Twitter recently anointed Ethan Hawke "the Tom Hanks of A24," after his turn as a tormented pastor in First Reformed.
Alia Shawkat stars in the new IFC film Blaze about legendary songwriter Blaze Foley, which Ethan co-wrote and directed. For this podcast, Ethan called Alia from his summer home in Nova Scotia. Topics covered include: art that tells the truth, the beauty of "beginner’s mind," Alia’s painting, career advice from Steve McQueen, and the importance of giving it all away.
Speaker: Welcome to Episode 5 of the A24 podcast. We're back from our summer hiatus and very excited to share this conversation between Ethan Hawke and Alia Shawkat. Ethan recently played a tormented pastor in Paul Schrader's First Reformed, delivering a career-best performance that led Twitter to anoint him "the Tom Hanks of A24." Alia is an actress, writer, painter, and musician. She starred in our 2016 film, Green Room, and guest stars in our upcoming TV project, Moonbase 8. Last year, Ethan directed Alia in a film called Blaze, which chronicles the life of legendary songwriter Blaze Foley. Blaze is distributed by IFC, and you can see it right now in select theaters. For their conversation, Ethan called Alia from his island home in Nova Scotia.
Ethan: Well, how have you been?
Alia: Pretty good. Oh, are they rolling? Now we're rolling. Yeah, I'm in LA in this very decorative studio.
Ethan: And what's happening in your life? Fill me in, color in the details of where I'm finding you.
Alia: I'm in LA. It's very hot. I just bought a studio. I've been painting every day. And I've been writing.
Ethan: You're kidding.
Alia: Yeah, dude, I bought this weird old grocery store in Highland Park. It's like my treehouse. I'm just hanging out in there. I paint, and I've been writing. Yeah, I'm about to do a short film. So I haven't been acting in a couple months, which has been fun.
Ethan: Did you write the short film, are you directing it? Or what's your status with it?
Alia: I'm not, I'm just acting in it. There's cool writers, this young Lebanese couple that I met that I really like, so I'm gonna do this short film with them. But yeah, this will be the first acting in a while.
Ethan: Okay, you're now qualifying as one of the single coolest people I've ever met in my life. I mean this sounds like—
Alia: Wait, what? Who's the coolest—?
Ethan: I don't know. I mean you're reaching a newer, higher, status in my brain, making cool short films with a Lebanese couple that you like, you're living in an old grocery store, is that what you said?
Alia: [Laughs] That's what it used to be, yeah. It's cleaned out now though, so it's fresh. What are you doing? I was gonna come see you guys up north and then I fucked up. But how's your life?
Ethan: I know. Well, I've just—I don't think I realized it, but I've been running, I've had the treadmill on max for a little while, meaning I've just been doing so many things and bouncing around. And I just took the month, which I'd been wanting to do for a long time, and dropped out to our place in Nova Scotia.
Alia: Yeah, dude you gotta do it.
Ethan: Yeah, I just had the best time. I finally hung out with my kids and made art projects and talked and made s'mores. We have this thing that we do. Every morning all summer we would wake up, I kind of love this, we would take the change that we would find, money. Now, you can't tell anybody this. I know it's a podcast, but this is technically illegal. But we would put the pennies on the track, because there's a railroad track that runs by my house.
Alia: Oh, yeah.
Ethan: And we would put the pennies on the track, and then the train comes by in the middle of the night and smashes the coins to kingdom come and it flattens them out, makes all these weird crazy shapes. Then we take the coins and we make designs. We glue weird shapes on rocks all over the island, because we have this, it's an eight-acre island in Nova Scotia.
Alia: Oh my God.
Ethan: We hide little eyeballs and weird things on the trail. The kids love it, and I love it. And basically—
Alia: I love the eyeballs. So when people are walking, like—
Ethan: Yeah, you see, like, the eye of God looking back at you, saying to you, asking you, "What are you doing? What are you thinking about?"
Alia: I love that. I love secret eyeballs.
Ethan: I know!
Alia: That's great.
Ethan: And now, so I'm gearing up, you know, the movie that we made together, it's coming out.
Alia: Yeah. I can't believe it.
Ethan: It's a really weird moment in my life where, like you, I try to do a lot of different things, because I feel like they fuel each other.
Alia: For sure.
Ethan: And it's the first time something that I directed turned out the way that I wanted it to.
