Pin It

John Hawkes on His Preparation for the Sundance Hit, ‘The Surrogate’

John-Hawkes-The-SurrogateAmerica Gangster and The Perfect Storm actor John Hawkes scored rave reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival after viewers witnessed his portrayal of Mark O’ Brien, a man in an iron lung who hopes to lose his virginity, in the Ben Lewin directed movie The Surrogate

Talking with SpeakEasy at the festival about his difficult role in the film that is based on a true story, Hawkes shared how he prepared for his role as the thirty-eight year old O’Brien, who enlists a sex surrogate with the help of his therapist and priest, on his unique mission to experience human connection.

“At the first meeting with Ben, an essential question I had when we sat down—before it was decided I’d be in the movie—was, “Why not a disabled actor?” And Ben assured me that he’d been looking and that he found some wonderful actors but nobody who quite fit into how he saw Mark. He’d auditioned [disabled] actors. Ben being a polio survivor himself made me a little less nervous about taking work away from a group of people that’s under employed as it is. Once I was cast there was a lot of preparation. Physically I have worked out, for 25 years, every day. So, I stopped doing that [to lose muscle tone].” 

Hawkes explained his need to forgo a body double, and how he went about transforming himself into a believable O’Brien for the role.  “There was talk of a body double and I was not interested in that. I thought if I can’t make this work without gimmick then I didn’t want to do it. I felt it was important that there be no prosthetics or CGI or anything. I wore no makeup and used a device that I’d insisted on and helped design, a soccer ball piece of foam. I would lay it under the left side of my body to approximate Mark’s curved spine. The story speaks of that. As an actor you have to honor that and make it plausible. I call it the torture ball. So that was one piece of physical preparation.”

Hawkes also trained himself to use a mouth stick for the filming of The Surrogate.  “I didn’t do many hours at a time with the mouth stick. I just made a mouth stick. Jessica Yu’s film Breathing Lessons  [an Academy Award winning short documentary released in 1996] was the best tool an actor could ask for. So, I made a mouth stick like Mark’s. I’d practice an hour or two at a time tops…and because it’s a film and not a play, I knew if I had moments with the mouth stick that weren’t convincing they could cut around them. I got pretty good at turning pages and typing.”

The fifty-two year performer shared that he spent a great deal of time listening to Mark O’Brien to tackle his voice, building on his very believable performance in the film. “The only recordings of him speaking were in Breathing Lessons, which was enough. The film is basically 20 minutes basically of his voice. In my own low tech way, I was able to suck the audio out of the film onto a CD and listen to it in the car constantly to try to get his voice right. If that film hadn’t existed I would have taken a different approach but I always like specificity as an actor. And Mark’s timbre of his voice and dialect were quite specific, and I tried to emulate that as best I could. I read every article he had written, every poem he wrote, and a book called How I Became a Human Being that he co-wrote about his life, and that was also invaluable.”

Since its premiere at Sundance, The Surrogate has already been acquired by Fox Searchlight for $6 million, making John Hawkes, and the Ben Lewin creation one of the most highly anticipated films this year to come out of the annual event.

1 Comment

  1. Den J Economou via Facebook

    January 30, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Incredible work!

Leave a Reply

Latest Videos

http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/audtion-tapes-robin-wright-and-h.jpg
Audition Tapes: Robin Wright and Haley Joel Osment Audition with Tom Hanks for ‘Forrest Gump’
Check out Robin Wright auditioning for the role of Jenny from Forest Gump opposite Tom Hanks. Interestingly enough, Hanks doesn’t quite have Gump’s southern drawl down just yet while the other actors audition with him. In fact, Hanks would base Gump’s voice on the voice of Michael Conner Humphreys, who played the young Forrest and […]
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/bryan-cranston-emmy-award-speech.jpg
Watch: Bryan Cranston’s Emmy Award Speech: “I love to act. It is a passion of mine and I will do it until my last breath.”
The Emmy Awards weren’t the most exciting awards show this year but with Bryan Cranston winning for Outstanding Actor in a Drama for Breaking Bad, we at least got to hear one heck of a fantastic acceptance speech. “I was a kid who always looked for the shortcut,” he said. “I did happen to stumble […]
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/audition-tapes-gerard-butler-aud.jpg
Audition Tapes: Gerard Butler Auditions for ‘Dracula 2000′
Check out Gerard Butler auditioning for the role of Dracula in the movie, Dracula 2000. The film, about a group of thieves who break into a chamber expecting to find paintings, but instead find Dracula himself, also starred Christopher Plummer, Jonny Lee Miller and Nathan Fillion. Bulter has some sweet rock star hair, huh?  
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/interview-matt-dillon-and-carla.jpg
Interview: Matt Dillon and Carla Gugino Talk ‘Wayward Pines’
FOX has a new limited-series that’s got a terrific cast and interesting premise. It’s called Wayward Pines and stars Matt Dillon, Carla Gugino, Melissa Leo, Toby Jones, Terrance Howard, Juliette Lewis, Tim Griffin and Shannyn Sossamon. The show, whose pilot was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is about a Secret Service agent (Dillon) goes to […]
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/interview-wayward-pines-stars-ti.jpg
Interview: ‘Wayward Pines’ Stars Tim Griffin and Shannyn Sossamon on the Show, Their Characters and More!
Griffin and Sossamonwere at Comic-Con where they sat in on some roundtable interviews to talk about the show.