The Willem Dafoe Quote That Sums Up How Ethan Hawke Picks His Roles

Most of the time, an actor appearing in three major productions back-to-back-to-back would justifiably claim that they're "On a roll" or some other pithy truism. Most actors aren't Ethan Hawke, however, who always seems to turn in unmissable performances on a routine basis. Hawke is coming off the Disney+ series "Moon Knight," the Robert Eggers' Viking revenge saga "The Northman," and Scott Derrickson's upcoming horror film "The Black Phone" — an incredibly busy schedule for many, but more of the same that we've come to expect from an actor of Hawke's caliber.

These three roles were at the front of our mind when /Film was able to chat with Ethan Hawke for an interview ahead of the release of "The Black Phone." Normally, getting into the headspace of such wildly different characters (a supervillain cult leader, a doomed Viking king, and a masked serial killer called "the Grabber") would require some significant adjustments on the performer's part. According to Hawke, however, he took some valuable wisdom from "The Northman" co-star Willem Dafoe to apply to his own process:

"I heard Willem Dafoe say this once and I thought, 'Wow, he just said it!' You read scripts sometimes and you see a space where maybe you could contribute. When I see that space, I want to do it. Now, my preparation for 'The Northman' is completely different than the Grabber. The work that it takes to do 'Moon Knight' is completely different than the other two. There was space in each one of them for me to be a part of it, I felt like. Does it matter who plays this part? Can the actor contribute? It's strange. I almost feel like a different actor in all three of them because what's being asked of me is so different."

'I change myself as an actor by working inside different genres'

Leave it to the guy who's acted in Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" and the "Before" trilogy to have a deep, intimate understanding of how the concept of change can greatly impact an actor's work. Having once famously forsworn the very concept of superhero movies, Ethan Hawke found himself portraying the main antagonist of Marvel's "Moon Knight" — a role that one would imagine he only did because he was genuinely interested in the part (and, yes, because he enjoys making money). Hawke's incredibly thoughtful answer indicates someone who puts a lot of effort into choosing roles, based on how much variety they allow him to play with. As he goes on to say:

"If you do something like 'First Reformed,' that's an interior performance, whereas 'The Black Phone' is kind of an exterior performance. It's in your face. It's going out. It's not going in. 'The Northman' is kind of like a poem. It felt more like doing Shakespeare than it did... I mean, the language is not naturalistic. The costumes are a part of the character, the world-building. Then making a scary story's a totally different engine. The real fun of my life's getting to do all these different kinds of movies. I change myself as an actor by working inside different genres."

Different genres, different acting demands, and a completely different scope and scale to each of these recent projects ... Yeah, it seems pretty clear that Hawke's particular method is paying off for him (and us!) lately.

The actor has plenty of exciting roles on the horizon (including an appearance in Rian Johnson's "Glass Onion"), but you'll next be able to see him next in "The Black Phone," coming to theaters on June 24, 2022.