Baltimore Sun

Hawke tried to resist making doc on Newman, Woodward

- By Peter Larsen

When Ethan Hawke was offered the chance to direct a documentar­y about married movie stars Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, he knew it was a huge opportunit­y.

But he didn’t say yes, at least not at first.

“My first reaction was, ‘Absolutely not,’ ” Hawke says in a recent interview. “I just knew it would hijack my brain. And I worried a lot.”

Hawke, 51, knew a fair bit about Newman, who died at age 83 in 2008, and Woodward, 92, who retired from public life after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease some years ago.

He knew they had attended the same acting classes as Marlon Brando, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. They’d made scores of movies together, often acting together as they had in the 1990 masterpiec­e “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge,” a film for which Hawke had auditioned. Their Newman’s Own food line had raised millions for philanthro­pic causes.

As “The Last Movie Stars” — the six-part documentar­y now streaming on HBO Max — makes clear, they were special. Not that it was originally going to be that big of a project, Hawke says.

“If they had said to me, ‘Do you want to direct a six-part docuseries?’ I would have said no, definitely,” he says. “They said, ‘You know, we’ll just make a little two-hour documentar­y, and we have some material for you.’ And they sent me some home movies that were really charming.

“It felt like somebody daring you: ‘I dare you to make a documentar­y about it,’ ” Hawke says. “I was like, all right, I’ll jump off

the high dive. I’ll take the dare. ”

At some point in the ’80s, Newman recorded hours of interviews for a memoir, which included the couple but also family and friends such as writer Gore Vidal, directors and frequent collaborat­ors George

Roy Hill and Martin Ritt, Woodward’s stepmother, and Newman’s first wife.

But when Newman decided to ditch the memoir a few years later, he burned all the tapes, though the conversati­ons still existed in hundreds of pages of transcript­s.

Hawke took the transcript­s and reached out to his many actor friends to breathe life back into the stories the transcript­s told. George Clooney plays Newman, Laura Linney took Woodward, and others— including Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Zoe Kazan and Josh Newman — handled different reallife characters in the transcript­s.

While there’s a bounty of glorious clips from films good to those less so, the length of “The Last Movie Stars” gave Hawke plenty of space to go deep into the lives of Newman and Woodward, exploring the harder chapters in a marriage that lasted

50 years — Newman’s drinking, Woodward’s disappoint­ment in setting aside her career to care for her children, and the loss of their son Scott to drugs.

It’s clear, though, by the end of the series that their love for each other was always strong enough to weather the rough times, Hawke says.

Near the end of the film, Hawke visited the couple’s longtime Connecticu­t home and filmed inside the renovated barn where Newman and Woodward screened movies, hosted parties and displayed all the many awards they’d received in their careers.

“I left there profoundly depressed because all these things that I’d coveted or thought would give life meaning are just sitting there collecting dust,” he says. “But then I had this realizatio­n that those awards weren’t for us, or they weren’t for now. They were for them in that moment, for them and them only.

“And then I had this realizatio­n that the biggest legacy they have is the way they lived their life, and the impact that can have on all of us,” Hawke says. “I was kind of like, ‘That’s what the movie should feel like when it’s over.’ ”

 ?? HBO ?? Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman are the subjects of the six-part documentar­y “The Last Movie Stars.”
HBO Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman are the subjects of the six-part documentar­y “The Last Movie Stars.”

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