Alia: Yeah, how amazing.
Ethan: —and sometimes things turn out kinda like you wanted them to, or almost like, or in a way, inspired by something you would have wanted, but so I've had this weird summer where we're releasing this movie that I love so much and simultaneously, First Reformed, this movie that I did with Paul Schrader, has been coming out, and that's been—
Alia: Yeah, I just got sent a screener of it. It's so trippy. I feel terrible, because I was late for this interview, our podcast, that I wasn't able to finish the last 20 minutes of it, which—it's a very weird place to leave off on a movie. So I'm gonna be watching that when I get back.
Ethan: Especially because the movie's got one of the strangest endings of all time.
Alia: Right, I have a feeling. I left off when you and Amanda Seyfried were like floating together in the air. I'll just leave it at that, no spoiler alerts.
Ethan: You'll get to it. It's been a great—I don't know what your feelings are, but it's been one of the most turbulent political times of my life. And so to have some kind of, whatever you call it, art, to put into the world that you care about and believe in, feels a little bit like some kind of balm of Gilead, you know?
Alia: Totally. Oh, gosh, I just came in real clear in my headphones. All of a sudden I turned into God, speaking about political events.
Ethan: You sound like God, and I feel like Noah, and you're gonna tell me to build an ark.
Alia: [Laughs] I'm like, "Listen to me, now." Yeah, I mean I feel like I keep looking back on films that came out maybe ten years ago and how I would be able to appreciate them, or look at them in just a very different light. And now—I was acting back then, but now, when I think about stuff I want to make, especially stuff I want to write, I can't help but, I don't know, it’s naturally affected by everything that's happening, and yeah, there's no way to—there's not really art I necessarily want to make that doesn't have either a lot of this heavy, I don't want to say heaviness, but some strong truth to it that I feel like we're all feeling on a daily basis. And that doesn't mean it has to be political, but just has to be real honest. There's a different kind of entertainment that I think we're all craving.
Ethan: People talk about, yeah, that's how I feel about—anything that tells the truth is kind of political. I did that Before trilogy with Julie Delpy and it's on the surface completely non-political. They don't talk about politics at all, and it's about romantic love. But if you tell a story honestly— politics is about people and what is happening in our lives. The opposite is also true, the inverse, which is if you make movies or write books or do a painting to try to sway a vote or try to have an agenda with an audience, then all of a sudden the art sucks, because it's not art, it's some kind of propaganda. It doesn't even matter if I agree with the said cause.
Alia: No, it's about human experience.
Ethan: One of the things that's cool about—
Alia: What's cool?
Ethan: Yeah, which is really—you would like this guy Paul Schrader because he's really a pretty ferocious person and is really only interested in trying to get away from as much artifice as possible. I don't know, one of the things that, I don't know if I'm supposed to do this, but one of the things about directing you that's really interesting, especially the situation that you were in—
Alia: Uh oh.
Ethan: You were working with someone who'd never acted before. And so many people would see that as an uninteresting challenge. And it was so much fun, Alia. I've never gotten a chance to tell you. It was so much fun to edit your performance, because you're always great. I compare Ben and Charlie, our resident musicians. They're totally inspired artists, and I love them, but you were kind of forced a little bit, like what I always heard it was like to work with Marilyn Monroe, just sometimes—they always used the take that Marilyn was great in.
Alia: Right, right.
Ethan: She was so mercurial and strange and interesting. I remember, one of my first jobs was with Jack Lemmon.
Alia: Oh wow.
Ethan: And he was telling me about working with Marilyn Monroe and saying that you had to be great every take, because you knew the director was gonna use the—
Alia: Right because you didn't know which one—right.
Ethan: —which one Marilyn was gonna come through with her inspired moment on. You just had to be great all the time. And we never really talked about this, but you—I mean, how old were you when you started? A kid, right? How young?
Alia: I was a kid, yeah. I was nine.
Ethan: Nine. Was that in that George Clooney movie? Was that your first movie?
Alia: Yeah. I did a Barbie commercial. That was my first gig, and then a week later I did Three Kings. Yeah, the David O. Russell movie.
Ethan: You did a Barbie commercial?
Alia: Oh yeah. Barbie in a Porsche. Picnic in a Porsche. It was me and like a white blonde girl.
Ethan: I'd do anything—I've got to have the link.
