Ever since his feature film debut in 1985, Joe Dante’s Explorers, Ethan Hawke has continuously impressed audiences with memorable performances in countless films including Dead Poets Society, White Fang, Training Day, Lord of War and Brooklyn’s Finest.
His latest, Sinister (review), marks Hawke’s second foray into the horror genre (the 2009 flick Daybreakers being his first), which finds the actor portraying a struggling novelist, Ellison Oswalt, who moves his family into the very neighborhood where a family were mysteriously murdered only months before so that he can research their heinous demise for his latest book project. Directed by Scott Derrickson, Sinister was co-written by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill and also stars Juliet Rylance and James Ransone and features a cameo by Vincent D’Onofrio.
Recently Dread Central had the opportunity to sit down and exclusively chat with Hawke during the Sinister press day; during our interview we discussed with him whether or not being an author influenced his decision to take the role of a true crime novelist in the flick. Hawke also spoke with us about the kinds of characters he enjoys playing and even reflects on what he learned while working with Joe Dante on Explorers and his thoughts on the current independent film scene.
Check out our interview with Hawke below, and look for Sinister in theaters everywhere this Friday, October 12th, courtesy of Summit Entertainment.
Dread Central: When you were first approached for Sinister, considering that you’re a successful writer in your own life, was there a special appeal to this character to you because he is a writer, or was it more about the project having a really good script?
Ethan Hawke: First of all, I never know what makes people want to come to me. There are so many wonderful actors in the world, I’m always so curious why somebody would come to me…but you know, Scott really wanted me for this job. I was not sure why; so I went and met him, and you can tell pretty quickly that he’s a serious person. He thinks very deeply about things; he’s not a frivolous man. He has a real intelligence to everything he does.
But I liked the script. There’s a long history of genre movies with really terrific acting and a long history of genre movies with really bad acting. You have to be really careful. I just don’t want to be in a movie that doesn’t care about the acting. It was really obvious to me that Scott did really care about the acting. I was clear to me that he knew how to make a scary movie. I have no idea how to make a scary movie. I’ve never done it before. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to help him in that way, at all. He was great; he said that I didn’t need any help, that he just wanted somebody to make Ellison a real person and a recognizable human being. I thought I could do that and that Scott could make a scary movie.
Dread Central: What I thought was really interesting about the character of Ellison was that he’s a very relatable guy because he wants what’s best for his family, but in the same respect he still has this career that he keeps pushing them aside for. I really appreciated the fact that he was this flawed character because lot of times in horror movies the hero is perfect, and Ellison was just a guy that’s struggling to do the best for his career and his family who just gets mixed up in something bigger than he could have imagined.
Ethan Hawke: Exactly. Playing people who are perfect is a real bore. It really is. What I liked about Ellison was that he’s well-meaning in some ways, but in other ways he’s not. He’s horribly ambitious and claims to be doing it all for his family, but really he’s doing it for himself and his own ambition. I find those kinds of people much more interesting to play because, first of all, you don’t know what they’re going to do next because their motives are all over the place, and yet you have to try to give them some humanity so that audiences care about them regardless of their motives.
The character I played in Brooklyn’s Finest, his motives are all screwball, but he was so fun to play for that reason. Just because people do things for wrong reasons doesn’t make them a bad person, and trying to figure all that out is fun as an actor.
Dread Central: I’ve been following your career ever since Explorers considering that I’ve been a huge Dante fan my whole life. I know that was the first film you’ve done, and looking at how you started and where your career has led since then, you’ve made such interesting career choices. When you’re looking at projects, what is it that speaks to you as a performer? What is it that you’re looking for when you take on these different roles?
Ethan Hawke: I just like to be surrounded by as many talented people as I can. It helps make up for my own shortcomings, it helps me learn things, and it helps me to make good movies. I’ve thought a lot of Joe Dante while making this film. I remember I sat and watched The Howling with Joe Dante when I was 14 years old, and we watched Piranha. I feel like I’m one of the few people of my generation that has firsthand knowledge of Roger Corman and what those B-movies were about and how great they were because of working with Joe Dante.
You know, we’re in a funny moment like that again; where it’s almost like we’re going back to before (Martin) Scorsese and (John) Cassavetes changed the independent film scene. You know, the studios aren’t making dramas anymore; they’re not really interested in character-driven material. The only way to make a movie that’s going to get released and people are going to see is to do a genre movie so you have to work inside the genre milieu and try to do something awesome with it, and I think we really hit that mark with Sinister. What’s also really interesting is that when you think about it, that’s also what they were doing back in those Roger Corman movies, too, decades ago.
Sinister is a frightening new thriller from the producer of the Paranormal Activity films and the writer-director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Ethan Hawke plays a true crime novelist who discovers a box of mysterious, disturbing home movies that plunge his family into a nightmarish experience of supernatural horror.
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