Ethan Hawke on '20/20'

ByABC News

March 5, 2004 -- Ethan Hawke has spent a decade and a half in the movies as the onscreen innocent. But for the real actor, these are tough times.

This famously earnest actor earned an Oscar nomination for Training Day and is set to appear in the thriller Taking Lives alongside Angelina Jolie, although these days his personal life is what's grabbing the headlines.

"I'm 33 years old. While I'm sitting here my marriage is not working," Hawke told ABCNEWS. "Everybody knows it."

Last year, Hawke and his wife actress Uma Thurman split after eight years together. Their union produced a daughter and a son, and their breakup became a media sensation. "It's like this is our marriage … and now there's all these other voices in the room,' said Hawke.

"You know you hate to have your grandfather read about it. You hate to … that's what makes you feel ashamed you know," said Hawke.

Finale to a Red Carpet Romance

Hawke and Thurman became acquainted on the set of the sci-fi drama Gattaca, and fans proceeded to watch them with admiration as they wed and were then frequently photographed at high-profile events.

The fanfare turned to scathing headlines more recently when tabloids claimed that Hawke had an affair while shooting a film in Montreal.

"Uma and I did not split up over anybody's infidelity," said Hawke. "We had a lot of problems before I ever went to Montreal. "

Hawke believes he and the luminous star of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill were undone by the stresses of married life between two successful actors. "You know you'd come up with these rules: 'One person works, the other person doesn't. Well, then somebody's always out of town,'" said Hawke.

When they decided to travel together, different complications arose.

"Then I'm living in a hotel room taking care of my kids while you're off on a film set six hours a day doing what you love. Do that for nine months and see what a good mood you're in," said Hawke. "I don't know if it's just too hard to be married to a woman that wants to be a movie star. I know that she has that right to want that."

Celebrity Bites

But Hawke questioned if he simply has too much "boy" in him to make it work. Yet it's the boy in Hawke that Hollywood always prized.

He started acting in movies when he was 14, after being raised in Texas and New Jersey by a socially conscious mother. Hawke said he had a general "mistrust" of anybody wealthy, which proved a conflict when the offers starting flooding in following his success as a brooding musician in Reality Bites alongside Winona Ryder.

As Hawke explained it, "The more money they offered me, the more I thought I probably shouldn't do this."

"And that was the real pivotal moment where I just didn't want to be famous," said Hawke. "You know I was really, I was really scared of it."

He says being thrust into celebrity too young can destroy any sense of humility. "As a young man … you don't know anything about yourself. And add on to that, you're on the cover of magazines. People are interviewing you about what you think," said Hawke. "You feel like a real phony.

"And I met a lot of famous people when I was about 24. And none of them seemed very appealing," said Hawke. "And so I didn't know why I would struggle to be that kind of person."

So he put the brakes on his acting career, and spent two years writing his first novel, The Hottest State. When he returned to films, he preferred roles in quirky low-budget projects and was turning down offers like Independence Day.

"I read like 30 pages of it and, 'this is garbage,' and I threw it out the window … and so then that Fourth of July I had to go and watch like everybody fill in and watch Will Smith in this part," said Hawke. "I didn't even get those lines that were supposed to be funny."

Growing Up

Turning down major roles may not have been the savviest career move. Hawke has since realized it was "cocky" to turn down offers thinking they would be there when he was ready for the stardom.

It eventually took a big boost from director Antoine Fuqua to put him in the Training Day car alongside Denzel Washington. Hawke's Oscar nomination for his "good cop" role has led to higher-profile Hollywood offers.

His next big project is as a guy who's witnessed a murder in the gritty drama Taking Lives, which opens later this month. Then he'll revive his Before Sunrise character in the sequel Before Sunset due out in June.

Meanwhile, Thurman's career is hotter than ever; thanks to her spectacular work in part one of Quentin Tarantino's ultra-violent epic Kill Bill.

As their lives move forward apart, Hawke says he misses their "dream." So how does he deal with having the whole world see Thurman pictured in a magazine — with another man?

"Yeah, it's very tough. You know and so you gotta start — you know you gotta think about your kids," said Hawke. "It's really important to me that their mother be happy. And that I be happy… That's the way grownups do these things … So that's what I'm trying to be. Grown up."

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