‘The Last Movie Stars’: Ethan Hawke explores the lives of Hollywood icons Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward

Photograph by Courtesy of HBO

Ethan Hawke is taking a deep dive into the lives of legendary Hollywood power couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in the six-part documentary The Last Movie Stars.

Hawke was tapped to direct the documentary by Newman and Woodward’s daughter Clea Newman, who wanted the story told with an actor’s point of view. In order to achieve that, Hawke enlisted famous actors to read interview transcripts from the couple and the people closest to them, casting George Clooney as Paul and Laura Linney as Joanne, among others.

“The bad news was it was a giant international pandemic. The good news is everybody was bored,” Hawke says. “So I could call up [Sam] Rockwell and say, ‘Hey, you want to play the director of Cool Hand Luke?’ And he’s like, sure, you know, I mean, why not?”

The pandemic also gave Hawke the time he needed to binge-watch the couple’s extensive filmography, including Newman classics The Hustler and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Woodward’s Oscar-winning turn in The Three Faces of Eve, as well as the 16 films they worked on together during their more than 50-year relationship.

But the best part for Hawke was learning that off-screen, Newman and Woodward were exactly the kind of people he thought they were.

“They’re just on the right side of history,” he says, adding, “And then the biggest funny surprise is, I just would have never known that Paul Newman was as insecure as he was. You know, like, it’s kind of a relief to realize that he was sweating through three shirts and a nervous wreck and worried he wasn’t good enough. And you’re like, wow, we’re all like that!”  

The Last Movie Stars premieres Thursday on HBO Max.

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