Corey Hawkins on Using His Classical Training in Television and Film Roles: “You have those tools ready to go”

“90 percent of the time that you’re not feeling inspired as an actor and not having that magic moment where it all comes together, then that’s when you have to pull the techniques.” – Corey Hawkins

One of the peculiar things about acting is that an actor might attend a prestigious acting school and develop years of experience performing Shakespeare and other classics… only to have to figure out how to use that experience in something like a toothpaste commercial. Though it’s not to that degree, actor Corey Hawkins — who has been nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in Six Degrees of Separation — received great acclaim for his classical acting while a student at Juilliard, yet has starred in movies like Straight Outta Compton and Kong: Skull Island and television shows like 24: Legacy in addition to his impressive stage credits. Speaking with Playbill, Hawkins explains how his classical training impacts his performances in non-classical settings.

When asked how Hawkins went from being awarded the John Houseman Prize for classical theatre while he attended Juilliard to appearing in action television series like 24: Legacy, Hawkins responds, “I never wanted to go to Juilliard in the first place because people had told me it would turn me into this classically trained robot, but really what Juilliard gave me was that it just added to my toolbox. There was no losing of yourself, it was just rethinking the instrument and adding tools to that instrument. I fell in love with classical theatre because it’s a slate that you can…it doesn’t matter what race, creed, color, sex…you can paint onto classical Shakespeare and Chekhov anything you want because the writing and the language is so rich.”

To elaborate, Hawkins explains how having a background as a trained classical actor helps when performing roles that are very different from the material commonly found in classical stage acting:

Doing action on television, you have to learn to take language that isn’t as complex sometimes and doesn’t have these long, flowery speeches that ebb and flow…you have to learn how to lift that language and take it and create full characters from these little blurbs, these little bits. It moves so fast that you have to be as full as possible. I think the training helps you do that and, for me, that’s kind of what I’ve been relying on. I think having a classical background in theatre definitely compliments that because you have those tools ready to go. At Juilliard we didn’t put names to techniques. We knew what it was, but we didn’t say,”We’re going to use this technique and that technique.” They were tools and we looked at them as a roadmap. If you know where you’re going, then you don’t need a map, but for the 90 percent of the time that you’re not feeling inspired as an actor and not having that magic moment where it all comes together, then that’s when you have to pull the techniques.