By Daniel D'Addario and Diane Tsai
March 12, 2015

Ethan Hawke, the actor recently nominated for an Oscar for Boyhood, is back in theaters—but this time he’s behind the camera.

The documentary Seymour: An Introduction is Hawke’s latest unexpected creative endeavor, after two novels and several stints onstage. The actor, who got his start as a teenager in Dead Poets Society, uses his new film to show the virtue of stepping out of the limelight. Seymour is Seymour Bernstein, Hawke’s friend and a celebrated concert pianist who left performing behind in order to teach. The film, in theaters March 13, depicts Bernstein’s memories of a long life well-lived, as well as the bond between Bernstein and Hawke; the actor confesses to Bernstein his career anxieties and struggles with stage fright.

Hawke is an open book. Asked how he responds to charges that his various less-than-commercial endeavors add up to James Franco-ish pretensions, the actor is forthcoming: “I’ve been accused of being pretentious my whole life, rightfully so.” As for whether or not he, like Bernstein, will eventually recede from public life? “I think there’s a healthy part of anyone who’s a professional actor that has a little Greta Garbo in them. You know, if you want it too bad, you have another set of problems.” For now, though, he’s never been more productive—or more successful.

Read next: 10 Questions With Ethan Hawke

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Write to Diane Tsai at diane.tsai@time.com.

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