‘The Black Phone’ Director Scott Derrickson Thinks Ethan Hawke Is in the Midst of His Own ‘McConaissance’
Scott Derrickson was almost certain that Ethan Hawke would never agree to star in his horror film The Black Phone. But after bringing Hawke on board, Derrickson said he now believes Hawke's terrifying, complex and sadistic performance in the film is part of an ongoing transformation for the actor and a new pinnacle for his career.
In fact, he likened it to the "McConaissance," the so-called career transformation in the early 2010s that saw Matthew McConaughey go from rom-com star to sensational, Oscar-winning actor and beyond.
"I think Ethan is hitting one of those peaks in his career that we saw with Matthew McConaughey during his so-called McConaissance, where it was like, 'What happened to Matthew McConaughey? When did he become Daniel Day-Lewis," Derrickson told TheWrap. "I think Ethan is having one of those moments right now where he's really playing over the edge. He's taking on risky roles and doing things that are so daring and unique and different than what he's done in the past and I really admire him for that."
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After reading the script for The Black Phone, Derrickson says Hawke has openly said to him that he just doesn't play many villains, let alone a masked serial killer whose face we rarely see. But in just the past few years, Hawke has played with more complex, darker characters, including the villain in Marvel's Moon Knight series, a Norse king in The Northman, who plays Nikola Tesla, an Old West abolitionist in The Good Lord". Bird" and most notably as the stoic and tormented minister in 2017's "First Reformed".
"When I called him, I said, 'You're not going to want this; he's a child killer,'" Derrickson said. "I think he was willing to take a risk."
But Derrickson also believes the mask was key in Hawke unlocking a new side to his performance as The Grabber, a man who kidnapped a string of children in the '70s and barricaded them in a basement for days or weeks until he finally takes her alive. In the script for The Black Phone, The Grabber wears only one of two devil masks, one smiling and the other frowning. But in the finished product, he alternates between three versions of the same mask and wears different parts of it, which can reflect any desired impression on his victims.
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Not only did it allow Derrickson to play with more of Hawke's face, but it gave Hawke a "eureka moment" where he could allow the mask to carry some of the creepier heavy weights.
"I thought is there a way we could take this further, do something new with it, and eventually try to create an iconic horror mask that we've never seen before," Derrickson said, referring to the history of the masks made by “Halloweens” Michael Myers, “Friday the 13th” Jason or “Screams” Ghostface were worn.
He continued, "It allowed him, I think, to be more quirky and unconventional and even more vulnerable in the way he presented himself. Because it's always scary as long as the mask is on, and the more complex, unusual, unexpected things he did, both in his specific phrasing and in the tone in which he delivered his lines, the more nervous it got."
The Black Phone opens in cinemas on Friday. Read more from Scott Derrickson's interview with TheWrap here.
The Black Phone movie review: Retro horror with a Stephen King flavor delivers solid chills
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