Alia: I know, it's hard to find it, it's definitely not on YouTube.
Ethan: Oh my God.
Alia: I've searched many a stoned night, sadly. But yeah, my first job, proper job, was the David O. Russell movie, where I play an Iraqi refugee. Feels like a whole other world since then [laughs].
Ethan: Yeah. But I will say, it's interesting. You're—I related to, I mean this is a weird backhanded, strange, I'm complimenting you by kind of complimenting myself.
Ethan: Or I'm complimenting myself by kind of complimenting you. I'm not sure which it is.
Alia: It's a podcast about us, Ethan. C'mon, it's both of us.
Ethan: I just really loved your approach to acting, and I related to it, which is that you're completely centered and present all the time. And there’s a strength to it—
Alia: Thanks. We vibed out on that a lot, when we FaceTimed for the first time, you know?
Ethan: Yeah, yeah, I know. But you know I have a daughter who's acting now.
Alia: Oh, right.
Ethan: And there's so much energy coming at women that makes it harder, I think. It doesn't even matter whether you're an actor or not, women are made to feel a lot more self-conscious, all the time, and I always feel like that kind of self-consciousness—one of the things I loved about watching Ben in front of a camera is he had no idea what he looked like.
Ethan: For example, he would sit with his legs sprayed open and not know that it was a giant cock shot.
Alia: Right [laughs].
Ethan: And he was so un-self-conscious and just wanted to try to be true to the situation—
Alia: Yeah and so untrained, of being like, "This is how I, this is what I do when I look charming." Because he had no reference of other jobs.
Ethan: Yeah, which, so many actors you work with, you catch them, don't you just, you catch them making their charming face.
Alia: Of course.
Ethan: Or this is—or “I talk quiet, I want people to listen,” or—
Alia: Yeah, smoky eyes.
Ethan: Or “I yell when I want people to be intimidated.” They have their little, their ten faces they pull out of their bag. And you always read about this beginner's mind thing that I feel like Ben really had. Which is, you know, you give somebody a bow and arrow, the first time they pull it, they'll shoot a bullseye, because they don't think too much about it. But you have that too, and yet you're really experienced. I just was extremely grateful to you because so many young actors that I have worked with, the biggest demon in the woods for them is being self-conscious, because you grew up with DPs telling you that you looked better this way or you should get your teeth fixed or—I mean, I just happened to mention the tooth fix. Not because, nobody's ever told me to fix my perfect teeth.
Alia: [Laughs] God forbid you ever—your teeth are perfect. Yeah, I mean it's taken a lot of, as you must know too, I feel like I have to forget and relearn lots of things. When I think of the way I used to approach an acting role when I was younger, I actually didn't think about it at all when I was young. It was purely instinctual, and then I got very self-conscious. And then I was like, "Wait, am I even good at this?" And then I had to kind of forget it again, and the was the thing that I learned the most, I feel like, or try to practice, is that you have to be responsive to the people you're working with.
So on Blaze it's like, with Ben it was the easiest for me. Because before meeting him, I was like, “Okay, well I'm gonna be working with someone, Ethan trusts him though, but someone who hasn't acted before.” Then when I met him, I was like, “Oh he doesn't even...This guy's there.” I just had to kind of follow him and gracefully breathe in his presence. Yeah, it's like forgetting all the stuff you know and just being there. And also I think we were just so lucky. The story was inspired so much by you meeting Ben too. Because he is the heart, and we were lucky enough that our friendship, the chemistry, made so much sense for there to be a story about love there.
Ethan: It is, it's funny when things go right. I read some interview with Nick Nolte the other day that said that he only learns from things that are wrong, because when things go right, it's almost without any effort at all.
Ethan: I never thought of anyone else for your part. Isn't that weird? We didn't even know each other.
Alia: Yeah, so strange.
Ethan: You were the first person I thought of, first person I reached out to. You were one of the handful of people that actually knew who Blaze Foley was and who had the guts to go for this, and it is strange. I've been thinking a lot about this recently, where sometimes it seems like our job is to get—nature wants to do everything. It presents us with so much beauty all the time and so much truth and so much interesting—but it's really just asking you to get out of the way.
Alia: Yeah, for sure.
