Having already left his mark on TV with Mork & Mindy, Robin Williams spent the 1980s building his film career, with Dead Poets Society being his final movie of that decade. Dead Poets Society saw Williams' John Keating teaching English at the Welton Academy, and some of his students formed a new version of the group from which the movie took its name. One of the members was played by a young Ethan Hawke, but as the actor recalled, he and Williams didn't have the greatest dynamic on set because Williams spent so much time improvising and trying to get a laugh out of his costars, while Hawke was trying to remain serious. As Hawke explained:
I really wanted to be a serious actor. I had read Stanislavsky and I had what was supposed to be in my pockets and I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn't want to laugh. The more I didn't laugh, the more insane he got. He would make fun of [me]. 'Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.' And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn't understand, I was trying to do a good job. I want to be Montgomery Clift over here, you're trying to be Zero Mostel or something. So I thought he hated me because he would constantly lay into me. No sooner would action start and he would lay into 'Todd' over here. That was my character's name.
While Robin Williams was a versatile performer, he definitely loved to improvise on many of his projects, particularly the comedic ones. Dead Poets Society obviously fits nicely into the drama genre, but that doesn't mean fun couldn't be had during the filmmaking process. As Ethan Hawke acknowledged during his appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Williams was incredibly funny, relaxed and inventive, and whenever he made the crew laugh, the more encouraged he became. At the time, Ethan Hawke had only appeared in two other movies, so I can't blame him for trying to present himself as mature and professional so that he could make a good impression. However, that ultimately led to Williams giving him a hard time, although from the way Hawke tells it, it wasn't due to any hatred, but merely because he wasn't enjoying Williams' antics like everyone else.
While Robin Williams and Ethan Hawke's relationship might have initially seemed factious, thankfully the story has a happy ending. After Dead Poets Society wrapped up and Hawke went back to school, he received a call from Williams' agent, who told him that Williams had suggested that he sign him, saying Hawke was going to "be somebody." So thanks to Williams, Hawke got his first agent, who still works for him today, and thus had an indirect hand in Hawke's acting career taking off.
Robin Williams sadly passed away in August 2014, but his work continues to be enjoyed and appreciated across the world. As for Ethan Hawke, he can next be seen playing Tucker Crowe in Juliet, Naked. Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for all the latest in movie news, and if you're interested in what's arriving in theaters later this year, look through our 2018 release schedule.