Ethan Hawke Says Drugs Don’t Unlock Talent, They Just Deal With Anxiety

By Victoria Kim 09/15/15

The actor-director reflected on addiction while promoting his new movie about jazz musician Chet Baker.

Chet Baker
Michiel Hendryckx [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Drugs don’t unlock one’s creative potential, they just deal with anxiety, Ethan Hawke said while promoting his latest film, Born to Be Blue, at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The film is a reimagining of the life of Chet Baker, the famous jazz musician who gained fame in the early '50s, but became equally famous for his heroin addiction that consumed most of his adult life. “I don’t believe that the drugs helped Chet Baker play,” said Hawke. “I believe that he believed it. There’s another path to get there. Dizzy Gillespie was a family man and had a huge career and played without any drugs.”

Drugs hinder, rather than inspire creativity, Hawke says. “The life of people in the arts means you’re at war with your anxiety. Amy Winehouse, Chet Baker, Kurt Cobain, they’re self-medicating and the talent is in the essence of them. The drugs are in the way. They think that the drugs unlock the talent but the drugs just deal with the anxiety. They have nothing to do with the talent,” he said.

During the time period covered in the film, Baker is clean, but the threat of relapse is constant, Variety notes in a review.

The reality is that Baker rejected sobriety and turned his back on his career, according to those who knew him. “Chet had the world at his feet in the '50s,” said John Burr, one of Baker’s bassists, quoted by Salon in the book, Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker. “He consciously turned his back on it, and used drugs as a means of doing it. That’s what he said about it.”

“All the attempts to get him off heroin—he didn’t want to get off heroin,” said Gerry Mulligan, who played with Baker in the early 1950s. “That, of course, is heresy in the modern world. You’re supposed to be going, ‘Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, oh God, help me.’ Chet didn’t give a damn.”

Hawke is all too familiar with losing a friend to drug abuse, which helped him connect to Baker’s experience. “I have been hypnotized by Chet Baker since I discovered him in Bruce Weber’s Let’s Get Lost,” he told Variety. “Having lost River Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman—two friends, two of the best minds of my generation—the tragedy feels particularly fresh to me.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr