Ethan Hawke Interview DAYBREAKERS

     January 7, 2010

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Opening tomorrow is The Spierig Brothers new film Daybreakers.  The film stars Ethan Hawke as a brilliant vampire hematologist (blood expert) and he lives in a world where most humans have been turned into vampires due to a plague. Unfortunately, with a vampire society so large, they’ve killed most of the remaining human population and they’re relying on Hawke to provide a blood substitute. The film also stars Sam Neill, Isabel Lucas, and Willem Dafoe.

While vampire movies and TV shows are everywhere, Daybreakers has a great concept and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film.  It’s definitely no Twilight.

So to help promote the film, I recently participated in a roundtable interview with Ethan Hawke.  He talked about why he got involved in the project, making the film, and a whole lot more.  It’s a great interview worth checking out.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here.  And here’s a review of Daybreakers, here’s my video blog about the film with Peter from Slashfilm, here’s some movie clips and here’s my exclusive interview with The Spierig Brothers.

Daybreakers movie poster new.jpgQuestion: What was it about this role that made you decide to do it?

Ethan: I wanted to do something I hadn’t done. It was that exact thing. The truth is, they had sent me the script and I didn’t read it. And along with it came the movie of Undead, and I watched about 10 minutes of it and I thought it was terrible. So, I said I didn’t want to meet [writer/directors Michael and Peter Spierig]. And then, Christmas or Thanksgiving or something rolled around, and I have two younger brothers. They couldn’t sleep and they were hanging out, and they put that movie on and they were howling with laughter. I walked down and said, “What are you guys watching?,” and it was this movie, Undead. So, I sat down and watched it with them, and then I thought it was genius. I somehow didn’t get their sense of humor. I didn’t really understand this genre, so much. My first movie was with Joe Dante, and all of what Joe used to talk about, with Roger Corman and those kind of genre pictures, like The Howling or Piranha, or his first movies, was about the power of genre filmmaking and what it can be. I have some base awareness of it and was interested in it, but I fancied myself a dramatic actor. At that exact time, I had just finished doing Tom Stoppard’s “The Coast of Utopia,” which is nine hours about mid-19th century Russian radicals, and this sounded like a lot of fun. Those were the elements that went into me deciding to do something I hadn’t done.

How did you see the brothers grow as filmmakers since Undead, since that was such a raw movie?

Ethan: But, there’s some vision there.

Don’t you see a maturity level in Daybreakers?

Daybreakers movie image Ethan Hawke Willem Dafoe (1).jpgEthan: I hope so, and I’m not saying that in a negative way. I think Undead is a great cult film and, if Daybreakers does well, people will really start to discover that movie. It really is hysterical. When you realize how little they made the movie for, you understand the level of their creativity. What I’m impressed with, with Daybreakers, is how disciplined they’ve been. I can see now why Joel and Ethan Coen have been so successful, and why the Wachowskis have been so successful. A lot of people who are super-gifted and have that kind of vision and imagination, with that often comes an arrogance and a pride, but the one brother beats it out of the other brother. If you work with Martin Scorsese, I would imagine that very few people on set criticize him and tell him, “That’s not a good idea for a shot.” When you have a twin brother on set, that happens a lot. “Oh, that’s a terrible idea!” And they force each other to be better. I watched the different cuts of the movie and how disciplined the movie became, and I have hopes for them. I think they did a really good job. What I think is most remarkable about it is that this movie is not based on a graphic novel or anything. They thought it. There is a level of imagination at work because they’ve thought through what this world would be like and they’ve thought through the analogy aspect of the movie, trying to get it working as a straight-up genre film with a subtext.

How do you feel that Daybreakers is new for the genre?

Ethan: It’s new, right now, because it’s the first post-adolescent vampire in awhile, which is refreshing to see. It’s new for the genre, in that it’s not inundated with Christian superstition. It’s rooted in sci-fi, more than it is some kind of uber-underworld thing. It’s like a virus. I think that’s really fun. It’s one-third futuristic movie, one-third vampire movie and one-third film noir. There are aspects in the beginning where it looks like a Bogart film. Gattaca did that well, too. I know the brothers like Gattaca a lot, and that aspect of where something that’s really futuristic is retro because we’re always a little retro.

Daybreakers movie image Ethan Hawke Willem Dafoe.jpg

How much are you similar to or different from a vampire? Are you a night person? Does blood make you squeamish?

Ethan: I’m actually a vampire. I don’t know. I know so little about that stuff. The genius of the vampire myth, for me, is what it’s like to live your life without the fear of death. That’s always the appeal of it. You’re not a werewolf, or something horrible. You’re kind of like yourself, but you’re not going to die. What I loved about this movie was taking vampires and putting them in the real world, so they have jobs. And you get to smoke all the time because why wouldn’t you? I find that element of it really enjoyable.

Are you attracted to immortality?

Ethan: Absolutely. What’s the great Woody Allen line? “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying.”

What was it like to do the gory scenes?

Ethan: It’s just absolutely miserable. Do you know what it’s like to sit and eat during your lunch hour, just drenched in blood, trying to talk on the cell phone? That’s the part that’s the least appealing to me.

Daybreakers_movie_image_Ethan_Hawke (1).jpgDid you enjoy that fight sequence with the sub-sider in the kitchen?

