By his own admission, John Hawkes is a private man. The 2010 Oscar nominee doesn't want you knowing too much about him for personal and professional reasons. Unfortunately, once you obtain one of those pesky Academy Award nominations, privacy becomes a commodity -- something Hawkes learned the hard way after he was, as he puts it, "TMZ'd" at the airport. Of course, Hawkes realizes the irony of telling a reporter, during an interview, just how private he likes to remain. So, even though Hawkes did open up to Moviefone, he'd much rather you not read what he has to say.
We're here to talk about Hawkes' performance in 'Martha Marcy May Marlene,' a powerful look at young woman named Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), who escapes an upstate New York "community" -- or, even though Hawkes despises the word, "cult" -- led by a charming-yet-sadistic man named Patrick (Hawkes). Moviefone spoke to Hawkes about his buzzy performance in the film -- which includes a very uncomfortable rape scene with Olsen -- his private life and the time he got into an altercation on the set of the 1980s Anthony Michael Hall movie, 'Johnny Be Good'...
Having lived in Southwest Missouri for three years as a child, after I watched 'Winter's Bone,' I've wanted to tell you: yeah, that's about right.
I lived in Springfield...
I know Springfield, it was a little north of where we were.
Which is slightly more normal...
Sure, sure. Yeah, it's not the backwoods. I grew up in a town way smaller than Springfield, so, you know... there's a college and it's not tiny. And certainly, 'Winter's Bone' is about isolation.
It was very good work.
Cool... yeah, I'm glad we hit it. It was important that people back there felt well represented. And I think there are always going to be detractors, but I think, for the most part, people there felt like we had done OK.
In 'Martha Marcy May Marlene,' I know Patrick is a creepy guy, but there's something about him that's also charming. He plays the guitar!
Very much so, for several reasons. It's always most interesting to me to -- well, you referenced 'Winter's Bone': if Teardrop is a person who doesn't molest his niece or kill her -- or get her killed, ultimately -- then why not make it seem like he will? It's most interesting for the movie to complicate her journey in that way. I think Patrick has the opposite trajectory: he is not a decent person. So why play that one level throughout? More importantly, the story wants it. I was not interested in the classic cliché cult leader approach. In fact, I refused to call it a cult for a long time: I called it a "community" just to get out of that mindset. But, for the story, if we're going to follow Martha though the story, she's a much more interesting character if she's falling for someone that we as an audience can see why she might follow him.
There are a couple times I thought to myself, this guy seems nice.
Yeah, and in a total Svengali way that's really obvious and she falls for him. I think, as an audience we're not as interested in her. That's something that I love -- that she does throughout the film -- is fighting being a victim. You know, she's just trying to solve her problem and is ill-equipped to do so. It's a difficult character to follow, but she made it fascinating.
I know how professional a movie set it is, but, even so, that rape scene looks like a difficult thing to do.
Yeah. That was in kind of a ratty -- literally -- ratty shed that we were actually kind of hoping a rat might run by the background of the scene. We could hear them in the rafters above us. But it's illustrative of how courageous and game that Lizzy is. She's interested in bringing the story to life in ways that don't always call for comfort. Certainly we would check in with each other after each take and say, "Hey, are you all right?" She'd say, "Let's keep going." Both she and Jennifer Lawrence both played the dark, troubled, characters in crises... and yet couldn't have been more healthy and more fun to be around off camera. The director calls cut and they're fine again. I pretend pretty intensely and sometimes it takes me a while -- I don't have any training at all; I'm not a method actor -- but in pretending in the scene. Certainly I don't live the character: I don't take it home; I don't take it off of the set. But they both have a real facility for being able to let go of that and enjoy lunch... or whatever's next.
You're very good at comedy. After you do a role like this or 'Winter's Bone,' is that when you seek out something like 'Eastbound and Down'?
I never, ever thing about that or approach it like that. It's a happy accident if it somehow feels balanced. I'm just looking for the best story being told by the best people and the best part that I can find. If those things add up, I want to be a part of it whether it's a studio film or, more likely in that instance, an independent film.
Here's what's interesting about you. I look at your filmography and there's a lot of stuff that you're in that I forget that you're in, even though I'm familiar with the character.
I always forget that you're in 'The Perfect Storm,' and I'm very familiar with your character from 'The Perfect Storm.'
That's fantastic. For one thing, it affords me a slightly more normal life that I'm interested in.
Several reasons. Part of the way that I work is to observe. Certainly for 'Winter's Bone' I went in to places that I was advised against going into in that area. Not to try to be cool or show off, but to feel what's going on in there and what the people are really like. So that's impossible if you're a movie star. I'm also interested in privacy and being sort of a mystery to the world... as I sit here doing an interview with you. [Laughs] Even the small amount of infamy I have makes me uncomfortable -- on a personal level and on a professional level. I want people to believe me when I play a part and they are less apt to if they know a lot about me and have associations about me.
Does that come from growing up in the Midwest?
I think so. I think so. You don't show off in Minnesota. You mind your own business and you stay to your own kind of thing. I think that maybe the genesis of it. And it's also a so much more practical way to work and live, I think. As crazy as this business and as stroked as you can be when things are going your way, I still want to maintain a foot in the real world. And I've got great friends that help me do that.
Do you get recognized?
I do. I do. I've been TMZ'd at the airport...
It's bizarre to me, too. I don't understand how or why.
And I didn't mean that as a "why you?," but I don't often think of your name and TMZ.
I know. And I feel like an idiot crowing about being recognized because people probably don't think I am -- but I am. I've been in New York an hour and three paparazzi dudes on bikes were following me around. Until I figured that out and told them to go away and they've been pretty good since. I mean, not in a mean way, but like, "I'm a private person." I guess it goes with the territory. But I'm old enough to where it didn't used to, in that way. The digital age is really annoying because everything has to be documented at all times and everything is out of context and everything is blown into proportions that is unrealistic. I'd rather just avoid that whole thing.
What are your memories of playing the pizza guy in 'Johnny Be Good'?
Oh my god. It's one of the first things I did and it's probably one of the most embarrassing things. And it's something that I try to kind of really forget and not talk about. Only because I fell the work was pretty awful on my end. I was living in Texas, it was money -- there were a lot of things about that job that were not great. I don't want to go too deeply into it. I had an issue with an older actor who has passed away who was pretty mean to me, physically, in the movie. To the point where there was intercession from other actors. Anyway, it was just not a great experience, I would say.
I have no idea why I brought that up.
And it was going so well!
I feel I just ruined the whole thing.
Not at all, man.
Honestly, I would have never thought in a million years the 'Johnny Be Good' would be a controversial subject.
Well, I'm just embarrassed by it. I'm also just embarrassed by the work, but, you know, that's how you learn and try to get better next time.
I accept your scorn.
Aw, no scorn.
Now for weeks I'll be screaming in my shower, "Why did I have to bring up 'Johnny Be Good'?! Why?!"
Cross it off the list. That's the problem with IMDb, too, because you hope those little tiny ones would slip away.
It does stand out when you think of John Hawkes. "'Johnny Be Good'? That's weird."
And Uma Thurman, come on. And Robert Downey Jr. -- these are people who have been nominated for big awards... at their worst.
It's a good thing that we don't think of you when when 'Johnny Be Good' is mentioned.
I like that.
[Top Photo: AP]
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