The Ways Ethan Hawke’s 'The Last Movie Stars' Gets Creative with Lost Interviews

Credit: HBO Max
How do you tell the story of people's lives just using interview transcripts? 

Ethan Hawke has spent three decades telling stories. He is a master at approaching filmmaking with care and humanity, understanding that each project has a unique message and style that is meaningful to each person. 

This approach is something Hawke continues when exploring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s lives in his new docuseries, The Last Movie Stars. Hawke recently unpacked the series on the Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso podcast, and discussed why he used his friends and community to tell a story that “doesn’t exist in a vacuum.” 

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Ethan Hawke and The Last Movie Stars

The Last Movie Stars was created and directed by Hawke and is based on a series of transcripts from destroyed tapes about Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman’s lives as actors and a married couple. The docuseries springs from a project that Newman had commissioned friend and screenwriter Stewart Stern to do. 

After recording a massive set of interviews with a ton of people in Newman and Woodward's lives in preparation for a memoir he wanted to write, Newman ultimately stopped the process and destroyed the tapes, leaving only the transcripts behind. Newman’s estate reached out to Hawke about directing a documentary building on the transcripts, and Hawke agreed. To make them work for a film, the transcripts needed voices. 

Hawke brought in a lot of actors that he knew to essentially play the people that had been interviewed.

When asked why he made this choice, Hawke said, “We don’t exist in a vacuum. You know, you can’t tell your story or my story without telling the story of the people around us. Friends, people who shape the way we think, society, culture, what’s happening politically is moving us internally and externally.”

Hawke, who has been a fan of Newman’s acting since watching Hud in theaters with his father, found value in celebrating someone’s life through a community that looks back at what the last generation of actors had to offer us. The goal of the docuseries is to recreate a conversation between friends rather than the traditional documentary style that we often see.  

Paul Newman and Joanne WoodwardCredit: El Pais

“I wanted these interviews to feel like they were lost and rediscovered like we were eavesdropping on friends. Paul and Joanne’s story doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s our generation looking back on the one before it. You can’t tell their story without telling the story of the people around us,” Hawke said.

By celebrating these ideas and the creative community, we are learning what was and in some ways is still valuable in the Hollywood culture. It’s a journey of creating something new from the work of a past generation. 

The key question that Hawke asked himself throughout the process of exploring and retelling the lives of his idols is what meant something in their lives. Understanding that allowed Hawke a deeper insight into who these people were when they were alone, with no one around to watch them. The real story is the legacy and impact that these actors had left behind on their community and the next generation. 

While The Last Movie Stars is a docuseries, Hawke's approach to Newman and Woodward is something we can be mindful of when writing characters. Finding out what matters and drives the characters and influences the other characters of the world grounds them, and makes them feel tangible and deeply personal. 

You can stream The Last Movie Stars on HBO Max now. 

Did you watch? Let us know what you think in the comments below!     

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