Ethan Hawke is a seriously proud parent.
Not only is his daughter entering the family business, she’s doing so in a role last played by his old friend and costar Winona Ryder, whom he considers “one of the great actors” of his generation.
“Words cannot explain,” Hawke told PEOPLE from Cafe Artois at the Sundance Film Festival.
Maya Thurman-Hawke, the actor’s 19-year-old daughter with his ex-wife Uma Thurman, stars as Jo March in the new BBC adaption of Little Women. Despite her famous pedigree, Hawke said his daughter wasn’t always interested in acting.
“She was always an artist, writing poems, singing songs. She didn’t discover acting until junior year of high school,” he explained.
“It’s one of the most amazing moments of my life watching her in Little Women,” Hawke continued. “She didn’t do a good job, she did a great job. To see your child thrive, and to see her thrive at a profession that you have a lot of respect for, that I’ve dedicated my life to, I was so proud of her.”
He was especially pleased seeing her follow in the footsteps of Ryder, who also starred in an adaptation of the novel in 1994 — the same year she costarred with Hawke in the Generation X cult classic Reality Bites.
“Winona in Little Women was astounding, so for me to see my daughter play a part that one of my favorite actresses played, and Katherine Hepburn before her, it’s awesome,” Hawke said.
The thirteen-year Sundance veteran was in town to promote his latest film as an actor with Juliet, Naked, and his latest film as a writer-director with Blaze, a biopic about the country artist Blaze Foley.
Hawke said he was drawn to the latter project in part to shine a light on the under appreciated singer. “Doors opened for me at a young age, and I think my whole life I’ve watched actors and writers and directors and painters and songwriters who have not had it so easy, who are met with indifference,” he explained.
After having success at an early age with Dead Poet’s Society, Hawke said he always had an appreciation for underappreciated artists. “Doors opened for me at a young age, and I think my whole life I’ve watched actors and writers and directors and painters and songwriters who have not had it so easy, who are met with indifference,” he explained.
“Blaze Foley is kind of the patron saint of the ignored artists, because he’s a first-tier poet who had none of the accoutrements of superficial success,” he said, adding, “It just moves me.”
Asked how the festival has evolved over the years, Hawke said, “America keeps changing. What’s beautiful about making movies is that they reflect the time period we’re living in.
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“When I was here with Reality Bites, it was all about Generation X, that’s what the early ’90s were. Four years ago we were here with Boyhood, and that was its own moment,” he said, referencing the 2014 Richard Linklater film. “And now we’re a part of another moment. The governments shut down, we’re having women’s marches and the movies reflect that. It’s so exciting.”
Hawke, who’s been vocal about his support for the women’s movement, said for the first time in his long career, he sees real change coming.
“Something’s happening, the world is changing,” he said. “The place settings have been knocked over and who’s sitting at the table is changing. It’s exciting.”
Over the weekend, hundreds of festival goers braved the winter weather and gathered for the anniversary of the women’s march in Park City, Utah. Women’s rights were at the forefront of many of the events during the festival, including Cafe Artois, where Stella Artois sought to shine a light on social justice with a robust lineup of female-inspired films. Overall, 37% of films at the festival were directed by women.
In contrast, out of the 60-some movies Hawke estimated he’s appeared in over the course of his career, only two were directed by women. “Something is wrong and something is being righted,” he said. “It’s going to be messy, but it’s going to get righted.”
Juliet, Naked hits theaters Jan. 19 and Blaze premieres Jan. 21.