Ethan: And if you can just kinda be present and and not try to work your agenda on something. I think that's what happened with that project. I think its intentions were, everybody who came to it—well, it's a strange thing about money, right? If nobody's getting paid, then you know why everybody's there and it's a lot more clear. And when you get on some big sets, it's a little confusing because some people are there because they really care and are passionate and other people are there because they couldn't get a better job, or some people are there because they really want to get hired again, and so—
Alia: You have to be really appreciative. Yeah. No matter what, you have to be very appreciative, but I feel like especially on those. You have to remind yourself, we are very lucky because we're not having to kinda struggle for any of this.
Ethan: Oh, whenever you have a job.
Alia: Yeah, exactly.
Ethan: This one young actor—once, I said to him, "Why are you playing the same—your character wouldn't do it like that." He said, "You know, I'm not really concerned with my character. I just want to make sure I get hired again." He refused to be scared. He just wanted to be cool, you know?
Ethan: So, it didn't matter what situation we were in, he said every line like he was asking somebody to kiss him or something, you know?
Alia: And did you kiss him? Did it work?
Ethan: I kissed him every day.
Alia: There you go. That's all he wanted, really.
Ethan: Yeah. How is your family right now? I always found your—it was so cool to get to meet your brother, and I know the story of your family. What do they think about what you're doing?
Alia: They're doing really well. They just got a house in San Pedro. I don't know if you know that neighborhood, but yeah, they're doing cool. My folks came to my studio the other day, and it was funny because the natural flare-ups around parents. I'm tight with my folks, but even as an almost 30-year-old woman, I still act like a child around them sometimes, but it's a very vulnerable, real space for me. It feels like it's inside my—whatever, my inner child's playroom. So when they come in there, I have my hands crossed and I'm like, "Well, what do you think? Do you like it or what?" I'm coming at them with this—you know, they're like, "I mean, yeah, it's nice." I was just like, "But no, it's—you don't understand."
Ethan: Have you always been painting?
Alia: You know, yeah, I have been painting a lot the last like ten years. I have a website, and I do shows and stuff. It's not that I don't try to promote it, but I feel like acting is such a promotion in itself because it's my face, so these other things I do, I just don't talk about it as much. But yeah, I've always painted. When I'm not acting, all I'm trying to do is get to paint, but I haven't had a space in a long time to actually do it because it takes such a practice and an everyday routine. But now that I'm in there, it's very addictive. I love it. It's a very different side of my brain that gets to work.
Ethan: Yeah. I think it goes extremely well with acting.
Ethan: A lot of actors enjoy painting. I did this movie years ago called The Newton Boys. It was a Richard Linklater—it aspired to be an Altman-esque western and McConaughey was in it and Vincent D'Onofrio and Dwight.
Alia: Oh, fun.
Ethan: Yeah, we had a really good time making it, but I only worked about once or two days a week, and it was back in the days where independent movies could shoot a long time.
Ethan: The shoot was probably like five months, and I lived in Austin and I never—I didn't know what to do with myself, and so I got all these watercolors, and I realized that I was one of the highest paid watercolorists in Austin because—
Alia: [Laughs] Because you were getting paid for the movie.
Ethan: I spent a lot more time watercoloring than I did acting, and I loved it, and strangely, it's the way I can connect with my children the best. From a young age, if you get people in a room, and my stepdad did this with me and my sister, if you get people in a room painting together, you strangely get to know each other really well.
Alia: Yeah, totally.
Ethan: Things come out when people—it's a little bit like a long drive. Sometimes when you have a really long drive, you find yourself in conversations that you wouldn't if you were trying to, but if you're painting together—this is what happened in our family. You're sitting there trying to work on this painting and through a couple of hours of silence, something comes out of it. I really want to see your paintings now. I have to come to this grocery store.
Alia: Yeah, you gotta come next time you're in LA. I'll send you some photos, too, of some weird stuff.
Ethan: All right, please do.
Alia: Yeah. So, are you gonna—
Ethan: We're gonna—I'll be out in LA. For the Blaze release, I'll be out there.
Alia: Yeah, yeah. Well, I'm gonna see you in New York.
Ethan: Will you be at the New York opening, too?
Alia: Yeah, yeah. I'll be at the New York one because I'll be out living in New York, working out there now, come September.
Ethan: Oh, great.
Ethan: Great. When do you come out there?
Alia: September 1st.
Ethan: Oh, fantastic.
