Film, TV + Theatre

Exclusive: Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke on ‘Raymond and Ray’

A complex journey


By Marissa Chin

PHOTO: Courtesy of Apple TV+
Exclusive: Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke on ‘Raymond and Ray’

It’s not easy for men to be vulnerable enough to share their thoughts and feelings—but Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke had no problems getting personal about the pain and hardships their characters, Raymond and Ray, go through and how it relates to their own lives in the eponymous film by Apple TV+. The movie follows two brothers, Raymond (McGregor) and Ray (Hawke) who must reunite to carry out the funeral and will of their estranged, abusive father. 

A feature filled with flawed characters, strained father-son relationships that continued on even after death, and a wayward journey toward forgiveness, Raymond and Ray doesn’t hold back on exploring hard topics surrounding family, generational trauma and identity. We spoke to Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke who shared about the power of siblinghood, the complicated nature of male relationships, forgiveness, and more.


A lot of this film is hinged upon the great relationship between Raymond and Ray and the banter they have between each other. Can you tell us a bit more about working together to showcase that relationship for the film?

Hawke: The truth is, these parts were so well-written. We both felt really at home with our characters that it was, in the best sense of the word, easy. It was a joy everyday. When characters are written three-dimensional like that and you’re good at what you do, you can just dive in.


The movie is all about forgiveness. Have you both personally had situations in your life where you thought you could never forgive someone or something, but then worked through it? Did you use those experiences for the movie?

McGregor: I think it’s true that the themes of the film are as you describe, to an extent. But I wouldn’t say it’s a film about the two brothers learning to forgive their father. That’s not my take, anyway.

Hawke: For me, it’s not as simple as just being about forgiveness. There was something very beautiful to me about Reverend West’s final speech about letting go of negatives—and also positives. He’s asking the children to stop thinking in terms of whether something is all good or all bad, and to accept it in its totality. For me, I always found my last line, “We didn’t really know him” incredibly moving. There’s this awareness that we have these ideas of who our parents are and how we perceive them, but one of the things the boys keep getting hit with is that they only saw one aspect of this person. There were other people that had positive relationships with this person. 

I know at my own grandfather’s funeral, my mother felt very much the same way. She sat there watching everyone give these speeches and started seeing different cuts of this person: what this person was as a professional, as a lover, as a human, as a parent. So the movie, to me, seemed really wise about how we perceive things—what you perceive as bad at first could be good later. What’s that Faulkner line, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”? 


Both of you have never shared the screen before but here you play half-brothers and it feels so right. Do you guys remember the first time you saw a film starring each other and you felt some sort of connection back then?

McGregor: The first time I would’ve seen him was in Dead Poet’s Society, which was the first thing he did. What an opener, what an amazing start to an amazing career! When we met for the first time around the time when Ethan was working with Jude Law in Gattaca, I was a friend of Jude’s so we bumped into each other and spent some time together. 

There’s a kindred spirit-ness between us right from the beginning. I always felt like, although I didn’t know Ethan personally, we had feelings about work that were similar such as the type of people we worked with and movies we made. I always thought we were very similar so being able to play these amazingly written scenes together right from day one felt so easy and natural. It’s a testament to the writing which was of the highest quality. With Rodrigo and Egor as well, it was an all-encouraged space and we were able to dance through it.


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Hawke: It’s like a watercolour in my memory, but it was the ‘90s and I remember seeing him in Trainspotting. When I saw the movie, we had already met. I think because I already met him and liked him, I didn’t have the normal feeling of jealousy when you see a good performance (laughs). I would never forget seeing Big Fish on the big screen—the movie was tremendous, that’s cinema. I’ve followed his career throughout even up till this summer, seeing Obi Wan with my family. So the brother aspect of playing this was very easy because it was easy to see him as a brother and we dedicate our lives to the same thing.

I love sports and the analogy is very obvious. It’s easy to play well when someone you’re playing with is very good. It becomes enjoyable to act. Everyone was a grown-up so you didn’t feel like the camera or the director were trying to show off. There was a real love of simplicity on the set and the confidence in the power of simplicity. So it all just became about quality.


This is also a movie that talks about masculinity and the relationship between brothers that can be beautiful but also complicated. The film shows that it’s hard for men to open up and be vulnerable. What do you think about this?

McGregor: I think there’s a lot of unlocking. This film is a journey towards them being able to face up to the pain that they’ve suffered and the hurt that they’ve locked away. They’re dealing with it in different ways and expressing their hatred, disappointment and heartbreak from the way their father dealt with them as children in different ways. They unlock and release it in different ways as well. I think Ray’s musical journey and how he’s able to express it is so beautiful.

The father destroyed Ray’s confidence in his music which is his creative expression. We can see he’s very talented but he’s unable to express it due to the damage that his father has done to him over the years. The fact that by the end of the movie, he’s able to express himself through music is such a beautiful idea that Rodrigo wrote.

Hawke: I think it’s more complicated than just forgiving the father. It’s forgiving yourself for giving into anger and self-loathing, and how to accept yourself in the moment that you’re really in. That’s why music is so good with that; it’s a present tense art form. When the movie is at its best, it ain’t one thing. It’s moving and each of the characters have their own relationships to each other. 

It’s very easy for us to be critical about masculinity and hyperbolic about its positives, but when you don’t have a positive role model as a father, it does cripple you. I think many men deal with that in different ways, and this is definitely a story about that.


Do you think Raymond and Ray found their forgiveness?

McGregor: Ray tells Raymond throughout the film, “why can’t you be angry with him? Why can’t you let yourself hate him?” At the end, he does just that and shoots him in his coffin with a revolver. He’s able to express and accept his anger at his father. So, I don’t think it’s forgiveness in his case, it’s like an acceptance of this truth that it’s okay to feel this way about this man who was a horrendous father to him.

Hawke: We’re told all the wrong ways for anger to manifest itself. We’re told it’s wrong to repress it and act out on it. So, the movie is also a meditation on what the right way is for anger to manifest. Because if you don’t release it, it’s a constant stoppage in your life. But if you release it the wrong way, you trip over it. It’s really complicated for a lot of people.


Did you bring some of your own father-son relationship to these characters?

Hawke: It’s impossible not to, to a certain extent. We put ourselves in imaginary circumstances but we use our own knowledge of the universe to implement them. But I think our own life circumstances are different. One of the things that drew both of us to this project was how fully imagined it was on the page. To imagine being given the same name as your brother because your father was confusing you; to know that your mother who you both adore was severely hurt by our father; it’s hard to forgive your father for hurting your mother. So both men are trapped in that. 

One of the wonderful things about being an actor is that human experience is not as unique as we think it is. When we’re young, we think that all the things that are hurting us are so specific to our own parents, brothers, and lovers but as you live a little, you begin to realise that these themes of family, love and loss are so common and that we really can understand each other. So yes, you use your own life and experience but not in the specifics of it.


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The two brothers went on a journey of self-discovery. Have you ever been in a situation where you had to discover yourself in your life?

Hawke: They always happen to you by surprise, actually. The times where I’ve gone out searching for self-discovery, I wind up bored watching the NFL or something. What happens to you is kinda like the movie: when a brother shows up out of surprise. There’s a really funny moment in the movie that I love, which is when Ray confesses that he never wanted to see Raymond but he was kind of glad that he did. That’s the way a lot of us feel about our family—they feel in the way of our daily life until they present themselves and you realise that they are your daily life and you can never shake them; they’re a part of you, always. There’s a real power in being around people that know where you come from and recognise firsthand the traumas you felt. I think that’s the power of family.

To watch Raymond and Ray on Apple TV+, click here.


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