By Seija Rankin
October 05, 2020 at 09:00 AM EDT
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Credit: Brigitte Lacombe

Ethan Hawke has been very productive in quarantine.

This month the actor returns to television for the first time in almost a decade (to star in the Showtime adaptation of James McBride's The Good Lord Bird), and next year he'll release his fifth book, A Bright Ray of Darkness. Hitting shelves Feb. 2, the novel tells the story of a young man making his Broadway debut in Henry IV just as his marriage is falling apart. Jordan Pavlin, senior vice president and editorial director at Knopf, describes Darkness as "soaked in rage and sex and longing and despair, a ferociously intelligent evisceration of fame and celebrity, and a transfixing backstage glimpse into the magic of New York theater."

EW is exclusively revealing the book's cover, and Hawke's own words teasing what readers can expect from the tome, his first since the 2015 medieval tale Rules for a Knight. Read on to find out what inspired the four-time Oscar nominee to get back to the page, and the meaning behind the new book's fiery cover.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's been a long time since your last novel — what was the prompt for this book?

ETHAN HAWKE: I started thinking about this novel on the book tour for Ash Wednesday. I knew I wanted to write something about acting. It just took a long time for me to find the shape and the story.

How much of the work is based on your experiences as an actor?

The book is basically everything I've learned about the theater in the past 35 years of work jammed together as if it all happened in one fictional production.

Any characters that readers will recognize?

I take inspiration from life, but the book is a work of fiction, as are the characters in it.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

I have found great comfort in the healing powers of performance. I was hoping to share what I have experienced.

The cover is striking. What does the match imagery signify to you, and why were you drawn to it?

To me, the image says something about the immense value of zero. I guess it's a counterintuitive idea that when you are burned down to your essence, that's the moment you are about to grow. In a strange way, it directly relates to the title.

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