Fans of John Hawkes have also discovered a lot of new directors via his movies. He’s starred in features like Me and You and Everyone We Know and Martha Marcy May Marlene, which introduced the world to filmmakers like Miranda July and Sean Durkin, and also gave Hawkes killer roles. So too does Too Late give Hawkes a mouthful, literally 20 minutes worth of dialogue per take, in Dennis Hauck’s first feature film.
Hawkes plays Sampson, a P.I. on the case of a murdered girl he knew. The film unfolds in five single takes shot on 35mm film with 20 minute magazines (a Technoscope process that doubles the length of a film roll). After Too Late premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, I got a chance to speak with Hawkes by phone about the film. I had to ask about a few striking moments, so if I’ve already sold you on Too Late in my review, you might want to remain spoiler free. They’re mild though, and since this is a film festival, we still want people to know about Hawkes’ work in this film.
You may be most familiar with John Hawkes lately from a memorable episode of Inside Amy Schumer. In a 12 Angry Men spoof, Hawkes played Juror #8 trying to swing the jury to vote that Schumer is hot enough to have a TV show. We spoke about that too, as well as Hawkes’ Sundance hit The Sessions.
CraveOnline: Was the rhythm of the dialogue apparent just from the script?
John Hawkes: Yeah, for sure. It’s got a definite rhythm and style. It’s a lot of Dennis I think, his personality mixed with the things that he loves. Particularly the Raymond Chandler like snappy 1940s film noir vibe.
With Dennis being a first time writer/director, how did he contact you?
There’s a guy named David Yow who is a pretty amazing performer, painter and actor, but he is most famous for a band that he was in called Jesus Lizard which Dennis loved. I knew David Yow from Austin, TX, the punk scene there. Anyway, David and I had been friends for many years. Dennis, when he was making his short Al’s Beef, found David, met him and they got to know each other. Dennis offered him a great role in his short film and David took it, so they got to know each other and eventually when Dennis had Too Late going he asked David to get the script to me.
You’ve had a lot of success with first time directors, so are you always open minded to them?
Yeah, I try to be, sure, because we all had to start somewhere. So many great first time features I’ve gotten to be part of. I don’t think too many people will make their first feature having never shot anything or never thought about the process in great depth. If a person has a voice and a vision and is able to communicate that, then it doesn’t matter how many times they’ve done it.
Right, it’s a little bit of a misnomer. Did Dennis’s plans seem like a very ambitious first film?
Hugely so. I tried to talk him out of the idea of incredibly long takes, or not out of the idea but more covering his ass by shooting coverage. Even with the short ends. If you shoot a 20 minute take, not everything is going to be great. It just never is. You end up choosing the take that has the most emotions and maybe the least amount of errors. There are, not a lot, but busted takes when you’re doing that early morning, you begin to shoot them and they start to get pretty good, but they’re not quite there and then the sun is coming up and you’re on a night shoot. It’s interesting.
There are only five scenes in the movie, right?
Yeah, there are. There’s five scenes. He called them acts, not in any kind of pedantic way but just that it was easier. Act 1-5 seemed easier. Scenes in movies, I guess we’re so used to reading scripts and things, that they are not whole acts or scenes are usually not so self-contained as these are. Each one of these is a very specific time period told in real time. Then years can pass and we’ll see the next one, because you know they’re told out of order. They were called acts, but there were five acts.
Which one do you think you shot the most takes?
Well, I know that we reshot the first act so that’s the thing we did the most. As far as individually, probably the very first thing we shot which was very ambitious. The strip club scene where my character wanders out of a club and into another club where music is playing and ends up playing a song. We got a lot of shots of that somehow. I don’t know why. It was very ambitious running around the buildings.
In the Janet scene, after you sat down I forgot that she still wasn’t wearing pants until you stood up again. Did you forget while you were engaged in the scene?
No, I was aware that I was with a woman who didn’t have pants on, but that’s kind of a credit to the film and the scene at that point. That’s a good thing. But no, certainly I was at least partly aware. Keeping my eyes focused on her face, which the character would do. He would be strangely honorable I think.
Working on film being a rarity these days, did it occur to you this might be the last time you’re checking the gate or changing the magazine?
Interesting, I haven’t thought about that but it’s a very depressing thought so I’m trying to avoid it maybe. Martha Marcy May Marlene was shot on film. I’ve gotten lucky. When I started, obviously, the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, it wasn’t a very digital world at that point. I’ll miss it for sure. I just love the look of it.
Recently, did you get a lot of notice from the Amy Schumer 12 Angry Men sketch, how viral it went?
I guess so. I don’t so much participate in the viral world I guess. I don’t do anything on social media or things like that, so I don’t keep too close track of that. But yes, friends have certainly called or texted. It’s wonderful. I loved the piece. I loved doing it. I think she’s terrific. I’ve been a fan of hers a long time before I met her so it was exciting.
Was the point of that to play it as straight as possible?
I think so. Certainly there are really ridiculous moments Juror #8 participates in but yes, for the most part, we were all playing it very straight. The point of that was that to be debating whether or not Amy Schumer is hot enough to be on television is really ridiculous and yet really serious. To put a lot of weight and gravity around it I think is genius on her part.
It is ridiculous that it’s a debate, and also ridiculous because I think she’s lovely anyway.
It shouldn’t matter, obviously. We don’t debate whether men should have talk shows. I think if you can make people laugh, the defenses drop and maybe they’ll be open to seeing they’re ridiculous. If you make someone laugh, you can maybe open a door. Maybe their minds open when we laugh, maybe our minds open a little more so I think that to approach an idea with comedy is a much more effective way to reach a lot of people than perhaps a studied documentary which can be really worthy. But it’s a pop culture and it’s, I wouldn’t say it’s subversive, but I think there’s always comment in all of her comedy. There’s always another layer.
One of my favorite movies of yours was The Sessions and I just thought it would be a no brainer that you would get Oscar-nominated for that. One, just for your performance alone, but also it seemed like the story of feel good true story that would get nominated. What was your experience with The Sessions coming out and why do you think Helen got nominated but yourself and the rest of the film didn’t get as many?
I don’t know. There was a lot going on around it. When I met the director, Ben Lewin, who himself is a polio survivor, when we first sat down to talk about whether we’d want to work on it together, it’s a heavy project and he told me it had taken several years, he had been looking and reading people and didn’t think he’d found his guy. The shoot was difficult but the movie was fantastic. One of the great joys was just meeting and getting to know Ben Lewin and his wife Judi Levine who produced the film, who were there last night. It was so great to see them. They came over to Molly Malone’s as well [for the after party].
I guess the film got some love in the Golden Globe range and Screen Actor’s Guild. As far as Academy Awards, I don’t know. It might not have had the machine behind it that other films did. I’m not sure. Again, I try not to follow that stuff too much. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in it a little bit when every reviewer from Sundance to the next 11 months says, “Do you have your speech ready?” I didn’t have my speech ready because you just don’t know. It’s really out of your control.
So I’m part of the problem for asking, but you’re right. It’s a little unfortunate that it sometimes depends more on the machine than the merit of the film and performance itself.
Yeah, and don’t get me wrong. Fox Searchlight is a really amazing organization. Really, really great people. I love their taste in films and the individuals who run the company and work there are all top notch, fantastic people. I think they did their job. It was also I think a pretty competitive year. There was a lot of great films and performances.
Is there another first time feature filmmaker you’ve hooked up with for a future film we should look out for?
No, not at this point. I have the movie Everest coming out this fall. I just shot a pilot. That director is Katie Jacobs. She directed some House episodes. She kinda ran the show House so she’s not a first timer but this is her first pilot.