Ethan: That'll be—Ben and I are going to Locarno and gonna show the movie in front of, I think it's a 6,000 screen movie theater outside in the mountains of Switzerland.
Alia: What the!
Ethan: So, we're gonna have to take some pictures.
Alia: That's insane!
Ethan: Isn't that cool?
Alia: That's the coolest thing I've ever heard.
Ethan: I know, and so we're gonna go to Switzerland! I mean, this is the job that just keeps on giving.
Alia: I know, for real. It really does. I mean, I had a friend who was in Nashville who sent me a picture of the poster, because I know that it's getting released in the south first, right?
Ethan: Yes. Yeah.
Alia: Going to New York and LA—and I've just had very random people that I know from very different pockets have been reaching out to me about hearing about Blaze and it's cool. It just feels like it's spreading in kind of a unique way.
Ethan: It's kinda cool.
Ethan: IFC just had this idea that maybe they would start where Blaze worked and where Blaze died.
Alia: I think that's cool.
Ethan: So it feels right for some reason, you know?
Alia: Yeah. Are you ready to direct again?
Ethan: What'd you say?
Alia: Are you ready to direct again?
Ethan: You know, I don't know. I don't know how you feel about it—
Ethan: —but there was this quote I feel like you would relate to on—to be honest, it was above the toilet at my house where I grew up. My mother had this, you know, one of those, it was a framed, beautifully calligraphied picture of Shaker expressions. My mother really liked Quakers and Shakers and that kind of philosophy, and one of the quotes was, "Improve in one talent and God will give you more." And then underneath it was, "Apprentice four professions to master one." I think as I've gotten older, I’ve kinda realized that my real profession is acting, and I really enjoy doing all these other arts, but it's something that—I don't want to be a quote-unquote, “professional”' about it. It's kinda like what you just said about—acting itself takes so much promotion and it draws so much mental—
Alia: Yeah, lots of energy.
Ethan: You know, you get known for it, you get recognized in supermarkets for it. There's a huge psychic toll that it takes on you. People don't really—I'm always trying to tell these press people, you know, you get recognized more for going on the Jimmy Fallon show than for any acting job I've done.
Ethan: Oftentimes, people will stop you on the street because they recognize you, and people say, "Oh, isn't that flattering?" You're like, "Well, no, because they really don't know the difference between me and Lee Harvey Oswald. They just know that they recognize me."
Alia: Yeah, it's a familiarity that people find comforting, but it's also like we're not actually connecting, which is strange.
Ethan: Yes, so what I'm really interested in right now is, it was something I learned from Blaze, that there was so much—we were all in service of each other. You know, people fell in love with Sybil. We all fell in love with Sybil and her story, but she wasn't why we came there. We all came there for the love of Blaze, and then this other thing starts to happen where people start just taking care of each other, and I kinda think that we were all happy that Ben did such a good job, but the truth is...he didn't let us down. That's how he thinks about it. He felt there was so much artistry being put in to support him that he didn't want to let us all down, and I think that when you do work in the service of something beyond your own self-aggrandizement in some way, it feels really right and it comes out better.
Ethan: It becomes integrated with your whole life and it's not just in service of you, but it's in service of your integration with your—I mean, think about this. I produced this movie with my wife, so when I get to go with the producer to Locarno, Switzerland, I get to go with my wife.
Alia: I know.
Ethan: It's really fun.
Alia: It is really fun.
Ethan: It makes everything feel in balance in a way, or it has—so while I love the idea of directing again, I also feel hesitant because I don't want to turn this thing that taught me so much and that I'm so proud of into something that I'm—you know, chasing it like another shot of beer or another high.
Alia: Well, it seems like as it comes, if—
Ethan: I think part of why it went well is because—
Alia: No, no.
Ethan: Say that again.
Alia: Just that it seems like as things come, because you do these different things, that you approach it when it's calling you, and that means you're actually ready to do it.
Ethan: Totally. Exactly.
Ethan: You have to trust—the universe kinda tells you these things about where you're supposed to be. I got this call almost exactly a year ago, where I got a call that Sam Shepard was really sick, and he really wants to try to mount a revival of True West as soon as possible and would I want to do it, and I said yes and he passed like two days later, you know?
Ethan: You feel like, “Okay, well I think this is what I'm supposed to be doing right now.” It just feels like, “Okay, the—”
Alia: Are you about to do it now or you already did it?
