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Ethan Hawke bonded with pianist Seymour Bernstein over stage fright and made a documentary about him

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Robin Holland
Seymour Bernstein and Ethan Hawke were fast friends when they met at a dinner party.

Ethan Hawke has a confession to make: He suffers from stage fright. It's something pianist Seymour Bernstein at a dinner party.

Ethan Hawke has a confession to make: He suffers from stage fright. But after meeting renowned pianist Seymour Bernstein at a dinner party, Hawke not only learned to accept his nervousness — he now embraces it.

​Bernstein too suffered from crushing stage fright and had a lot to teach Hawke about how it informed his career as a musician. The conversations between Hawke and Bernstein naturally led Hawke to make the documentary “Seymour: An Introduction.”

Seymour: An Introduction trailer

When the film made its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival last fall, the Frame’s host John Horn sat down with Hawke and Bernstein to talk about the film.

Interview Highlights

When did you realize this was a film and when did you decide it was a film that you wanted to make?

Ethan Hawke: Really my first thought was, somebody should do this. I’ve come to the point in my life where I realize that our life is who we spend time with. I remember my wife saying to me, "You know, you want to spend time with this person and you’re so busy that this would be a great way to get to be together, is to have something creative to work on together."

Do you remember your first meeting with Ethan?

Seymour Bernstein: I certainly do. Let me put it this way: It was electricity that coursed through the both of us. I don’t know who started the conversation, but in no time at all it centered on stage fright.

What did you hear Seymour telling you that changed the way you thought about the work you were doing?

Hawke: When I talked with him about being nervous... it felt like a terrible secret to me. It felt like somebody who knows what they’re doing wouldn’t be as nervous as I am... He said this thing that I know he says to a lot of students, that you have a right to be nervous... that this is important.

What you talk about a lot in your film, it’s obviously focused on piano. But it’s really not about piano.

Hawke: So much of the same ethos apply: discipline, hard work, working well with others, listening to others, knowing yourself... And I think that’s why I was so moved by you [Seymour] is that, first of all it’s nice to know that you’re not alone. All concert musicians of serious music suffer stage fright almost more intensely than anyone else in the world. It’s a very live-and-die profession.

Bernstein: Now what became very obvious to Ethan during our conversation is that what we were talking about had not only to do with acting or playing the piano, but with our lives itself. If it only gets confined to your artform, it’s very minimized, you see.

"Seymour: An Introduction" will be in Los Angeles theaters starting Friday, March 20. 
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