In 1974 his parents divorced when Ethan was three-years-old, and he settled in New Jersey with his mother after a long period of travelling.
He landed a role in his junior high school production of 'Meet Me In St. Louis' which fuelled his thirst for acting.
In 1985, Ethan made his film debut in 'Joe Dante's Explorers'. Four years later, he played Todd in 'Dead Poets' Society' and then embarked on his off-Broadway debut; a New York Shakespeare Festival production of 'Casanova' in 1991.
In the same year, Ethan co-founded Malaparte; a non-profit theatre group. Gradually, after taking part in many productions, with a lot of hard work, he became a huge international star, and an acclaimed actor, as well as an experienced scriptwriter and director.
'Reality Bites', a Generation X film in 1994, helped bring Hawke to the attention of critics despite the film being a box office disappointment. He played slacker Troy who mocks the ambitions of his love interest, played by Winona Ryder.
The New York Times noted: "Mr Hawke's subtle and strong performance makes it clear that Troy feels things too deeply to risk failure and admit he's feeling anything at all."
In 1995, he was praised for his role in 'Before Sunrise' about an American man and French woman who meet on a train and explore Vienna together.
In 1996, he had his first novel published, entitled 'The Hottest State'. He wrote another novel - 'Ash Wednesday' - in 2002.
Hawke then appeared in science fiction film 'Gattaca' in 1997, followed by a modern day adaptation of 'Great Expectations' and 'The Newton Boys' in 1998.
In May that year, Hawke married actress Uma Thurman. The couple had two children, daughter Maya Ray and son Levon Green.
Roles in 'Snow Falling in Cedars' and 'Hamlet' followed before Hawke appeared in 'Training Day' (2001) as rookie cop Joe Hoyt - a role that led to much critical acclaim. He won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Throughout the early 2000s, Hawke steered away from acting, taking on his first directing role for 'Chelsea Walls' in 2002, the year he also released his successful second novel. He also appeared in a few episodes of TV show 'Alias'.
Hawke and Thurman separated in July 2004 and divorced the following year. Hawke was photographed with Canadian model Jen Perzow before the separation, but later revealed she was not the cause of the split.
The actor returned to film in 2004 in 'Taking Lives' and 'Before Sunset'. In 2005, he received his first screenwriting Oscar nomination for co-writing the 2004 film, 'Before Sunset' (a sequel to 'Before Sunrise').
The following year, Hawke's personal business office in New York City was destroyed by a fire. He was in the middle of directing and starring in a movie version of his first novel, 'The Hottest State'.
The fire broke out in a newly renovated office on the second floor of the office building and the blaze quickly spread to the fifth floor. It destroyed Hawke's fourth-floor office and his post-production studio. Master tapes and negatives from Hawke's film were being stored off-site and were reportedly not destroyed.
He also starred in a remake of 'Assault on Precinct 13' and crime thriller 'Lord of War'.
In 2006 Hawke was cast in a supporting role in 'Fast Food Nation' and then directed 'The Hottest State' based on his 1996 novel.
'Before the Devil Knows You're Dead' was Hawke's first film in 2007, before starring in 'What Doesn't Kill You' in 2008 and 'New York I Love You' and 'Staten Island' in 2009.
His last film role was in 2010 when Hawke played a vampire researcher trying to save humanity from extinction in the box-office hit 'Daybreakers'. His latest films include the horror films 'Sinister' (2012) and 'The Purge' (2013).