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Interview: Ethan Hawke

On Chet Baker, the trappings of biopics, why Richard Linklater’s films are like jazz, and more

Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker in "Born to Be Blue"

Born to Be Blue, writer-director Robert Budreau’s superb pseudo-biopic on mid-career Chet Baker, has quietly become a critical hit, and for good reason. Bucking the rote chronology and reenactments that plague the biopic genre, the film both dramatizes reality and invents history to make larger points about Baker’s music, his addiction and his deep existential wounds-and about how profoundly and problematically intertwined they were. At the core of the film’s success is Ethan Hawke’s performance as Baker, a terrifically natural and understated take on a jazz anti-hero who continues to personify tragic romance, and the result of diligent research into the trumpeter as well as contemporaries like Art Pepper and Hampton Hawes. JT editor Evan Haga recently chatted with Hawke by phone. Here are some highlights.

Haga: As a jazz fan watching this film, I immediately began doing that jazz-nerd thing of trying to check facts. But from the get-go it’s obvious liberties are being taken. After the film, and especially after it’d seeped into my memory a bit, I appreciated those liberties. I think they allowed you and Budreau to get to the core of Baker’s myth.

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