“You have no idea what’s happening right now, do you?” How Norman Lloyd Changed Ethan Hawke’s Perspective on Acting
American actor Ethan Hawke recently went behind the camera to direct a(n excellent and highly recommended) documentary about the pianist and composer Seymour Bernstein.
Thanks to that change of hat, Hawke spent an evening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center talking about his career and craft as an actor and lover of the healing power of the Arts.
The full talk is of the quality of a great conversation you’ll have with a friend late at night, when you keep thinking “wow, something special is happening now”. Hawke was beyond generous and genuine, and if you have time, I recommend you watch the full conversation below.
In the meantime, and as usual, I’ve selected some of my favorite moments that felt important to highlight and share.
Hawke shared the life-changing conversation he had with actor Norman Lloyd during the shooting of Dead Poets Society. Back then the film was a medium sized production under Disney’s supervision, and yet, Hawke mentions an indie feel to it that made the whole mood rather casual.
It wasn’t Hawke’s first film, but it certainly a defining film in his career, he just had no way of knowing it back then. But Lloyd, who already had been at it for decades knew better, and here is what happened between them:
“You have no idea what’s happening right now, do you?” Ethan Hawke his Life-Changing Talk with Norman Lloyd
“Norman Lloyd was a member of the Mercury Theater Company, and he seemed ancient to me. I was eighteen and he was probably, seventy-six, seventy-seven, something like that. I was like ‘Wow, this is a very old person‘. I was joking around [on set], and Norman came up to me and he said, “You have no idea what’s happening right now, do you?”
And I was like “What do you mean?”
He said “You’re having one of the most amazing experiences of your life.” And I had spent a bunch of time with him, and we liked each other.
And he said “It’s not the right time to be joking. You’re having an amazing, life changing experience, and I forgive you for not understanding it, because you have nothing to compare it to.”
And I was like “What is he saying??”
And he started talking and said “You know, I worked with Orson Welles, we were part of the Mercury Theater Company, and I thought I was going to have dozens of these experiences, I thought I was going to meet a million people like Orson Welles.
And instead I was having one magical experience that could light my whole life and give me things to work toward. And you’re having one of those moment right now, and instead you kind of want to make it small.”
And I think about Normal Lloyd all the time.”
I find this reminder powerful, and it doesn’t go without reminding me of Guillermo Arriaga’s words of wisdom: “There’s no progress in Art, your last work isn’t going to be better than your first.”
Your first experience on set might very well be the best one. And that applies for everything we do, from writing a screenplay to editing a film (and it extends to every Art of course).
So this is it, keep your eyes open for the magic, it might very well be happening right now.