As the Oscar race approaches the Thanksgiving break, with only a small handful of major awards hopefuls that haven’t yet screened, IFC Films’ summer release Boyhood continues to look like the film to beat.
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I connected via email with Hawke — who is currently in a remote part of Canada shooting a film, but will drive five hours tonight to Toronto in order to hop a plane back to Los Angeles so that he can participate in Boyhood Q&As and attend the Academy’s Governors Awards Saturday (Nov. 8) — to discuss his musical side and the two Boyhood songs with which he is associated:
What is your own history with music/songwriting?
Funnily enough, I had to sing a song and play a little bit in Reality Bites in 1994 — that was the first time. Robert Sean Leonard bought me a guitar on Dead Poet’s Society and I tooled around a little, but the true first time was for Reality Bites. However, music has always been a part of my life. My stepfather is a songwriter so I grew up in a house listening to him write songs — that’s where I first took an interest in it.
How did it come to be that you were contributing original music to Boyhood? Were songs always intended for where they appear in the film? Did Rick solicit them from you or did you volunteer them or something else?
When Rick and I decided to make my character a songwriter, he gave me the challenge to write some songs for the movie. We didn’t know at that time whether they would be in the movie or not, but it allowed me to take some time and get into character. It was just an exercise for me to find my character. I wrote a song for my kids and wrote a song for my wife imagining from the standpoint of my character. That way, if we wanted to get to know Mason Sr. as a musician the material was there. At one point in the film we see him playing an old Guy Clark song, so we had this image in mind of the kind of musician he would be: a Townes van Zandt wannabe. If it had been a normal movie I never would have been able to come up with two songs, but I had 12 years! It was one of those things where Rick said, “Over the course of the next year, try and write a song.” I played it for him and he loved it and he said “Why don’t you play it for the kids in the movie?” Then we came up with another one that seemed appropriate for the film and incorporated it into the story.
What is the backstory of the primary song in the film, “Split the Difference”? How did the lyrics came together, what do they mean, and how do you feel it advances the story?
I’ve been a child of divorce and an adult inside of a divorce, and it was also a central element of the whole film. I wanted to write about being a divorced dad and show a little bit of what Mason Sr. is as a father. It’s a complicated moment when he plays the song for his kids.
I want to ask you the same question, except with regard to another song you contributed to the film, “Ryan’s Song”…
“Ryan’s Song” was trying to be a little more humorous — it’s the moment when you see that Mason Sr. has moved on and remarried. We wanted to share that, even though he was moving on from trying to become a professional musician, music was still part of his life. We see him writing and singing songs with his family and this shows that he’s not giving up on music completely, he’s just facing facts that he wasn’t able to pay his bills as a musician. The responsibilities of being a father comes first.
And finally, do you have any plans to perform these songs publicly and/or to write/perform other songs publicly in the future?
No, for me this has been an experiment. My roommate in the movie, Charlie Sexton, is a world-class musician and he helped put together and record both songs from a performance standpoint. I loved every second of it, but I have tremendous respect for music as an art form and as an industry. I was just happy to contribute to the movie, but it operated more as a lark. For me, all the different mediums of performance are all connected. Acting. Directing. Singing. Writing. It’s all the same: trying to transfer real emotion and experience.
This article originally appeared in THR.com.