Hawke Discusses Taking on First Villain Role in "The Black Phone"

 

Ethan Hawke has been acting since he was a kid. One of his earliest roles was playing one of the main school boys in Dead Poets Society. While he has covered a wide range of characters in the decades-since, even his most shady roles might not be considered out-and-out villains. In fact, Hawke has spent years avoiding villain roles which he went into today in an interview with Entertainment Weekly while discussing his first cinematic villain role that he'll be taking on in Scott Derrickson's new film The Black Phone. So why has Hawke avoided villainous roles until now:

"I've always had this theory that when you teach an audience how to see the demon inside you, they don't un-see it for the rest of your career. Jack Nicholson can be playing an accountant and you're still waiting for him to explode like he did in The Shining. But I realized I'm on the other side of 50 and it's time to put a new tool in the tool kit. Villains might be my future."

One might argue that Hawke playing the villain Arthur Harrow in the Disney+ series Moon Knight would make him a liar, but he described Harrow as more of "a sane lunatic" that was inspired by a combination of David Koresh and Carl Jung. Thus, in another part of the interview he explains how he didn't see Harrow as necessarily a straight-up evil character:

"I was always a little apprehensive; there's a certain kind of actor that really excels in that universe, and I'm still not sure I'm one of them ... The uber-rich villain mastermind isn't interesting to me. I love the ones who believe that they're a good person and that's why they have to kill you. That I find really terrifying."

The Black Phone, out on June 24th, is another story. Set in 1978, Hawke stars as a serial killer dubbed "The Grabber" who kidnaps children, holds them prisoners for days in his basement, before finally killing them. However, the Grabber meets his match when his newest victim, played by Mason Thames, finds himself able to communicate with the Grabber's past victims through an unconnected black telephone on the basement's wall. And unlike Harrow, the Grabber is a straight-up evil, sadistic character who makes sure to complete his wardrobe with a devilish mask he wears at all times. It was that mask that actually helped convince Hawke to make the Grabber his first villain role, likening it to classic Greek acting:

"Scott [Derrickson] wanted me to do a part in a mask for an entire film, and all of a sudden I feel like I'm doing Greek drama; he allowed me to give a performance in the middle of a horror movie ... [T]hings that I was bored senseless by when I was 18 and now see as keys to making this profession interesting to me for the next 25 years."

In helping capture the internal nature of his character, Hawke actually had a Bob Dylan lyric on his mind that helped put the character's thoughts in perspective:

"There's a great Bob Dylan line in that Scorsese doc [Rolling Thunder Revue] where he says that if somebody's got a mask on, you know they're telling the truth, and if they don't have a mask on, you know they're lying. That was on top of my brain; the scariest thing about [my character] is that he doesn't want you to see him."

In an interview with SyFy Wire, Derrickson showed that, despite knowing Hawke's thoughts on villains he sent the script anyone, having previously worked with the director on the film Insidious. According to him, Hawke was all-in the minute he left a creepy voicemail where he accepted the role:

"I sent him the script anyway and that night he left me a voicemail in this menacing voice, and he said, 'I'm gonna murder the f*** out of you ... It's gonna hurt really, really bad.' It was a line in the script, and that was how he was letting me know he was going to do it."

Early reviews have praised Hawke's performance in particular which seems to be a good sign that not only was Hawke right to take on his first truly evil role, but that he might have a talent for it in his later years as an actor. Stay tuned!


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