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(Credit: Nicolas Genin)

Film

Ethan Hawke reflects on 'Dead Poets Society' and working with Robin Williams

Dead Poets Society has become a cultural relic, firmly embedded in the mainstream consciousness as a representative battle between romantic idealism and bleak pragmatism. Robin Williams stars in his most memorable role as Mr. Keating, an eccentric English teacher who magically inspires young students at an elite school to dream through poetry instead of hiding in their parent’s shadows.

Screenwriter Tom Schulman, who won an Oscar for his work, said: “That was the influence of my father, who had read a lot of poetry and was always quoting it to me. He was a big Alfred Tennyson fan, and he would quote Ulysses. ‘Come, my friends. Tis not too late to seek a newer world.’ From my father’s perspective, poetry suggested better ways to live, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. The examples I thought Keating would use in educating these students, came from those poets.”

In the same interview, Ethan Hawke reflected furnished further details about his experiences while working on the film: “I remember Peter Weir telling me how he always tries to ‘cast for the final colour,’ and I had to ask him what he meant by that, because Robert Sean Leonard is naturally very shy and introverted, while I’m the extreme opposite.”

Adding: “If you’re watching a movie where the shy kid ultimately stands on the desk and stands up for himself, while the outgoing kid contrarily takes his own life, both of these moments have to ultimately ring true. So it’s almost as if you’re initially putting a façade over the truth, and then the authentic nature of the characters become unmasked over time. That’s casting for the final colour.”

Hawke reflected on Dead Poets Society in a recent Q&A session where he said that it was intimidating to work alongside Williams. The actor commented: “I thought Robin hated me. He had a habit of making a ton of jokes on set. At 18, I found that incredibly irritating. He wouldn’t stop and I wouldn’t laugh at anything he did.

“There was this scene in the film when he makes me spontaneously make up a poem in front of the class. He made this joke at the end of it, saying that he found me intimidating. I thought it was a joke. As I get older, I realise there is something intimidating about young people’s earnestness, their intensity.”

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