Actor Ethan Hawke had a major revelation a couple years back: “It was shocking to wake up at 44 years old and realize that I made 40-some-odd movies and have never worked with a female director. I was a little ashamed of that,” he says.
In the two years since, the star of “Before Sunrise,” “Gattaca” and “Training Day” has made up for lost time, working with Rebecca Miller on 2015’s romantic comedy “Maggie’s Plan”; husband-and-wife team Bob Pulcini and Shari Berman on the 2015 drama “Ten Thousand Saints”; and, most recently, with Aisling Walsh on “Maudie,” which opens Friday.
Hawke was drawn to “Maudie” — about the real life of mid-20th century Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis and her complicated relationship with her husband Everett — because he wanted to work with a “good, woman director,” pointing to British Academy of Film and Television Arts award-winner Walsh. (The Irish director was honored for the 2012 BBC miniseries adaptation of the novel “Room at the Top.”)
He also wanted to work with Sally Hawkins — whom he calls one of the best actresses of his generation — who plays the title role.
A self-professed feminist, Hawke was intrigued by the film’s feminist subtext: “Maudie’s story is kind of a powerful feminist anthem” he says. “If the actor playing her husband is worth a damn, then this could be a serious movie.”
Hawke admits he was also encouraged to take the part of Maud’s curmudgeonly husband by his real-life wife, Ryan.
“My wife read this script, and she said, ‘I just want to live in a world where this movie gets made,’” Hawke says. “Unfortunately, you often see a lot of quality material that never gets made. I’m trying to help get these stories told.”
The inspiring tale describes how Maud, a diminutive arthritic woman plagued with gnarled hands and constant pain, pushes past her debilitating disease — as well as her controlling family and abusive husband — to become a successful artist.
“Maudie is a person who can be looked at as small or delicate or weak, when in fact the force of her personality and the force of her love is like titanium — it’s so powerful,” Hawke says. “I witnessed that over my life, that so many of the people you might first think are small or not strong end up in times of crisis, being the strongest. In fact, their challenges often make them, like so many women.”
Hawke sees the similarities between Maud’s professional struggle decades ago with the uphill battle women directors continue to face in Hollywood today.
“You know how hard it is for women directors,” he says, “because there just aren’t that many. Hollywood is still very much a boys club. The last few years I’ve had three female directors, and I’d like to have more.”
IF YOU GO
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett
Written by: Sherry White
Directed by: Aisling Walsh
Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes