Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor Talk Finally Sharing the Screen In ‘Raymond and Ray'

After meeting on the set of 'Gattaca' Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor wanted to work together. Their new film 'Raymond And Ray' saw that dream become reality.

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Photo by Myles Pettengill III

ethan hawke ewan mcgregor

It’s kind of hard to fathom that two of the most enduring and prolific actors of the last 30 years, Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor, had never shared a screen together. That all changed with Raymond and Ray, an intimate family dramedy from director Rodrigo Garcia, which sees the two 51-year-old actors cast as estranged half-brothers forced to reconnect after the passing of their abusive father. What ensues is a complicated character study in which the eponymous brothers must come to terms with the version of the father they knew, and the one that’s slowly revealed to them as they plan his funeral and encounter a cadre of people who knew and adored him. 

When I sat down with Hawke and McGregor after the film’s September premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was impossible not to notice their sibling-like rapport, which, as they explained to me, was a byproduct of them both having navigated the treacherous terrain of Hollywood for well over half their lives. Here, Hawke and McGregor reflect on their roles as fathers, their recent run-ins with the Marvel and Star Wars juggernauts, a shared life in the spotlight, and why the experience of making this movie felt like it was 25 years-in-the-making. 

Raymond and Ray starts streaming on Apple TV+ Friday, Oct. 21.

The two of you sharing a screen feels like a long time coming for a lot of people, just because you’ve both been in the public consciousness for so long. Did this feel like checking a box for you two as well?
Ewan McGregor:
I definitely always wanted to work with Ethan. I thought we would earlier when we first met. Ethan was working with Jude (Law) on the film Gattaca, and Jude and I were mates. Definitely, at that time, I thought I’ll get to work with Ethan next. It’s only a matter of time. And it was only a matter of time. But it was a much longer time than any of us imagined. It is amazing to work with him after all this time because I felt a kindred spirit with him all these years. Through the work he’s done, the people he’s worked with, and the kinds of things I’ve read Ethan talking about acting, I’ve thought “Yeah, I feel the same way about it.” So it’s no surprise that when we got on set together, it was just a brilliant experience. We just threw ourselves into the scenes, and it was just quite a wonderful thing.

What was the process of becoming believable as brothers? I have a twin brother, so all of our mannerisms are the same. The way we speak is the same. Obviously, it’s different for Raymond and Ray but did you guys try to find this common ground in the way that you moved and spoke to establish that familial relationship?
Ethan Hawke:
I know exactly what you mean. But what Ewan just said, is exactly true for me. We’ve been following each other’s careers. And we’ve lived, in a lot of ways, such similar lives. I mean, we’ve dedicated our life to the same goals and the same purpose in the same craft. And so, it was very easy to feel like brothers. We speak the same vocabulary, we understand the dynamics of each other’s lives in a way a lot of people I might meet, don’t really understand. That would take a lot of effort to explain. So there was an intimacy that was very easy to establish early. And I think, you know, our parts were really well drawn, and Ewan knows what he’s doing. And I like to think that I know what I’m doing. So it was very easy to get traction. We’ve also run into each other countless times—we don’t even know how many times over the years, and every now and then we remember a new time. “Oh, wait, you were at that wedding? That’s right, you were there!” So it might have been different in terms of needing to spend time together. But it felt very natural, or the overused word, “organic.” But that’s the way it was for us.

EM: I was going to say, “No.” And then I remembered that I had to sound like you—we had to sound the same. But I feel like Raymond and Ray are very different. And in actual fact, probably finding the differences was more important. But the sound of the American accent, it had to sound like we came from the same place. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent driving around—just whenever I was on my own, I had Ethan talking to me on that audio tape.  

EH: Oh, yeah. The Dharma Bums.

EM: The Dharma Bums audiobook is what I listened to. You don’t know this, but you accompanied me all over the place. For so long, just listening to you. I was driving back from dropping the kids off to school, and you were there. So that was the only actual sort of technical thing I had to do.

EH: And it worked. It worked.

What I loved about the movie is the fact that your characters got a chance to see their father through other people’s eyes, which is something that rings true to me. People come up to me and say, “Your dad is so cool. Your mom is amazing.” But obviously, I see them in such a different light. Was that an idea that resonated with you guys, as well?
I have a father who’s very gregarious—and in our small town at home—well known. And he would go out for a loaf of bread and come back two hours later because he stopped to chat with everybody.

But that’s not the relationship you have with him.
I don’t think it is. I think we don’t have the same relationship with strangers that we do with the people that are closest to us. So it’s no surprise that our relationships with our parents are different. It’s extreme in this movie, because we can’t recognize who they’re talking about at all.

EH: I think that’s what a lot of us felt when we first read the script. To be really hit by that kind of wisdom—that a person can be many different things to other people.

