By Stephen M. Silverman And Caroline Howard
Updated June 04, 2003 01:00 PM

Ethan Hawke is ready to rub elbows with Ricardo Montalban. Just ask his friends.

“After tonight, Ethan can go do ‘Fantasy Island,’ cash out and it wouldn’t matter,” actor-director Griffin Dunne, 47, enthused Tuesday, during an intimate tribute to Hawke as part of the 4th Annual Young Friends of Film Honors at New York’s Lincoln Center, reports PEOPLE.

Other celebrity guests in attendance included actors Vincent D’Onofrio and Steve Zahn and directors Richard Linklater and Michael Almereyda. Notably absent, however, was Hawke’s wife Uma Thurman –who’s in Canada shooting “Paycheck” with Ben Affleck.

“Anything that will help me to continue working is all I care about,” Hawke, 32, said when asked about the honor. “But it also makes me feel very shy, humbling — like I’m going to die soon. It’s very exciting.”

The “Training Day” star, who also is a novelist (1996’s “The Hottest State”), went on to say, “I used to come (to Lincoln Center) and see movies all the time. I’m a New Yorker. I love the city so much. To be a part of the New York film community was a goal of mine as a kid. So here I am, a part of that community.”

He didn’t bring the children, Maya and Roan (ages 4 and 1), “because I want them to think of me as their dad, not an actor. Plus, they won’t show the kind of films my kids are interested in. They’re still in ‘Piglet Goes to Lunch’ land.”

Zahn, who currently costars in “Daddy Day Care,” said he met Hawke in 1992, as part of the theater group Playwrights Horizons. “We did a play together called ‘Sophistry,'” he said.

Recalling their introduction to one another, Zahn, 34, added: “We were sitting in the back stairwell, smoking cigarettes. He bummed like 50 from me that day. I was poor and he was a movie star, so that was weird.”

So was a conversation shared by the two. “One of the first things he said to me (was), ‘You have friends?’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘People like you?’ And I said, ‘Yes!’ From that moment, we’ve been very good friends.”

To seal the friendship, “he was a groomsman at my wedding,” said Zahn. “He was shooting ‘Before Sunrise’ in Luxembourg. He flew to Kentucky — went to the wedding, went to the party, stayed up all night, got on the plane and flew back to Luxembourg. That’s the kind of guy he is.”