— -- In his new film "Boyhood," Ethan Hawke plays the father in a story that follows a boy from innocent child to surly teen as his family grapples with divorce. It's a perspective that Hawke knows deeply himself.
Hawke separated from his first wife actress Uma Thurman in 2003 after five years of marriage when their daughter Maya was just 5 years old.
"When we were first splitting up, it broke her heart because she just didn't know anybody else," Hawke said in an interview with “Nightline.” "She was the only kid in her kindergarten whose parents weren't together, and it was really hard for her, and now she's a junior in high school and she helps her friends."
In "Boyhood," Hawke, who stars alongside Patricia Arquette as his ex-wife and newcomer Ellar Coltrane as their son, channeled a lot of himself into playing a divorced dad on screen. A passion project for director Richard Linklater, all the actors involved agreed to be filmed every year over the span of 12 years to make the almost three-hour-long movie.
"I had this realization that I thought I was being offered a job that I'm not sure any actor had ever been offered before, to get to create a character and be able to use time to create them," Hawke said.
Hawke and his wife Ryan Shawhuges Hawke, whom he jokingly called the "CEO" of their family, have been married now for more than six years and have two young daughters together. Ryan is currently working on a documentary called "Seymour," about an 87-year-old concert pianist who suffered from horrible stage fright.
"What makes our family work is you can't have one person be creative inside a couple, and traveling a lot, and expect to have a home life if somebody isn't taking care of a sense of balance," Hawke said. "There are so many different levels. Who's managing our money and paying our taxes? A sense of balance that needs to happen. And she makes that happen for me anyway."
In an effort to be a more hands-on dad, Hawke often turned back to theater. He mostly recently played Macbeth at New York City's Lincoln Center. But aside from being a Shakespearian actor, Hawke is an Oscar-nominated movie star who has been in the business for decades. His big break came when he landed a lead role in "Dead Poets Society" with Robin Williams.
"The funny thing for me is, I've known this kid, Ellar Coltrane, since he was 6 years old, and now he's going through the same experience I went through when I was 18... 'Dead Poets Society' came out when I was 18," Hawke said.
He was courted for serious roles in gutsy movies including "Training Day" opposite Denzel Washington, and took roles as the heartthrob, such as starring opposite Julie Delpy in the "Before" trilogy, which was also directed by Linklater.
Through the twists and turns of his career, and his love life, Hawke has found a role that is most meaningful to him - being a father to his kids.
"A lot of things happened in my life over the last decade, but there's only one thing that has really been consistent, and that's them," he said. "I would do interviews and stuff, and they ask me about movies... It's really not what's really happening ever in my life. What's really been happening in my life is being a father. That's been the most important thing. And this movie ["Boyhood"] gave me an opportunity to place all those feelings and all those experiences into a narrative."