‘The Last Movie Stars’ Director Ethan Hawke Opens Up About His Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward Docuseries

by Craig Garrett

Ethan Hawke had so much material for his Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward documentary, that he had a tough time deciding what made the cut. The Last Movie Stars is a 6 part documentary series directed by Hawke for the streaming service HBO Max. The series looks at the lengthy, seemingly happy marriage of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The main source for the series is a series of transcripts for a memoir Newman was writing but abandoned. It included interviews between Newman and his peers, family, and friends. Hawke had a mountain of material to go through.

“At a certain point you just have to get laser focused,” Hawke told TV Insider. “There’s probably a 150-page transcript with Paul’s brother [Arthur] who is one of the most important people in his life.” The issue Hawke reveals is it’s too big of a story, that “with opening that box is that it’s its own documentary. It was too big to bring up lightly.”

So, what would have been a part of Paul Newman’s narrative in that chapter? Hawke learned that Newman had a close bond with his brother, however “they had a sometimes combative relationship.” That’s just the tip of the iceberg of what didn’t make it into the series. “Then there’s hundreds of pages with all his war buddies, the guys he served in World War II with, but that’s in some other documentary too.”

Eventually, Ethan Hawke drafted his actor daughter to help

Eventually, Ethan Hawke decided to focus on “the story of two actors and their love affair. And if it didn’t relate to the love affair or their development in acting, I just let that go.” To assist in the discovery of the documentary’s narrative, Hawke recruited his daughter, Maya Hawke. Maya has established herself as an actor in her own right, even becoming a fan favorite on Stranger Things.

“There were many moments, days, weeks in this process where I would get lost,” Hawke explained. “It was like wandering through the woods, and you learn a lot about your own gender bias.” It only made sense to ask for the guidance of women in his life, including Maya. Ethan Hawke found her opinions “to be an incredibly helpful person to talk to because I knew that this movie would have some intrinsic interest with the older generation.”

“People my age and older were going to remember when these movies came out, they’re going to bring a lot of their own [recollections and opionins], but I wondered what Maya would think.” Ethan Hawke ended up finding her views invaluable. “She was very helpful in ways to help me understand my subject and what might be interesting to young people and what might be relevant to today.”

Making Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward interesting to younger audiences shouldn’t be too difficult. They’re timeless stars that are so prolific, their influence is still felt today. The Last Movie Stars is currently streaming on HBO Max.