John Hawkes is one of those actors that might not have the name recognition of the A-list Hollywood elite, but his performances have certainly created a lasting career in and out of the Hollywood system. From big screen performances in films like Identity, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Miami Vice and American Gangster along with roles like Sol Starr in Deadwood and Dustin Powers in Eastbound & Down, Hawkes is certainly a diverse performer in a variety of different genres. Hawkes returns to the silver screen this weekend playing the rugged character Teardrop in the new film Winter's Bone, which opens in limited release on June 11. I recently had the chance to speak with this talented actor over the phone and here's what he had to say.
Can you talk about your first reactions to this script and how you came across this project?
John Hawkes: Sure. (Director) Debra Granik approached me, having seen Me and You and Everyone We Know, which is an unusual connection to Teardrop, but I think she liked the vulnerability in the character and thought that I might bring humanity to Teardrop. Our good-natured battle and discussion we had in the months leading up was my pulling for Teardrop to be harder and her wondering if it would be a character that people would want to see. We found a place that we were both happy with and away we went. My reaction to the script was that it was a really interesting story. You don't see a young woman with such depth often, certainly in bigger movies and rarely, I guess, in independents, so fierce and strong and interesting. I really enjoyed the challenge of Teardrop and I wasn't sure how I would do it, but I knew there was a lot there to try to figure out and it would be great to try and pull off.
I loved Jennifer Lawrence's performance and you don't see these complex teen roles anymore. This is actually her second in a row, with The Burning Plain being the same kind of role. It was amazing that she could find two of these in a row to pull off.
John Hawkes: Oh, yeah. She's choosing her path, perhaps unlike some of her peers. She's seeking depth, and I think that's such a great thing. I don't mean to speak for her, but you can tell in her choices that she's making that she's trying to find something that matters to her and that isn't just about the magazine covers and money. It's pretty great.
Can you talk about the kinds of things you did to prepare for Teardrop? What kinds of things did you do to get into this intense character?
John Hawkes: I chose to not, I guess, really overly emphasize, and I think it was Debra's idea to not make the movie about meth. It's a character in the movie, but that was something I needed to know about, a bit. You can't really live in the United States and walk out your door without being able to see the ravages of that drug. There is one documentary, I believe that's called Meth: The World's Most Dangerous Drug, online you can find interviews with people in various stages of addiction, but I didn't want to physically manifest that too much and make Teardrop someone who is able to function. There was a book called Almost Midnight, a true crime story of that area, which deals with murder and meth-amphetamine as well. It speaks wonderfully about the history of the era, and there are about 10 pages devoted to how the area came to be what it is. That book spoke very literally of names of bars that one would be advised to stay away from. That was a jumping-off point for me, to see if I could pass for an hour or two sitting at the bar, observing and picking up on things. Being in the area for a week ahead of time was invaluable. I would have loved to be there a month ahead of time, but just a week driving around and being in the Ozarks was informative. I have my own approach, I guess, to building a character, and it's different with each film and this one involved an immersion with the area, to attempt the dialect as best I could. Just the script itself and the novel is wonderful as well.
You said earlier that meth is like a character in the film and I think just the area and the setting is a character as well because it's so unique. It was really wonderful to see how that area was portrayed.
John Hawkes: Yeah, I agree. I hope the people there like it. It's kind of the second audience and, for me, the first audience is Debra Granik, to try and make them satisfied. We got close. I don't think, in a film, you can ever exactly portray an area, but it got down to the truth of it.
This is Debra Granik's second film. What were your reactions to her style and how did you enjoy working with her?
John Hawkes: Oh man. It's fun because I don't have to make stuff up or pretend. She's just a really, really great director and storyteller. I've been doing this work for awhile and it's really a relief to come across a collaborator that I get and I feel that gets me. I guess her approach to telling a story on some level just makes sense to me and goes back to the work I've done with a theater company years ago. I guess it's the feeling of someone who is guiding a story, it's almost like a shorthand. I just feel like I get her and I would love to work with her for the rest of my life. She's just a really extraordinary person and director and I could tell just by talking to her on the phone, in the months leading up to it. I had a good feeling and when I got there and began to work, it was just a really, almost a relief, to get to work with someone who is so talented and whose approach, I feel, lines up with my own.
I was a pretty big fan of Eastbound & Down. Have you heard anything about when you guys are getting back to work on that?
John Hawkes: Yeah. It's an unusual season and I don't think I'm allowed to talk too much about it, but I believe I'll be doing some work on it this summer. I'm not sure when they would actually air it, but it's coming back.
We heard it was coming back, but no one is really sure when.
John Hawkes: Yeah, nor am I. I'm sorry, I wish I had a better beat on it, but I really don't.
Will it be another short season, or will it be maybe a longer, 13-episode season?
John Hawkes: I don't know, but my sense is if you look at a lot of comedies on TV, they're done in these six-episode blocks. I think HBO and a lot of different networks have a new model and are shooting shorter seasons for half-hour comedies. I'm not sure, but I'd imagine it's another six-episode season.
You have a few other films that are awaiting release. Is there anything you can say about The Pardon, Higher Ground or Everything Will Happen Before You Die?
John Hawkes: Gosh, there are a lot of them. Everything Will Happen Before You Die is with a very talented bunch of nutjobs, which was made incredibly cheaply but really inventive. I've seen several cuts of that movie and it's still waiting to find its best assembly of a story, but it's pretty entertaining. I just started working on Higher Ground with Vera Farmiga. She's playing the lead and directing the film and I'm playing her father aging from about 30 to 60. We're just getting started on it. I just shot yesterday on it but I came to New York to do this press day.
This is Vera Farmiga's directorial debut. What's it been like working with her so far?
John Hawkes: Just fantastic and probably what you'd expect. She's just a delightful presence on the screen and turns out to be a great person too. She and Debra Granik had worked before and there's a slight similarity, perhaps, in her approach. I've only worked one day with Vera and I have a lot of work left to do on the movie. I'm leaving New York City and leaving for back up there early next week to get to work on the rest of it. It's just really great.
Will you be going to film The Hunt after that then?
John Hawkes: That one is postponed, at this point. I'm going to work on Eastbound & Down and then, I don't know if it's official or I'm supposed to talk about it, but I've been offered a role and accepted a role in an ensemble portion of the new Steven Soderbergh film. I don't know if that's supposed to be news or not, but they offered and I said yes. It's a big cast and certain filmmakers, I'd do almost anything to have a chance to be by them and watch them work. He's on that list.
Is that Contagion
John Hawkes: Yes, yes.
Is there anything you can say about your character in that film?
John Hawkes: Well, I don't know. Honestly, I'm not trying to be coy or rude, but it's just so preliminary and I don't know what I would say. I'm part of a large group. I don't even know how much he wants... I haven't met with him yet, so I don't know how much of the story he wants getting out. I read the script and I just feel like holding on that that, but I'm sure details will emerge along the way.
Excellent. Well that's my time, but thanks so much for your time, John.
John Hawkes: Thank you so much.