Esther Zuckerman
October 01, 2014 AT 06:43 PM EDT

For Ethan Hawke, the past two years have resulted in a series of culminations. Last year, Before Midnight, which closed out his trilogy with Richard Linklater and Julie Delpy, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival; Boyhood, which he made with Linklater over 12 years, premiered there this year. And now he’s celebrating the completion of his documentary, Seymour: An Introduction, as it makes stops at various film festivals. So it makes sense that Hawke was prone to look backwards when feted at the New York Film Festival during its “An Evening With…” event.

“It’s feeling like a shedding of a skin of some kind,” Hawke explained to EW. “Basically like a decades worth of work has been manifesting.” (For what it’s worth, Hawke said “maybe” when asked bye festival director Kent Jones about the possibility of another Before movie, but he was tentative, saying that he feels that “that if there were a fourth film it would be starting a second trilogy.”)

But Hawke was prone to look even farther back than that. When EW asked about the primary teacher in his career, he discussed the influence of Peter Weir and Dead Poets Society, a topic he would return to later in the evening during a wide-ranging discussion with Jones.

“You can’t underestimate the experience of Dead Poets Society,” Hawke told EW. “I was 18 years old working with Robin Williams and Peter Weir with a group of young actors who are all really talented. It was like a crash course in the professional arts.” Hawke recalled the wisdom imparted to him by Norman Lloyd, the veteran actor who played Dead Poets‘s strict headmaster. “He came up to me once and he said, ‘you have no idea how significant this experience is in your life,'” Hawke recalled. “And I remember thinking, ‘what’s this old guy being so intense about?’ And I realize now how right he was. I didn’t realize what a blessed experience it was and how much my ethos was being formed by that movie.”

The evening was also something of a celebration of Seymour Bernstein, the piano teacher who is the subject of Hawke’s documentary, especially considering the night ended with the 87-year-old giving a rare public performance of a Brahms intermezzo. Hawke and Bernstein met at a dinner party where they discussed Hawke’s experience with stage fright. “I feel toward him like I’m protecting him a little bit,” Bernstein told EW while gazing at a portrait of himself and Hawke that was on display in Lincoln Center’s Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse. “He’s struggling to find his identity; he even said so in the documentary. He said, ‘I wonder why I’m doing what I do?’ So I keep enforcing him that what he does is the way to finding his true self and he agrees. He’s changed a lot, you know, the documentary has changed him.”

Bernstein also helped Hawke get to the New York Film Festival, as Hawke jokingly explained during the conversation that followed dinner. “It meant a lot to me: Hamlet was rejected here, Before Sunrise was rejected here, Gattaca was rejected here, Before Sunset was rejected here,” Hawke said. “It’s been a lonely 30 f–king years, and I needed Seymour Bernstein to get my ass on this chair.” Jones covered for his festival, explaining that Before Sunset wasn’t offered to the festival: “Before Sunset was not rejected by the New York Film Festival. That much I can tell you.”

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