Ethan Hawke has every reason to be confident. He’s an Oscar-nominated writer and actor, not to mention a Tony-nominee for Tom Stoppard‘s “The Coast of Utopia.” Now he’s at the New York Film Festival promoting his first documentary, “Seymour: An Introduction,” which profiles classical pianist Seymour Bernstein. Recently, it was the second-runner up for the People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Toronto Film Festival, and it premieres at NYFF on Sept. 27, but the film, as well as his relationship with Bernstein, was spurred by feelings of self-doubt.
“Insecurity and feelings of inadequacy can seem like some kind of horrible blemish that needs to be hidden,” revealed Hawke at the NYFF press conference for the film. That’s where Bernstein came in. Hawke found inspiration in the musician’s worldview; Bernstein considers harmony in his music to be one and the same with harmony in his life, but that self-doubt is natural to any artist who cares about the quality of his work. Hawke added, “I think part of why I made the documentary was simply to spend more time with Seymour and to explore the subject more thoroughly with him … any sane person who is serious and values what they do might have feelings of inadequacy.”
In the film, we see Hawke struggle with the conflict between commercial and artistic success, but monetary gain was never a strong lure for Bernstein, who walked away from a successful career as a concert pianist and found satisfaction in a quieter life as a teacher.
Bernstein’s example gave Hawke much needed perspective when the actor-director was questioning his career path: “You know when you’re really struggling with something, you think the answer is going to be, you need to go to Arizona, and take peyote, and jump over the moon, and turn around three times, and find the magic salt container and take it to your place of birth, and pee in the river or something, and then you’re going to feel better, instead of saying, ‘Well, you could try acting.'”
But if acting doesn’t work out for Hawke, it looks like directing is a viable career option. He might even find himself back at the Oscars when Sundance Selects eventually releases the film. The last two Oscars for Best Documentary Feature have gone to feel-good musician profiles (“Searching for Sugar Man” in 2012, “20 Feet from Stardom” in 2013), so “Seymour: An Introduction” could be right up the academy’s alley.
Until then, use our drag-and-drop menu below to predict whether Hawke will earn another acting nomination this year, for “Boyhood.”