The Black Phone's Ethan Hawke: 'I want to go where the audience is'

·4-min read

Watch: Ethan Hawke - Horror has the power to deliver important messages

Ethan Hawke shared what he’s learned from his time in the MCU, having stepped up to play the villainous Arthur Harrow in Disney+’s Moon Knight series.

The actor, whose past comments on the superhero genre have repeatedly gone viral, spoke to Yahoo while promoting The Black Phone – a dark horror that reunites him with Sinister director Scott Derrickson, out in cinemas now.

“What I realise is that you can talk about the way the world ought to be as much as you want, but sometimes you have to engage with it and try to make what it is as good as possible,” the actor said.

Read more: Why The Black Phone steers clear of Spielbergian nostalgia

"And I think that’s sometimes more challenging – like, I want to go where the audience is and try to give them something good rather than demand they be somewhere that I want them to be.”

Ethan Hawke as The Grabber in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson.
Ethan Hawke as The Grabber in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson. (Universal Pictures)

Hawke, back in 2018, caused some minor internet drama when discussing the genre with The Film Stage.

“Now we have the problem that they tell us Logan is a great movie,” he said. “Well, it’s a great superhero movie.

"It still involves people in tights with metal coming out of their hands. It’s not Bresson. It’s not Bergman. But they talk about it like it is.’”

He later added, as clarification in an interview with RayWork Productions, that, “these are my favourite superhero movies — Logan, Doctor Strange, Dark Knight — these are great films. But they’re not the only thing, and young people today are growing up thinking that’s, you know, that’s all there is.”

Oscar Isaac stars in Marvel Studios' Moon Knight. (Disney+)
Ethan Hawke in Marvel Studios' Moon Knight. (Disney+)

At their heart, his comments really concern how increasingly difficult it’s become for mid-budget, adult-orientated fare to survive at the box office. The major exception here, however, is arguably horror - the genre of The Black Phone.

As Hawke told Yahoo: “What's so interesting about the horror genre is it's always been wildly commercial. If a theatre is worried about going under, they like to put on Macbeth, because the scary play draws in the audience.

Read more: Sinister crowned scariest horror movie by science

"There's an appetite for it all the time. And if you use it right, you can really do anything you want inside the genre.”

Ethan Hawke as The Grabber in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson.
Ethan Hawke as The Grabber in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson. (Universal Pictures)

Jordan Peele’s Get Out, about a Black man’s nightmarish visit to meet his white girlfriend’s parents, proved to be a massive critical, financial, and cultural success.

For Hawke, “you could make a case that that's the best movie on systemic racism that America has made. And it’s in the envelope of just a fun, scary movie. If you said, ‘I'm making an important film about systemic racism’, nobody would go.

"But if you're going to tell a scary story — and it's gonna be really funny and really terrifying — they'll go and then you can kind of Trojan Horse your themes, so to speak.”

The Black Phone, adapted from the 2004 short story by Joe Hill (son of legendary horror author, Stephen King), follows a young boy named Finney Shaw (Mason Thomas). On a clear day, in the middle of the sidewalk outside his school, Finney is attacked and thrown into a van by a masked man known only to him as The Grabber (Hawke).

(from left) Terrence Shaw (Jeremy Davies), Detective Wright (E. Roger Mitchell), Gwen Shaw (Madeleine McGraw) and Detective Miller (Troy Rudeseal) in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson.
Terrence Shaw (Jeremy Davies), Detective Wright (E. Roger Mitchell), Gwen Shaw (Madeleine McGraw) and Detective Miller (Troy Rudeseal) in The Black Phone. (Universal Pictures)

He wakes up in a basement. All that’s there is an old mattress and a disconnected phone. His only hope lies in his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), whose dreams start offering psychic clues as to his location.

“It’s really about a brother and a sister loving each other and taking care of each other in a world that doesn't seem to care about them,” Hawke said. “There's all these grownups that are either actively malevolent or disengaged. And they, this young man and young women take care of themselves and each other.”

The Black Phone is in UK cinemas now. Watch a trailer below.

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