T Charles Erickson
Ethan Hawke in ‘Macbeth,’ directed by Jack O’Brien at Lincoln Center Theatre
Hollywood stars attract lots of attention — and lots of scrutiny — when they hit Broadway.
That goes double when it comes to Shakespeare, which is exactly why Ethan Hawke is tackling “Macbeth.”
“There’s nowhere to hide in Shakespeare,” he says. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, it shows.”
Hawke, 43, is in high-exposure at the Vivian Beaumont, where the classic, now in previews, opens Thursday under the direction of Jack O’Brien.
The actor knows the stage well. It’s where he appeared in Tom Stoppard’s Russian-themed trilogy “The Coast of Utopia” and Shakespeare’s “Henry IV,” both directed by O’Brien.
It was Hawke’s trust for O’Brien and a newfound interest in the Scottish play — sparked by Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 “Macbeth” riff, “Throne of Blood” — that brought the “Before Midnight” star back to the Great White Way.
“I thought I might be right for it,” says Hawke. “I emailed Jack about it. He wrote back a seven-page email. I said, ‘Sh—, if that guy wants to do ‘Macbeth,’ I want to do it with him.’ ”
In O’Brien’s vision of “Macbeth,” the wannabe king is trapped in a living nightmare — or what the director calls “a pool of paranoia.”
Sounds nasty, but it’s right for exploring out-of-control desire, which motors Macbeth and occupies Hawke’s thoughts these days.
Richard Corkery /New York Daily News
Ethan Hawke with his wife, Ryan
“Ambition is a double-edged sword,” Hawke says, “whether it’s for money or sex or success. Without ambition we’d sit on our asses all day long. But with too much of it we choke ourselves and everyone around us.”
And the Hollywood star would know.
Before taking on the role, the star and the director discussed ambition in animal terms. Hawke cites the legendary battle between two wolves inside people. One wolf is evil, greedy and lustful. The other is good, loving, compassionate. So which wolf wins?
“The one you feed,” says Hawke.
Macbeth, of course, chooses the bad wolf — and Hawke is happy to provide the kibbles in what he calls an “epic poem about sin.”
The production, which runs through Jan. 12, arrives amid a litter of Shakespearean works on Broadway. “Macbeth” joins “Romeo and Juliet” (with Orlando Bloom) and “Richard III” and “Twelfth Night” (starring British star Mark Rylance).
Hawke is the lone American star, and he knows that puts him at a disadvantage when it comes to the Bard.
“I’m never going to bring what Mark Rylance brings to Shakespeare,” says Hawke. “My challenge is bringing real humility and truth.”
If he can pull it off, he’ll get plenty in return.
“If you can do Shakespeare, everything else becomes easier,” he says. “It’s like swimming with weights on your back. No, that makes it sound tedious, and it’s anything but. It’s like running five miles after you’ve just run a marathon.”