Ethan: That was really fun. Those guys who design the creatures are real artists and it’s exciting to be around them. When I was a kid, Rob Bottin did the monster for Explorers and that was my first exposure to that whole world of people who are into designing models. It’s a very crazy, artistic world. As they imagined how a body would morph, they would do all these sculptures and it was fascinating. And that’s a real guy, in a real suit. It’s not a computer-generated thing. It’s a little bit of a throwback there. There’s a lot of computer-generated stuff in the movie, but the vampires are actors, figuring out how to do it and swinging upside down. That was a fun day on set. That’s my favorite scene in the movie.

There is this vampire hype right now. Why do you think that is? Does it have a political metaphor?

Ethan: It certainly does, in this film. I think it’s pretty self-evident, in this film. The idea that we’re running out of our resources is something that we see on the regular news. The joke here is just that the resource is human beings. But, draining the blood of the earth dry is something that we talk about all the time, as our ice caps melt and everything. I think that’s fascinating. There’s a great Neil Young song, “Vampire Blues,” that was written in the ’70’s. It’s an old theme. We are vampires. Every great fortune is made at the cost of something else.

How did you identify with your character’s vampiric appetite?

Ethan: That’s a good title for a short story, or at least a band. My vampiric appetites can never be satiated.

What was Willem Dafoe like to work with?

Ethan: What I thought was really fun about this movie, to be honest, was doing it with Willem Dafoe, who I think had the last great post-adolescent vampire movie, Shadow of the Vampire. It was fun to be doing it, where he’s not a vampire. He’s not really a vampire in the movie, but he looks like a vampire, so he’s very believable as a recovered vampire. I was very, very happy to get to do the movie with him.

Did he give you any pointers for playing a vampire?

darbreakers_movie_image_willem_dafoe__ethan_hawke_and_claudia_karvan.jpgEthan: To grow your nails long. No. I don’t know what exactly possessed the Spierig brothers to want to hire us, but he and I come from the same world of New York theater. There’s a long history of theater actors making their living in genre movies, like with Alec Guinness in Star Wars. I took pride in that legacy.

Did this movie make you want to return to serious Tom Stoppard drama, or did it give you a new perspective on the genre? Would you want to do more genre films now?

Ethan: What’s wonderful about working with Tom Stoppard is that he is so curious and excited about life and making entertainment for people that is in the service of something. He fully explores the art form and what it can do, and so do the Spierig brothers. I’ve never really cared, one way or the other, what avenue you take. There’s a lot of stupid cop shows. They’re everywhere. But, doing Training Day was one of the best experiences of my life. I just want to be in the room with creative people who are trying to push any genre forward. You can do 10 hours about mid-19th century Russian radicals and all you’ll do is put people to sleep, if it’s not infused with somebody really caring and having a real reason to tell it now. When I did go to meet the Spierig brothers, after my brothers had shown me Undead, their creativity was stunning. If you’re going to keep working in this business, when you start young, you want to be near that. They’re so hungry. They love movies so much. They had their books with all their drawings and ideas and the myth of the vampire. They’re obsessed with it. They have a whole huge support group of friends who love comic books and this kind of storytelling. And then, they took computer-generated shots of Before Sunset and made my character a vampire. For some reason, they had a passion for it and they wanted me to do this. My hunch is that you just have to follow that. If that’s where people are working from, good things happen from that.

In regard to Before Sunset, do you feel that the second film ended in such a way that it’s a magical place to stop, or is that something you’d like to revisit down the road?

darbreakers_movie_image_sam_neill_and_ethan_hawke.jpgEthan: It’s definitely the sequel made from the movie that grossed the least amount of money in the history of film. Three people saw the first film (Before Sunrise). The only thing that makes following it up difficult is that, when we finished that film, there was not a doubt in the three of our minds that we would do it again. There is some kind of parallel universe that all three of us are working on because co-writing is so incredibly difficult and it happens so easily with the three of us. We have such a fun time. The success of the second film has made it a little difficult to see our way around how to do it because the first time we revisited it, there was no expectation. When it first came out that Before Sunset was going to be released, I remember reading some article that said, “They must believe in themselves because why would they make this?” There was no expectation on it. And now, every time I go out to dinner with friends I hear, “I’ve got an idea. What if it opens and she’s having a baby and . . .” So, it would be very difficult for us to exactly know how to do it.

Do you think the secret is that you waited to make the second film, and you need to wait 10 years to make the third film?

Daybreakers_movie_image_Ethan_Hawke.jpgEthan: My bet is that we need to follow the formula exactly, which is to let it happen organically, so that, at some point, we will really have something to say. There were other scripts for the second one. We had a version of that movie that happened two years later. But, once it took us five years and we couldn’t get the money to make that movie, we had to rethink it. Elements or lines from that script stayed. When we first finished Before Sunset, Julie and I wanted to do a short film the next year. We thought it would be really fun to do a five-minute short and then put it in the vault, so to speak, and then 15 years later, make another film. But time is such a big part of that movie, and how time affects people and how we change. But, my thought is that we will make one as soon as everybody has forgotten about it. Rick [Linklater] will have to see a window that will make him want him to revisit these people, and then he’ll lasso Julie and I into talking about what’s happened to us.

What would you call it?

Ethan: Before We Go Crazy. I don’t know.

How is that 13-year project with Linklater going?

Ethan: Amazing. It’s so far out.

Are you guys writing it as you go?

Ethan: Yeah. It’s all improvised around what’s happening to this kid.


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