Why Ethan Hawke Thinks A Director Like Robert Eggers Is Incredibly Rare

Ethan Hawke played Hamlet in a 2000 film adapted from Shakespeare's play, where the tragedy unfolded in a contemporary setting, with New York City substituting for Denmark. In "The Northman," Hawke goes back to the original source material for a sort of Viking "Hamlet" with director Robert Eggers. This time, he's playing the father of Alexander Skarsgård's character, Amleth, based on the Scandinavian folk hero who inspired Shakespeare's brooding prince.

Hawke has had his fair share of interesting filming experiences. The production of "Boyhood," for instance, played out in fits and starts over a 12-year period as filmmaker Richard Linklater followed his central protagonist's aging in real time. However, even after working with other legendary filmmakers like Paul Schrader on "First Reformed," Hawke found his time with Eggers on "The Northman" to be a new kind of experience, one he likened to the infamous production of "Apocalypse Now" — but in a good way?

Referring to Eggers and his "Northman" co-writer, the Icelandic poet, novelist, and sometimes Bjork lyricist Sjón, Hawke told The New Yorker:

"So much of moviemaking is people trying to sell you something. I've spent my life wondering, Will I ever get to be on a set that feels like 'Apocalypse Now?' You know, like, somebody's trying. They have the balls, and the hubris and the arrogance to say, 'I want to make a masterpiece. I'm going to write a movie about Vikings with an Icelandic poet. And shoot it in a way that a film has never been choreographed before.' So, for me, just seeing somebody take a swing like that, you know, it's like a jump off a high dive."

'He was trying to make a phenomenal work of art'

"Apocalypse Now" had a notoriously fraught 16-month shoot, which was chronicled in the documentary "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse." Director Francis Ford Coppola pushed himself to the brink, and although the resulting film remains one of the greatest of all time, Coppola's career and the overarching New Hollywood era would never be the same.

For "The Northman," by contrast, it sounds like the experience Ethan Hawke had was less grueling and even something he could enjoy. The actor also spoke to Total Film about his experience, where he said:

"It was awesome. It's incredibly rare to see someone strive for the level of excellence that Robert strives [for]. The level of discipline and aspirations were sky high. It's fun sometimes to watch somebody swing for the fences. Robert wasn't trying to make a good movie. He was trying to make a phenomenal work of art. I mean, he was pressing himself and all of us to the limit. And frankly, I just loved it."

Robert Eggers has developed a reputation for his attention to historical accuracy, beginning with his first film, "The Witch," which drew heavily from his research into folk tales and historical diaries. Based on Hawke's comments, it seems Eggers fostered a working environment where the same high standard applied to the whole production, not just his writing.

"The Northman" is told on a much wider scale than Eggers' single-location sophomore film, "The Lighthouse," yet he still comes off as a director who aims for the stratosphere even as he gets down in the mud and the blood for an epic Viking adventure. Cinephiles of a certain persuasion may find themselves getting caught up in his vision the way Hawke did, adopting Amleth's memeified mantra of: "I will avenge you, father. I will save you, mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir."