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Ethan Hawke remembers the first time he was 'washed up': 'I was 14'

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Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images

Ethan Hawke was one of Monday night’s tribute honorees at the Independent Film Project Gotham Awards in New York, and the Born to Be Blue star recalled a time when things weren’t going so well in his career.

“I remember a couple of years ago I was sitting at a table back over there, and Matt Damon was winning this exact prize. And I remember he spoke about the first time he came to the Gotham Awards. He said it was the year Good Will Hunting came out. I was here that year too. And I remember it vividly, a) because I love that movie, and b) because that was the second time I was absolutely 100 percent convinced I was completely washed up. Reality Bites was passé. The whole poster boy for Gen X thing was done; nobody was interested in that anymore,” Hawke said. “It was worse than it had been when I was a kid, because they wouldn’t even let me audition. My agent, who is here tonight, they’d call up and say, ‘Hey, he really wants to go in for that,’ and they’d say, ‘Yeah, we know him. We just want somebody else.'”

As Hawke explained during his speech, that was actually the second time he faced a crossroads in Hollywood. “The first time I was washed up, I was 14. This is true! This is absolutely true,” Hawke said. “This is my experience in this life. I was 14 years old, and I got cast in Explorers, it was supposed to be a big deal. Joe Dante was directing. It didn’t even play a weekend. I’m 14 years old, and I remember reading one particular notice that said, ‘The only thing that’s clear about this vague mess of a movie is that Ethan Hawke is not a movie star. And the American public has thoroughly rejected him.’ And I was 14, right? Welcome to the arts, pal!”

Hawke, who received his honor from Reality Bites costar Winona Ryder (a photo of their reunion is above), explained that those past experiences gave him some manner of perspective on the future.

“Now that I’ve been riding the roller coaster for more than 30 years, I can say the only thing I know for certain is I will be washed up again very soon,” he said. “I know that, and I know that it is very, very difficult to make anything beautiful.”

After comparing creating art to planting trees in a forest, the Oscar-nominee continued, “Movies and independent film is the church of my choice. So it’s absolutely 100 percent unnecessary to give me a prize for this. I love doing this, and I hope the next time I’m washed up that it won’t be the last time because there are so many people here tonight that I want to work with again — who I’ve already worked with — people who I love. And there are so many people here that I’ve never met who I’d love to work with, because your life is dedicated to the exact same thing that mine is — and I think all of us will say a special welcome to everybody who is here for the first time. Keep making movies, and thank you.”

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