Their on-screen teacher-student bond in 1989’s Dead Poets Society continues to move movie-goers more than three decades later, but Ethan Hawke says that his real-life relationship with late co-star Robin Williams was somewhat rockier.
Speaking to journalists at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, where he was awarded the President’s Award, Hawke admitted that as a young actor, he had little patience for Williams’s antics during filming, Variety reports.
“I thought Robin hated me,” Hawke, who had his breakthrough role in the Peter Weir film, shared. “He had a habit of making a ton of jokes on set. At 18, I found that incredibly irritating. He wouldn’t stop and I wouldn’t laugh at anything he did.”
Hawke, who played a teenage student taught by Williams’s unconventional and inspiring English teacher, remembered his co-star needling him during filming, but said he’s since come to see the older actor’s perspective.
“There was this scene in the film when he makes me spontaneously make up a poem in front of the class,” he recalled. “He made this joke at the end of it, saying that he found me intimidating. I thought it was a joke. As I get older, I realize there is something intimidating about young people’s earnestness, their intensity. It is intimidating — to be the person they think you are. Robin was that for me.”
Williams, who died by suicide in 2014, at least liked his young co-star enough to help him out in Hollywood. According to the now-50-year-old Hawke, the famed comedian helped him get his first agent.
“[The agent] called, saying, ‘Robin Williams says you are going to do really well,'” the actor, screenwriter and director said.
Hawke shared more about his experience filming with Williams during a 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, explaining how, at the time, he struggled with his co-star’s improv and tendency to crack up the crew.
“I really wanted to be a serious actor,” he told Norton. “I had read Stanislavsky and I had what was supposed to be in my pockets and I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane he got. He would make fun of [me]. ‘Oh this one doesn’t want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand, I was trying to do a good job. I want to be Montgomery Clift over here, you’re trying to be Zero Mostel or something. So I thought he hated me because he would constantly lay into me. No sooner would action start and he would lay into ‘Todd’ over here. That was my character’s name.”