below are some edited transcripts of the chat, but I strongly urge everyone to watch this in its entirety.

Hawke on the impact of Williams' death and how much he owed to him personally:

First off, I feel...this immediate sadness that is pervasive, in the whole community, when somebody who made all of us so happy reveals themselves to have been in tremendous personal pain. The happiness wasn't reciprocal—we didn't make him happy. That somehow rings to all of us. I think that it's not just me...look, this guy got me my first agent, OK...I owe that to him....

Hawke described shooting one of the most famous scenes in Dead Poets Society, ("I sound my barbaric yawp)

That was the scene where I was supposed to read a poem in front of the class and that was the first time in my life I ever experienced the thrill of acting and the thrill of losing's a high that I've chased my whole life since that day with lose yourself inside a story, that's in service of something way beyond you. And I felt that on Dead Poets Society....Robin gave that to was a magical experience for me.


This part is devastating and heartbreaking:

The other truth is, even [when I was] 18, it was obvious that he was in a tremendous amount of pain....anybody who was watching knew. A lot of people aren't watching, actually because he's so funny...When we lose a great, great clown, that's what he was, there are people who are scared of that world a little, but he was a light for the world.


But it wouldn't be a story about Robin Williams without ending on a joke:

I remember when they would hand out our checks on Dead Poets Society, he would go "Carpe per diem, kids! Carpe per diem!"


This one definitely got to me. Dead Poets Society is the movie I think of instantly when anyone says the name Robin Williams to me. It made a huge impact on my life and the lives of a lot of my friends. To many of us, Williams was and will always be that half-crazed zealous teacher wildly leading us into the next wave of bullshit life throws at us. Most of never got a real-life John Keating during our education but we always had Williams' "barbaric yawp" booming through that film.

Getting a glimpse of what he was like behind the scenes with these young actors during the making of that film is kind of wonderful.


Here's the scene Hawke referenced:



Hawke hit the nail on the head when he articulated the sadness that other people couldn't make Williams happy - even though he made the people around him happy. This has been bothering me but I didn't know how to express it.