"I thought if I did my job right, Denzel would get an Oscar," Ethan Hawke commented wryly before Training Day opened in October 2001. The remark proved prescient. Denzel Washington did get nominated for Best Actor but that's no reason to overlook the scruffy character in the background.
A self-described slob, Ethan has carved out a career for himself as a modern renaissance man, working in a number of different fields and proving adept at all of them. In an addition to acting, he has published an acclaimed novel The Hottest State, co-founded a Manhattan theatre company and directed a short film. He was also at the reins of an as-yet-unreleased movie starring then-wife Uma Thurman all before he turned 30.
Born in Austin, Texas, on Novermber 6, 1970, Ethan was just three years old when his parents divorced and he and his mother moved across the country to settle in West Windsor, New Jersey. At an early age, he began taking acting classes at Princeton University's McCarter Theater, where he made his stage debut aged 13 in a production of St Joan. Spotted by a scout, a few weeks later Ethan was auditioning for a part in the 1985 teen sci-fi feature Explorers.
Despite a barrage of publicity the film flopped and, encouraged by his mother, Ethan withdrew from acting with only one film under his belt. The failure was a defining moment in his life. From that point on he would play the acting game by his own rules, taking parts he wanted rather than letting Hollywood choose for him.
Four years later, Ethan was back in a supporting role in Dead Poet's Society. The film was an immediate hit, earning him good reviews and the lead role in a 1991 Disney adaptation of Jack London's White Fang. At the same time, Ethan determined not to be seduced by the glitz of Hollywood after his Explorers experience began to stride out on the boards. In 1992 he made his Broadway debut in a production of Chechkov's The Seagull, and a year later co-founded Malaparte, a non-profit theatre group based in Manhattan.
Meanwhile he conserved his cinema career with a series of coming-of-age roles, and had his first high-profile lead in the 1994 romantic comedy Reality Bites, opposite Winona Ryder. The following year's romantic feature Before Sunrise. proved to be a breakthrough for Ethan, upping his sensitive hunk quotient with females everywhere.
From there on Hollywood sat up and took notice. In 1997, Ethan snagged his first adult role in Gattaca on the set of which he met his future wife Uma and a year later led a cast that included Robert De Niro in a modern day version of Great Expectations. Then came Snow Falling On Cedars in 1999, and the following year he became the youngest actor to play Hamlet on screen in a Gen-X version of the Shakespearean play.
Ethan and Uma's first child, daughter Maya Ray, was born a month after the couple were married in 1998. And in January 2002 one month before he earned his greatest acclaim to date, an Oscar nomination for Training Day the couple welcomed their son Roan. Though they seemingly had one of the most loving and stable marriages in Hollywood, they decided to call it quits in 2003 after five years.
Ethan, whose second novel Ash was published in 2002, continues to seek new challenges. "Success is designed to stunt your growth," he said recently. "You have to constantly try to keep in check why it is you're doing what you're doing and not just let inertia carry you forward."