Tribeca Film Festival organizers brought together two artistic figures of a similar ilk for the first "Tribeca Talks: Storytellers" event this year.
Patti Smith and Ethan Hawke, who have both spent much of their lives in New York City, interviewed each other at the SVA Theatre at 333 W. 23rd St. Both have crossed artistic mediums: Hawke moved from acting to writing to directing and back again, Smith went from writing -- including poetry and a 2010 National Book Award-winning memoir, "Just Kids" -- to music. Both are known for their individuality and fierce commitment to their craft. And the artists found common ground more than once during their hourlong conversation before a packed audience of several hundred people.
Here are some highlights.
A love of Brecht
Hawke once directed and starred in a modern retelling of the Bertolt Brecht play "Baal," and Smith said that not only does she love the play – which Hawke noted was one of the playwright's least popular works – but she also visited the playwright's grave.
"It was freezing cold. I had my clarinet with me. I sang him a little song and played clarinet badly," Smith recalled.
Fondness for Sam Shepard
Shepard was once in a romantic relationship with Smith, but he also taught her how to improvise. When the couple was breaking up – "We had a relationship we shouldn't have had because he had a family" – Shepard suggested they write a play. "We wrote this play sort of as our swan song," Smith said.
In "Cowboy Mouth," Shepard said they should improvise a conversation between them in the performance. Smith said she was scared but added that Shepard said to her, "Patti Lee, it's improvising. You can't make a mistake."
"It was one of the greatest lessons I ever got," she said.
Hawke said he saw Shepard as someone to aspire to. "For me, he was the North Star," Hawke said.
An appreciation for writing
Both Smith and Hawke are writers. But while Hawke said he lacks the discipline to write every day, Smith said she makes the time.
"I don't have good work habits. I never have," Hawke said.
"I'm the opposite, I have very good work habits," Smith quipped, eliciting laughter from the audience.
Both said if they didn't write, they felt like something was missing.
"If it's not a part of my life, I don't feel well," Hawke said, adding that he used to journal obsessively.
"I just feel the need to write something," Smith said. "I write everyday in the morning for a few hours."
Respect for Vincent D'Onofrio
While on tour in Europe, Smith started watching "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," but it was always dubbed in another language. She became obsessed, she said, and when she arrived back home, she bought a TV – she hadn't owned one previously – just to watch the show. D'Onofrio later brought her in as a guest star. (The episode, "Icarus," first aired in 2011.)
Hawke and D'Onofrio acted together in "Clive," which was inspired by Brecht's "Baal," in Manhattan in 2013. Hawke said the actor impressed him, adding that the actors who deserve praise and awards are those that act in "Law & Order."
"Give me Spielberg, Kushner ... I could be pretty good too!" Hawke said. "The guest star on an episode of "Matlock," give that guy an award!"
The 'glamorous' life of a touring musician
As Smith provided a picture of life on the road – in a flowing, run-on sentence – both Hawke and audience members laughed.
"In a tour bus, we all have our bunks, we go from town to town, you have a 14-hour ride from, you know, Czechoslovakia to some field in Poland, and then you stumble out, and then you go on the stage and you do your thing and stumble off the stage and eat a peanut butter sandwich and get back on the bus. So it’s a great life, yeah."