Acclaimed actor and director of the HBO Max docuseries “The Last Movie Stars” Ethan Hawke first saw Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem” at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2009. The theatrical production has been hailed as one of “the greatest British plays of the 21st century,” and one of the 40 best plays of all times. A revival is currently underway at London’s Apollo Theater.
On stage, actor Mark Rylance plays Johnny “Rooster” Byron, an eccentric misfit who lives in a trailer in the woods of rural England and defies all societal conventions, supplying drugs, holding drinking parties, and telling improbable stories to a group of local young people. The role won Rylance a Tony in 2011. After Hawke saw Rylance’s performance, he became “a huge fan.” Hawke explains why he likens it to seeing Jimi Hendrix perform.
When I saw Mark Rylance do this production, you realize that he dedicated his life to the theater, running the Globe Theater for years, and it manifests. You felt this whole wheel of knowledge.
All of a sudden you knew you're on a different plane somehow, like they just elevated life. Life just got better and the temperature, the wind smells different. It was a spiritual evening. It was like everything I ever wanted from church. If there's some kind of magic actually present in the air, it doesn't matter where you are on stage.
I remember my dad talking about [when] he saw Jimi Hendrix live. And you felt while it was happening that you were part of history, that something was happening that you'd never seen before, that nobody had, that human creativity was evolving and changing.
Every now and then I'll see a movie, and I don't know how they did that. It's getting harder and harder for somebody to knock me on my ass like that, just because I'm so aware of all the devices and tricks in people's toolboxes. The thing that [Bertolt] Brecht hated was manipulation. He wanted you to be aware that you were being manipulated. He didn't want to lie to you. And there's something when Mark Rylance is at his best, he's just living! You're not eating a reheated dinner. It's happening right this second.
You walk out of the theater with this feeling that all great art… is [to] make you so glad you're alive. And you know that you won't be alive for long, and you just want to live, and this immense gratitude washes over you. If anybody has a chance to see Mark Rylance in “Jerusalem,” I highly recommend it.