Almost four decades after his foray into the film industry, the actor Ethan Hawke is busier than ever. The protagonist of Moon Knight and The Northman, now bets on the supernatural horror film The Black Phonewhich premieres today in theaters.
Best known for his work on Training Day, Boyhood and the Before trilogy, the performer faces the first villain in his career.
Directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Ant-Man), the film is set in 1978 Colorado, about a young kidnapped man who is able to communicate with previous victims of his kidnapper, a serial killer nicknamed The Grabber.
THE SPOKESPERSON had the opportunity to join members of the international press in a conversation with the four-time Oscar nominee.
What made you embrace this type of character?
I don’t know exactly how it happened. I remember when Scott Derrickson (director) first sent me the script, I warned him before he sent it. I said, you know I’m dying to work with you again, but it’s highly unlikely that I’ll do this movie because for years I’ve had this theory about how Jack Nicholson’s whole career changed after he starred in The Shining, where once you reveal your side evil of madness for the world, they begin to see it in all your other characters. I’ve always been sensitive to doing that. But then I read it and felt like it was really funny. The script was very good and I just enjoyed Scott’s work. I loved making Sinister and thought, you know what, I’m 50 years old, maybe it’s time to change the map and start embracing my inner Grabber. And I’m glad I did. The mask work part was a lot of fun and also felt service to the story. There is something in the story that I loved. The idea of a horror movie and a coming-of-age drama combined worked for me.
What helped you to create this character?
I have often greatly admired actors who were very good at shapeshifting into someone else. And I always struggled with my own ability to do that. One of the ways I’ve learned to push my acting to be more dynamic and different is to change the genre I’m working in. You’re one kind of actor in a western and another kind of actor in a romantic comedy and another kind of actor in a police trauma and another kind of actor in a horror movie. And by putting myself in different worlds, I think I’ve managed to broaden the kind of roles I can play and push my acting. I just have to keep doing it. The good news is that the industry continues to change around us and therefore the way stories are told is changing, which also helps.
How was the process of the mask and how to use it in favor of the plot?
The man who designed the masks is a brilliant designer. He and Scott had the idea that it would be interesting if the mask evolved, to have an iconic image, but constantly changing. Smiling, frowning, no mouth, the left side of the face, the right side of the face, the top, the bottom. And any mask work gives you a sense of playing and makes body language very important, and makes vocal work very important. But the idea that the mask itself was evolving and that it could say something about who the character was, was even better. It was so much fun having all these different masks and deciding which one to use for each scene… It was so new to me, playing this kind of horrible human being and there’s also an aspect of Greek tragedy at work, like those ancient Greek dramas in the ones that you are just representing this evil entity of the universe in this basement.
What was it like collaborating with Scott Derrickson again?
Scott is an exceptional filmmaker. One of the reasons I made the movie was because I felt safe and I knew he would do something smart. He’s one of those fun people where they start talking about his script and you get more and more interested in making movies because he’s so excited and doesn’t take audience time for granted. He wants to give them something worth a few hours of his day.
As a parent, how did you get convinced to play The Grabber?
One of the things I love about the movie is that it’s about how the adult world doesn’t really care about these young people. I mean, Grabber is absolutely malevolent, but the rest of his world isn’t that welcoming, either. And the story isn’t really about Grabber, it’s about this young man and this young woman and her love for each other. And setting up a horror movie as a coming-of-age story felt fresh and original to me. There is something healing in the fact that we can take care of ourselves and we can take care of other people even though these evil forces of the world are working on us. And part of the trick of a hero’s journey is to stop seeing yourself as a victim, and that’s the story of the movie. What I love about the film is not Grabber, but these young people. My performance is at their service.
What keeps you going as an actor?
I fell so in love with this profession that one life is not enough. You have certain things that you can offer as a young artist that are lost, that you can no longer do, but there are certain things that you gain. And I’ve been fascinated by how the profession keeps changing for me. I am grateful to be able to continue acting. I made my first movie in 1984, so I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s still really new to me. I feel like every filmmaker I work with has a fresh point of view. Working with Robert Eggers this year was a totally new experience for me. The way he thinks about movies is very different from the way Richard Linklater or Scott Derrickson or Antoine Fuqua thinks about movies. They all share a love of storytelling, a passion for art, and the pursuit of excellence. And I like to do different things. I did a documentary this year on Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward which has been very interesting, because I’ve been studying other people who did my profession at a very high level for 50 years, and watched how they grew and changed. Young actors are pretty much the same everywhere. They are concerned about themselves and making a good impression. And if you expand in your work, you start to really care about all of us and what the profession itself has to offer, not just what you have to offer. And that’s exciting for me because then the room becomes much bigger and more interesting.