NEW YORK (AP) – When she heard that Ethan Hawke was working on a special audio edition of her acclaimed novel “Gilead,” Marilynne Robinson responded to get a better idea of who he was.
“I can’t say I was familiar with his voice,” said Robinson of the four-time Oscar nominee whose films include “Before Sunrise,” “Reality Bites,” and “Boyhood.” But when Robinson saw Hawke play as a troubled priest in Paul Schrader’s “ First Reformed, ” she was confident he could lead the life of an elderly pastor in Iowa in the 1950s, one that Robinson describes as’ a man who is in deep conversation with himself ‘.
“He (Hawke) speaks in a kind of American way that is well within the range of what I understand my character is speaking,” she said.
2005 Pulitzer Prize winner “Gilead” is the first of four Robinson novels set in a rural community in Iowa in the 1950s. It is related by the dying Pastor John Ames, a Congregationalist pastor who reflects on his family history and the suffering and transcendence he has known in this “impoverished impermanent world.” Many admirers of the book include former President Barack Obama, who spoke about reading “Gilead” during his campaign in Iowa.
Hawke recorded a short story of “Gilead” commissioned by Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y and can be heard from October 19-29 at www.92y.org/gilead. Bernard Schwartz, who heads the Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, said in a statement that he thought Hawke was an ideal storyteller.
“In ‘Gilead,’ Reverend John Ames sees ‘grace as a kind of ecstatic fire that brings things back to the essentials,'” he said. I read that and think about Ethan Hawke’s voice. “Gilead” is a great American novel and Ethan Hawke is a great American actor. ‘
In a recent email, Hawke recalled his first meeting with Robinson, when she read from “Gilead” at Shakespeare and Company in Paris, as an “almost sacred experience.”
“Her humility as a person and the depth of her writing were inspiring – so I started reading,” he explained.
Hawke’s roles ranged from the born skeptics of ‘Reality Bites’ and ‘Before Sunrise’ to the violently engaged John Brown, the nineteenth-century abolitionist he plays in the Showtime adaptation of James McBride’s award-winning novel ‘The Good Lord Bird’. Reverend Ames, who is as much a seeker in his own way as some of Hawke’s more secular characters, is in his “wheelhouse,” says the actor.
“If anyone has the Chutzpah to make it into a movie, I hope they cast me.”