Hawke in The Purge.
Daniel McFadden/Universal Pictures

A still-thriving career spanning nearly 30 years has given Before Midnight star Ethan Hawke unique perspectives on life on- and offscreen. 

When his friends were shooting spitballs in ninth-grade homeroom, Ethan Hawke was shooting his first movie. It was a different kind of education, but an education nonetheless. At 42, he’s still making movies — he has two films in theaters (the talky, romantic Before Midnight and the futuristic The Purge) and another coming out next month (the action-packed Getaway with Selena Gomez) — and he’s still learning valuable lessons. “I’ve tried to maintain a level of curiosity in trying new things,” he says of his decades-long career that has also included publishing two novels and starting a theater company. “One of the advantages of starting young is that I still kind of feel like a 13-year-old about it.” Professional student that he is, Hawke has come to understand a few things about his life, his work and himself.

ON CRITICISM: “I’ve tried to get very Zen about these things and let people like whatever they like. My first movie was Explorers, and everybody hated that movie when it first came out. And when I did Dead Poets Society, I expected everyone to hate that one. And everybody loved that movie! It’s a strange part of this job. You just have to give these things away and hope that they speak to the people that they’re meant to find.”

ON HAPPINESS: “People think of happiness as freedom and having fun. But the truth is, what usually makes people happy is meeting their responsibilities, doing a good job, doing something they believe in. Part of the problem is moments don’t freeze. Some moments in the day, you think, ‘Isn’t this the greatest day? I’m in this terrific relationship, and my life is going great.’ Then about an hour and a half later you think, ‘I’ve been kidding myself my whole life. My whole life’s a joke.’ And, you know, they’re both true in some weird way.”

ON WRITING: “I’ve found the hard way that the more I talk about things before they’re done, the less I do. I’ve been working on a new novel for a couple of years. The funny thing about novels is they’re never really done. You’ve just got to arbitrarily decide when they’re done — or when you get sick of working on them.”

ON INSPIRATION: “I feel like I’m at my best when I’m listening to music. Life gets really simple and easy. Inspiration only comes when you’re not looking for it — that’s the trick. So you have to get engaged in life, and then it just falls all by itself.”