Ethan Hawke Says Robin Williams 'Irritated' Him on Dead Poet's Society Set, Thought Late Star Hated Him

Hawke said he couldn’t handle the comedian’s nonstop rapid-fire jokes on set.

Ethan Hawke has had a long and storied career, working with some of the biggest and most versatile stars in the entertainment industry. And yet, one experience with an actor most would love to have had a chance to work alongside actually left him “irritated.”

It would be an understatement to say that the chameleonic comedian Robin Williams could be a lot to take when he was on fire. Watch any of his late-night television appearances, and the late star was almost frantic with unrelenting energy, and all over the place with quick ad-libs, jokes and impressions.

Sometimes it was best to just get out of his way and let the madness lead him where it may. It was almost always entertaining and good for a laugh. Well, unless you’re a young Ethan Hawke trying to make a very serious movie.

While Williams is best known for his madcap comedic style — perhaps best represented on the big screen by his voiceover work in “Aladdin” as the Genie — the versatile star impressed fans equally when he would turn in beautifully heartbreaking dramatic performances, as well.

One such role was in “Dead Poets Society,” the inspirational 1989 film that saw Williams connecting with a group of students through poetry. Williams would earn an Oscar nomination for his dramatic work, but he was apparently quite himself on set, much to Hawke’s dismay.

The actor spoke about his experience making the film, while accepting the President’s Award for career achievement at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Czech Republic over the weekend, as covered by Variety.

“He had a habit of making a ton of jokes on set,” Hawke said of Williams. “At 18, I found that incredibly irritating. He wouldn’t stop and I wouldn’t laugh at anything he did.”

As such, he was convinced that Williams hated him. But that turned out not to be the case at all. In fact, the veteran actor was impressed with the up-and-coming young star. “Poets” would actually prove a breakthrough role for Hawke.

“There was this scene in the film when he makes me spontaneously make up a poem in front of the class,” Hawke recalled. “He made this joke at the end of it, saying that he found me intimidating. I thought it was a joke.”

It turns out that even though Williams was constantly cracking jokes, this may not have been one. “As I get older, I realize there is something intimidating about young people’s earnestness, their intensity,” said Hawke. “It is intimidating — to be the person they think you are. Robin was that for me.”

In fact, it turns out that Williams believed in Hawke so much, he helped him get his first agent. He recalled the agent reaching out to him. “He called, saying, ‘Robin Williams says you are going to do really well.’”

Since then, Hawke has gone on to do at least as well as Williams predicted, writing, directing and starring in multiple films, writing three novels, a graphic novel and plying his trade on the Broadway stage. He’s been nominated for multiple awards for his screenwriting and acting, including the Tony, Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG, Independent Spirt Awards and more.

He has many upcoming projects in various stages of development including “Knives Out 2” on the big-screen and a major role in Marvel’s upcoming “Moon Knight” series for Disney+.

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