Ethan: Yeah, I'm doing True West with Paul Dano.
Alia: Oh my God, so exciting.
Ethan: No, we're doing it. We start rehearsals in the fall.
Alia: Oh, great. I gotta come.
Ethan: Won't that be fun?
Alia: That'll be amazing.
Ethan: Yeah, you have to come.
Alia: Yeah, for sure.
Ethan: You know, I think it must be confusing for you, too. I mean, confusing is a negative word, but exciting. You're a strange entity, you know? I mean, I keep wanting to get you and Ben a concert date. One of my favorite things about making this movie was listening to the two of you sing together.
Alia: I know, it was so fun.
Ethan: One of the tortures of editing the movie was every time you sang, I wanted it to be in the movie. You know, trying to maintain some narrative pull and not just fall in love with the music the whole time.
Alia: Yeah, so much good music.
Ethan: Singing has gotta be a pretty vital part of your life. Are you doing any more singing or recording?
Alia: You know, I'm not, but not, again, for—you know, I guess it's the same when asking you about directing. It's like I—
Ethan: I'm gonna drag you out, Alia, to do it.
Alia: Do it. Drag me out, man. I'll sing with Ben any time. He makes me feel—he's a fun voice to sing with and makes me feel good about it. No, I miss it. I think singing is a, I feel, I think we're so lucky that we get to—acting for me as well has been the thing that's brought me out here or to be able to meet and have all these opportunities, but then with singing and painting and writing, they are these other things that I feel very drawn to in periods of my life, and they have helped me connect to a different side of myself.
When I'm singing, it's another very social part of me, but it's, I don't know, sharing my vulnerabilities in a way, like being on stage and having only—mainly singing jazz, the whole process of being on a stage and kind of swaying and singing those songs that are usually about lost loves and pain. And it's really, it's so fun and the whole culture of it, and especially being in New Orleans with James' band, The Swamp Donkeys, and stuff. Then when I'm out here, I'm finally in a—when I'm in a painting mode, I just want to, for once, not be looked at in this way. Just as a human, I want to be seen, but not in this kind of like, “Listen to me, watch me.”
Ethan: Magnifying glass.
Alia: Yeah, I'm enjoying—and knowing that it’ll ebb and flow. Because I do crave it again, to express myself that way. But right now I'm, like, wearing the same thing every day, going into a studio. Loving the routine that I never get normally in my life.
Ethan: Doesn’t that feel good?
Alia: Yeah, it feels great. But then I'm excited to switch it again. I think whether we're actors or because we're actors, it's like drawn to this kind of—I like the metamorphosis of the different ways to get energy and connect to people.
Ethan: One of the things that—the dilemma for the life of an actor is that you're also only really as good or challenged as your opportunities.
Ethan: And some of the other arts provide you with a window to make your own opportunities. And to challenge yourself in your own way. And I think for me, it's been essential to—like oxygen, if you're sitting around waiting for people to be interested in you to act—
Alia: Yeah, you're screwed. Forever.
Ethan: Especially if you have a certain, if you aspire for a certain level of, even a minimum level of quality, it's really hard. Those opportunities—I always try to explain to people like there's only about a handful of good movies made every year. And the idea that they're gonna have a part for you, and the idea that you're gonna get that part, when there's so many wonderful actors, it's very hard. It's very hard for acting to be as rewarding as it can be. You know, when you act for—a couple of times in my life I've gotten to act for a world class director and with a part that's really challenging. I remember, I once was acting with Keith Carradine.
Alia: Oh, cool.
Ethan: And he told a funny story about—he got a part, he got the lead role this movie Thieves Like Us that Altman was directing. And he just finished it, and he had coffee with Steve McQueen, and he told Steve McQueen, he said, "You know, Steve, it finally happened. I got a great role with a world class director. And I crushed it. I had a great hit on this character." And McQueen just said, "Well, it's all over now. It’s never gonna happen again."
Alia: [Laughs] The worst thing you could hear.
Ethan: It's like, “Well good for you, dude. It’s done now!”
Alia: Can't celebrate it long. Yeah.
Ethan: Keith said that's really why he started taking his music more seriously. You know? It's just because that was something that he could control. And it gives you an artistic outlet that you don't have to wait for somebody to give you permission to do it.
Ethan: You know?
