Ethan Hawke almost starred in Stand By Me – Rob Reiner's iconic adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Body – and the actor learned he lost out on the role in a very funny way.
Speaking to The Guardian (opens in new tab), Hawke discussed his career and his friendship with River Phoenix, the actor who went on to win the role. The two had previously starred together in Explorers before Hawke auditioned for Stand By Me, and Hawke revealed that he learned he hadn’t got the part when director Reiner nonchalantly said: “You’re really good, but I just gave the part to another kid with a bird name.”
A bird name! Little did Reiner know that Phoenix would go on to become one of the most iconic actors of all time. Despite losing the part, Hawke remained friends with Phoenix until his untimely death at the age of 23.
“[You want to know] why I don’t make easier movies?" Hawke continued. "Well, my first screen partner overdosed on Sunset Boulevard, you know? He was the brightest light and this industry chewed him up, and that was a big lesson to me. If I had to put a single reason on why I never moved to LA, it would be I think it’s too dangerous for an actor like me to be in that kind of climate.”
Phoenix's legacy lives on – his brother, Joaquin Phoenix, quoted him in his acceptance speech for Best Actor at the Oscars, and named his new born son River.
Although he didn't make it into Stand By Me, Hawke went on to star in the classic film Dead Poets Society alongside Robin Williams. Later, he also starred in Boyhood, which is number four on our list of the 100 best movies of the decade.