Interview: Ethan Hawke (DAYBREAKERS)

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
January 9th, 2010

Texas native Ethan Hawke is perhaps best known for some of his more dramatic roles - see DEAD POETS SOCIETY, ALIVE, GATTACA, and TRAINING DAY. And then, of course, there are the more romantic movies - notably his work with Richard Linklater in BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET. And, as he's matured, his career has expanded to include work in other realms of the film and creative world - novelist, writer, director, even editor. But it wasn't until this month's DAYBREAKERS that Hawke got to do something totally different - his first genre flick, a real scarefest with gore and a message to spare.

But in an entertainment landscape teeming with vamp flicks, DAYBREAKERS offers something new. It's, as Hawke put it in a recent roundtable interview in support of the Spierig brothers' film, "the first post-adolescent vampire movie" in the current filmic era.

The Spierigs conceived of the film before the recent explosion of vampire fare, and Hawke says that, when he first got the script, "it seemed like the most radically different and new thing at that moment." At the time, he was working on a play with British playwright Tom Stoppard, who even commented to Hawke that "it's time for a good vampire movie."

At the time, Hawke "had no awareness of any of this stuff" and he's found it "fascinating to watch it all explode, knowing I just finished making a vampire movie...But the truth is, that's how it is with genre movies. Like the Western will explode, and be in style for a little while, and then [there will be too many] Westerns."

For Hawke, the appeal of making a vampire genre film was rooted in his own memories of the genre. "I remember being a kid and sleeping over at my friend's house and staying up late and watching NOSFERATU," Hawke said. "Vampire movies are supposed to be secret and bad, they should be rated R." This is not TWILIGHT, and Hawke had no interest in making that sort of film.

But Hawke was honest about his first impressions of the Spierigs' script: "I had been sent the script, and the script came with a DVD of UNDEAD. I didn't read the script, and I popped in UNDEAD and watched about ten minutes of it, and I was like, 'that movie sucks.' Then, it was some holiday or something, and my brothers were in town, and they started watching it in the middle of the night, and they just started howling with laughter, and I came downstairs, and I watched the whole movie with them and I got it...I had kind of forgotten the sense of humor of this genre, and what's possible inside a genre."

Hawke's past work with Joe Dante also spurned him on with DAYBREAKERS: "It got me thinking about when I first started acting with Joe Dante, he had just made THE HOWLING and PIRANHA and GREMLINS, and he was really passionate for these movies and really taught me about them. So then I read the script, and when I read the script, you realize that there's something - the best of what this genre has to offer. First of all, that it's original. It's not based on a graphic novel or some 60s TV show or a comic book that came out a million years ago. It has real originality."

DAYBREAKERS also works on a symbolic level, which Hawke valued. "I think the best genre movies have a metaphor or analogy at work in the subtext of them. This idea of people destroying all their resources and not caring until they were all gone is a really powerful - it kind of fuels the way the sci-fi element of it works." And in a film as layered with symbols as DAYBREAKERS is, Hawke encourages audiences to find their own take on it: "when an analogy is really singing, it's what you want it to be."

Hawke also had nothing but praise for his writers and directors, Michael and Peter Spierig: "by the time I met them, I was really impressed. And when you meet them, they have that kind of irrepressible curiosity and love of movies that I think is required if you're going to make a good film...I like doing things that are different...The fact that these guys were so smart and so creative, I knew that they didn't want to just make a blood and guts movie...The real language of cinema has been very effected by people like the Spierig brothers. Their passion was contagious."

But the love doesn't go just one way; the Spierigs wrote the part of Edward with Hawke in mind. And, for Hawke, that was "part of the appeal...these guys really wanted me for some reason? And that caught my curiosity...Once you have and kind of 'celebrity or notoriety or whatever that is, oftentimes people just want you to be in their movie." But the Spierigs wanted Hawke for his ability, and the passion they all seem to have for the film is reflected in their work.

Hawke's next film, BROOKLYN'S FINEST, reteams him with TRAINING DAY director Antoine Fuqua. But Hawke assures us, "it's different than TRAINING DAY, it's not the same kind of movie, but it's a great double feature with TRAINING DAY...It's East coast, West coast." The film offered him a chance to do, as he puts it, the "kind of work I've always dreamed of doing."

For Hawke, cop films like TRAINING DAY and BROOKLYN'S FINEST give him the opportunity to portray "regular people, so you get to deal with real people...I like that genre for that reason. You get to play characters that are recognizable human beings. I enjoy that the most."

And, for fans of Hawke's writing, when asked if he's currently working on anything, he teases, "I always try to. The older you get, the more you expect from yourself. I used to be like, if I wrote ten pages, I was like, 'you guys should all read this! It's amazing! I did it, can you believe it?' And then you get a little older..."

Be sure to check out DAYBREAKERS, in theaters as of yesterday. And, if you want more about the Spierigs, check out the boys' interview with them HERE.

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