Alia: I always say that when I talk to—not that I'm the one who knows, but almost for advice for myself too—with other actor friends of mine, when we're in between jobs and yeah, always craving that, to work on the best part with the best director. It’s like it's not always possible to just create your own work, but to even give yourself the permission that you can. To be like, "Hey, I can write something." Whether it comes to fruition or not, to try to—it is about creating different opportunities creatively, if you have the time and the opportunity. You know, and just like allow yourself to think of different shit.
Ethan: But giving yourself permission, that's the hardest part. Because we all have that little voice that says, "You're a phony. You're posing. Who do you think you are?"
Alia: “You're only as good as other people say.” Yeah, totally.
Ethan: Yeah, you know, and I was—it's funny to be thinking about Shepherd, but I always thought he was the kind of patron saint of actor-writers. Because he was such a fine actor. He was pretty successful as a young man, Days of Heaven. Acting in a lot of different people's movies and plays, but he really gave himself permission to be a writer. And to think like a writer, and to be a real writer. Not just, you know—
Alia: Not an actor first, or whatever.
Ethan: He aspired high.
Ethan: And I've always—the first time I acted in one of his plays, I was about 25, and I was like, "Damn, that's the trick.” You just gotta give yourself permission. Permission to be an idiot. And permission to fail. And permission to think, to aspire for a lofty ideal.
Ethan: Because if you don't, you certainly won't be this great—the great Dylan quote that is uncomfortable and annoying as it is to other people: “When you really sit down and write a song, there has to be some part of you that secretly thinks this song might change the world.”
Alia: Yeah, of course, yeah.
Ethan: Because if you don’t secretly think that, there’s no way in hell it’s gonna.
Alia: Because if you set limitations on yourself, then how is anyone—yeah, it’s true.
Ethan: Yeah. Why the hell should anyone pay money to hear this song if you don't think it's brilliant? But yet giving yourself permission to say, "You know what? Fuck it, I'm gonna try." I think that's why people are so comfortable making money. Making money is this barometer which you can say, "I'm doing well." You know? "I'm doing well because I made money." It's like, "I scored this many points." And yet we all secretly know that making money does not make you a good person. And does not make you happy. And does not make the world a better place.
Ethan: What’s mysterious is really what is gonna make you successful at being you, and me successful at being me, because it's always gonna be different, no matter who we are. But everybody loves money, because it's metric they can—they know what it is. Okay he just wants to make money. Or she wants to make money.
Alia: “We hang out because we make the same amount of money.” Yeah. Like as when you're an artist professionally—
Ethan: Wait, say that again?
Alia: Like people's shared passions can really bring you together. When you authentically find out what you actually love, or something that you're passionate about. Like an idea.
Ethan: That's intimacy.
Alia: Yeah, that's intimacy. Exactly. Being able to be on a set, it's like a camp.
Ethan: That's the weird thing. And it's like being in a band. It's like these weird, you can have—I've had it before, like a serious connection that, as corny as it sounds, is a kind of love.
Alia: Yeah, for sure.
Ethan: And it actually wakes you, it wakes you up. It makes you glad to be alive. It makes you want to get up in the morning. And it doesn't have to be romantic. You know, that's the thing.
Alia: No. Yeah, I think that's a huge—I mean, that's a whole other thing. But a huge lesson that love doesn't have to be romantic to—I think people still get so confused by that, for some reason. Even though it seems like a very simple fact. To be able to follow, just not get confused by ownership and things like that. Because it's still very mercurial in the sense of what makes you happy. I was listening to this thing on the radio today that was talking about how they fucked up a generation by being like, "Find what you love, and then try to make money from it." And they're like, “Now all these kids—we don't have any workers. Like nobody's in the factories. Because everyone's just trying to find out to do what they love.” And I was like, "Wait, what are we talking about here?" Like, this is crazy. Like you're trying to teach them some philosophical lesson, and they're just taking it so literally. They're like, "Well someone's gotta clean the toilets." You know? I'm like, "Well, okay."
Alia: But it's a strange balance. Everybody wants some kind of call and response. Like an answer to things. When you have to kinda rediscover it. Which you know, in a way, is kinda like acting, what we're talking about. It feels like it's gone when it's over. Like Steve McQueen being like, "Well it’s done now." But you have to rediscover it again. It's about the catch and release. Like the constant, being more comfortable with that than actually catching it. It's like being okay to let it go. And then believing that more things will come. And just keeping that practice going. You have to do that with your passions or love, because otherwise something's gonna die if you hold onto it for too long.
