The morning after this year's Oscar ceremony, a hungover Ethan Hawke awoke to a baffling surprise. No one cared about his defeat in the race for best supporting actor, nor his reaction to Training Day co-star Denzel Washington's victory. Everyone — even close friends — was too busy quizzing him, "Did you get into a fight with Will Smith?"

A month later, he's still explaining that the bruise-like mark viewers saw on his cheek was unrelated to the Ali star's vanishing act. "My only contact with Will Smith that night was that he offered me a plate of shrimp," Hawke tells TV Guide Online. "Literally, the whole thing is a complete and utter mystery to me. The rumor started because people wondered where he was, and somebody made a joke that he got in a fight. Somebody kissed me on the cheek!" (As previously reported by TV Guide Online, he was only smudged with makeup left by Washington's wife, Pauletta.)

As you may recall, Smith left the Oscars early to tend to his ailing baby daughter. A father of two himself, Hawke identifies with his colleague's priority on family. He felt lucky to combine love and work by casting wife Uma Thurman in his directorial debut, Chelsea Walls. It's a low-budget indie about tormented artists living in New York's legendary, bohemian Chelsea Hotel.

"I really wanted to give Uma an opportunity to play something that was more like herself," he says. "She always gets asked to play these überwomen... Superheroes, ice princesses or something like that.

"If I'm directing a movie, she has to be in it — she doesn't really have an option," he jokes. Though Hawke does admit that when it came to Thurman, "directing" was a loosely defined term. "A lot of the other actors had been in a theater company with me, so they were used to me being bossy," he says. "But my wife, of course, has no patience for it. The only way to do it was to let her do whatever she wanted to."