Especially a parent. That relationship between a parent and child is unlike anything else.
It’s interesting to be a parent now though, and also have somebody come up to you and say, “Your son is so x.” And you go, “Really? Huh? I didn’t see that side of him.” You know, he doesn’t show that side to me.

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How much do you guys believe in the idea of intergenerational trauma? Do you believe you’re doomed by your upbringing for better or for worse?
Oh, no. No. It’s a kind of response. One person can have a father who’s addicted to crack. And their response to it could be to be sober their whole life and go to Harvard, and another person will respond to it by being a drug addict themselves.

And that’s like an act of rebellion in a way. 
Yeah, it’s how we all respond to given circumstances. It just depends entirely on us. It’s true that we all have trauma and how we respond to the trauma is connected to our DNA somehow. And our parent’s trauma often gets passed on to us.

EM: And they didn’t have the opportunity necessarily, in the generations before us to even know about it. And you know, my grandfather’s generation, they didn’t talk about anything. They didn’t know how to. It was expected, of course, that you had a shitty childhood. But now we’re lucky in that, you know, we talk more to our children, and we’re open with our children. There are more avenues for them to be able to express themselves. I think it’s much more healthy now.

Did working on this film at all make you guys reflect on your own relationships with your kids, and your own roles as fathers?
Well, you can’t help but think about it at times. But what’s so special about the script is how fully drawn it is. We might’ve had to do more of that if the script didn’t work. But Raymond and Ray are very well drawn individuals in a world that’s extremely well drawn. So the question was more to really fully understand Ray, and what his situations are and draw from friends and draw from other stories and draw from Rodrigo and what he was talking about so that I could really understand the world through Ray’s eyes, and not necessarily make Ray a version of me.

Talk to me a bit about the idea of the road movie. Why do you think it’s become such an enduring subgenre in American cinema and beyond?
It puts you in a space with each other for long periods of time where people can talk, things can bubble up, I suppose. It’s convenient for that, you know. But as we think of this, what’s so funny is that people are calling this a road movie.

Was that not your take when you both read the script? 
No, I think because the experience of shooting the scenes in the car was done quite quickly.

EH: It was the cemetery that left a big impression on us as filmmakers.

Can you expand on that?
Because we were there for so long. I mean, it’s really actually a daring attempt on Rodrigo’s part to say that I’m going to set 50 pages of the script at a gravesite, and keep having a change, and that’s the aspect of the movie that was so original to me when you read it and that’s the part that felt almost like it could be performed as a play. But I think the metaphor of a journey, I mean it’s such a ripe metaphor for cinema. The camera loves it, you know, the backgrounds are always changing. So it’s ripe for cinema.

Did you guys shoot this before or after your recent dalliances in the Marvel and Star Wars universes?  

EH: Right afterward. 

Was it important for you guys to do something that felt a little bit more intimate after shooting in front of green screens for so long?
It felt refreshing.

EM: It actually felt like this on Star Wars. It was very different using that volume technology. It didn’t feel like the green screen experience. If it had been there prequels, I would have felt relieved to have done this. But for me, I had a great time on the Star Wars films.

EH: But you had a really rich character, and you had a lot of scene work to do.

So did you Ethan!
Yeah. But I enjoy it when there’s less money being spent, there is a feeling that the movie is being made by us on set. And sometimes when there’s a lot of money at play, there’s a lot of voices in the room.

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Yeah, this definitely felt like you were returning to your indie roots a little bit.  
Yeah, We’re making a Rodrigo movie, right? And it’s his job to explain to us what this is and to listen to us and then we go off on this little adventure together, and we come out with a movie. There aren’t tremendous forces at work, like figuring out how to market it and cut that scene because you know, the marketing potential will drop. We’re making a really personal film. And in that way, it felt refreshing. It’s not that I don’t like the other, there is a certain math to telling a good comic book movie. Any kind of genre has a different math.

And there’s a beauty to it that you guys get to do both as actors.

EH: Yeah well, that’s part of why we’re friends. We both sincerely enjoy that. I don’t even know if I told you this—but that Polanski movie you did, I worked with Paweł Pawlikowski who loves Polanski, and we studied your movie. And so like, we’ve both been drawn to filmmaker-driven things, mainstream things, smaller budget things, the theater. I don’t have a big bar in my brain of what’s high art and what’s low art. I try to make it all be as good as possible.

If you listen to Paul Thomas Anderson speak in interviews, he touts Will Ferrell movies as much as he does Kubrick. I love artists like that. 
Yeah, it’s part of what makes him great.

Talk to me about some of the offset bonding that you guys did in between takes when the cameras stopped rolling. Did you guys hang out at all?
All the time. They had to break us up to get us on set.

EH: We had 25 years of catching up. We thought we’d be working together like in 1998. So I needed to know what this actor was like, what that director was like, I needed to know it all. 

God, I would have loved to have been there. 

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