Ethan: It's so strange that way. Because there really is nothing to achieve.
Ethan: There's something at work. We live in a—there's something at work that's so much bigger, and more mysterious, and more unknowable. And it's our constant desire to win or achieve something or make something. You know, even like painting a picture, like you get obsessed with it.
Ethan: Invariably it turns out kind of like you wanted, or whatever. But then you just have to move on. But that doesn't mean that the obsession of working on it wasn't valuable. It's actually way more valuable than however it finished.
Alia: Yeah, definitely.
Ethan: And I find it really mysterious watching, in relationship to our movie that we did together, it's really interesting watching Blaze the person. Mike Fuller the person, Blaze Foley, his poem is still being worked out. You know, his music is still—whatever the poem of his life is, it's still working itself out now. And even though he's gone, but understanding of him and what his impact is on the people around him isn't over, just because he's passed. In the same way that people that I've known and loved and things who have passed, our relationship isn't dead. My memories change, and I remember things where I changed, and when I'm different, the memory becomes different. Does that make sense?
Alia: Definitely. Yeah of course. Also the fact that we were able to have a whole new relationship, or a relationship with Blaze, by making it. And now that it's coming out, it's gonna be a whole other wave of his story still being alive, and how it's gonna connect to people. And then how they're gonna want to connect with us about it.
Ethan: I know.
Alia: You know? I mean there's just like a whole other chapter of this still to come.
Ethan: And we just have to give it all away. It's like life is this continual process of just giving everything away and so you actually just give away your whole life.
Ethan: And your actual being.
Alia: Yeah, who else needs it?
Ethan: You have to give that away too.
Alia: Yeah. It'll come back, in different forms.
Ethan: There’s a great, I don't know why, it's just gotta be on my mind...but there's a great, in Shepherd's last book, that apparently Patti Smith typed up and everything because he had lost control of his hands. You know, he had Lou Gehrig's, and he couldn't write any more—but the overwhelming sentiment is him kind of looking at this old man, wondering who this person is. “Who is this person?”
Alia: Looking at himself? Right, right, right.
Ethan: “This is me? This is the same me that was riding broncos? Who is me?” You know, what is me now? It's like—
Alia: Oh gosh.
Ethan: Me is all these different things.
Alia: Well I've been reading this book, it's literally called The Taboo of Knowing Who You Are. Having to release—I mean we should start our own podcast about forgetting our identity. But that's a whole other thing.
Ethan: What was so interesting about being around Kristofferson is because his memory is getting so fragile that he actually is becoming a living embodiment of living in the present moment.
Alia: Yeah, totally.
Ethan: He’s literally just—
Alia: An aggressive representation of it.
Ethan: Yeah. I remember him saying to me once, "It's kind of beautiful in its own way. Just annoying to other people."
Alia: [Laughs] Right, exactly. If you're sane and everyone else is crazy, you know, are you still sane?
Ethan: Well listen, Alia, the whole time we've been talking, we stopped at this, we got really lucky, we stopped this roadside park, and Ryan and Clementine and Indiana and the two dogs are running to this water park. And I'm having a pretty good time. But I can tell from Ryan's expression at a hundred yards that she would love for this podcast to be over.
Alia: For you to join in. Yeah. Oh, give her my love. Give her a big hug for me. I'm so excited to see you guys. I'll see you like the first week of September.
Ethan: I will! We're gonna see you in New York, right?
Alia: I can't wait, yes. It's been way too long.
Ethan: And you know, I really want to get you and Ben singing a couple of these—
Alia: Dude, you say the word, and I'll sing.
Ethan: So I’m going to try to make it happen, okay?
Alia: Yeah, as long as Ben's there to play, I’ll sing.
Ethan: Okay. Beautiful. Okay, well we can make it happen.
Ethan: All right.
Alia: Bye, Ethan.
Ethan: To be continued, Alia.
Alia: Yeah for sure. Have fun in Switzerland!
Alia: Alright, later.
Speaker: Thanks so much for listening. Look out for Episode 6 next month. The A24 Podcast is produced by us, A24. Special thanks to Doug and Aaron at Robot Repair, who composed our theme.