Ethan Hawke returns to the big screen tomorrow in a new thriller called The Purge. The film marks his second collaboration with Blumhouse Productions following last year’s Sinister. Here, Hawke plays a father who is the head of a home security installation company. When a group of masked killers show up at his door during a nation-wide event, his beliefs and survival skills are put to the test.
Shock Till You Drop met with Hawke for a one-on-one interview to chat about the film and his attraction to genre films. And, inside, he discusses what draws him to genre projects like this one, honestly assesses his previous efforts like Daybreakers and talks about his next film Predestination.
The Purge is set in the not-so-distant future where the American government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity – including murder – is legal. The police can’t be called. Hospitals suspend help. It is one night when the citizenry regulates itself without thought of punishment. On this night plagued by violence and an epidemic of crime, one family wrestles with the decision of who they will become when a stranger comes knocking.
Shock Till You Drop: You have no fear of jumping into a genre film, so what is it all about for you – the ideas?
Ethan Hawke: That’s basically it. I have a certain theory about about genre films that I like. And they obviously have to be scary, whatever the genre is, they have to hit those points. If they don’t operate in some kind of allegory, I don’t really respond to them. Daybreakers, Sinister, The Purge all kind of fit my personal recipe of what I like from a genre film. I have to be honest, but I like the more independent [horror films]. I like The Matrix and stuff like that, when they have a ton of money, but The Matrix didn’t rely on money – it just had a great idea. If you can make one without having a lot of money to entertain the audience…the genius of a movie like Sinister is its utter simplicity. It’s actually just a simple ghost story that operates on the allegory of “ambition lets the demon into your home.” If you’re not careful, it will destroy you and your family. Daybreakers is obviously a metaphor for destroying the planet. And [The Purge] is obvious, too. You know, I spent time as a 13-year-old kid watching The Howling with Joe Dante and I spent a lot of time with Tarantino yacking away about his theories on genre films. My character in Sinister was great. My character in Daybreakers was kind of lousy. I love that movie, but my character isn’t what’s interesting. I told those guys, look, I’ll do another movie with you if you give me a good part and I just finished something with them called Predestination. They stepped up and wrote me a great character.
Shock: With The Purge, you’re dealing with another father role where you’re sure where to stand with him like Sinister…
Hawke: I like him in Sinister, but he’s a jerk. He’s a lovable jerk. In The Purge, you can’t tell who he is. He’s both materialistic and obnoxious. But then, this guy understands it with having to send the homeless man to be killed, he wakes up to his own ethics and becomes somebody else.
Shock: Did you feel comfortable jumping into this knowing you’ve worked with James DeMonaco’s material before and had a friendship with producer Jason Blum?
Hawke: Absolutely. I just finished Sinister. Had a great experience. Jason said, we have a mutual love for James DeMonaco. Jason’s always believed in him. He called me up and asked if I’d be interested in working with him again and I said yeah. They told me the idea and I loved it. I watched this movie with my friends and, in the moment, you’re scared. But as the hours go by after, it provokes some interesting conversation, which is what you want.
Shock: You mentioned Dante earlier, what differences do see between old school guys like him and the new blood you’re working with now?
Hawke: It’s funny, I would say to compare them is interesting. [Scott] Derrickson is clearly a filmmaker. If you watch The Exorcism of Emily Rose, you can see he knows how to shoot, he knows how to deliver a scare. He’s got a little Hitchcock in him. And James is primarily a writer. His great gift is his originality. He’s a writer first and director second where Derrickson is a director first and a writer second. But all of those guys are finding their voice. By the time I met Joe, he was a mature adult. He had been a part of movies and a part of a movement. Explorers is a wild movie when you look at it. Like a practical joke of a film, which I think is neat. My big hope for DeMonaco is that he’ll become a big shot director and people will revisit a film he did called Staten Island. It’s a really neat film. Reminds me of PT Anderson’s Hard Eight or something like that.
Shock: Would you get behind the camera for a horror film?
Hawke: Not right now. I don’t know enough about it. What I respected about working with Scott is there is a math to making these films. A scare could work perfectly, but if it’s cut just a little bit wrong, it doesn’t work. The music is off, so is the scene. It’s a razor-sharp fine line.
Shock: Talk a bit about this new Spierig brothers flick you did, Predestination…
Hawke: It’s based on a Robert Heinlein story called “All You Zombies,” but it’s not about zombies. It’s about time travel and it’s – I don’t know how to describe it – it’s so original. What’s weird about it is that it takes place in the future and the past and I play a CIA agent traveling through time hunting a terrorist traveling through time.