Between his pious cult leader Arthur Harrow in Marvel’s recent Disney+ series Moon Knight and his new role as the child serial killer known as “The Grabber” in the supernatural horror film The Black Phone, Ethan Hawke is clearly trying new things as he ages into his 50s.
He wouldn’t necessarily call it a creepy streak, though.
“I did Black Phone first and when I accepted the part, it was the first really straight-up villain I’ve ever played,” Hawke, 51, tells us during a recent virtual press day for the film (watch above). “The Marvel thing felt different because he’s not really a villain. He’s more of an antagonist, he’s the opposing force to the good guy. But it’s not like the incubus monster from hell, like the Grabber is.
“I do think it’s a [new] chapter in my life. As you get older, you have to keep changing and doing different kinds of parts. I think it was fun for me at this moment in my life to start playing these different kind of guys.”
Directed by Scott Derrickson, with whom Hawke worked with 10 years ago on Sinister, The Black Phonet takes place in a Denver neighborhood circa 1978 where children regularly go missing. When Finney (Mason Thames), a student with an abusive and alcoholic widowed father, is abducted, however, he discovers a phone in the Grabber’s basement that allows him to hear messages from the killer’s previous victims.
“I think that’s why I liked the movie and makes it different, it’s both a serial killer movie, a ghost story and a coming of age drama,” Hawke says. “It’s almost like Stand by Me meets The Silence of the Lambs meets Poltergeist. And by mixing the genres, it becomes something kind of new. It has a feel like my favorite Spielberg and my favorite Stephen King when their work is at its best. It just feels like a classic. It feels like, did that movie ever not exist?”
Hawke, a father of four (including Stranger Things breakout Maya Hawke), admits that the subject matter was difficult to deal with at times as a parent.
Still, “I think it’s important to make because ultimately, it’s a coming of age story disguised as a horror film,” he says. “It’s really about these kids growing up in an environment where a lot of the grown-ups don’t have their best interest at heart, from apathy to outright aggression against the kids. And they slowly learn to take responsibility for their own lives and not see themselves as a victim. And that starts to be their liberation. So I think it’s a beautiful story in that way. But as a parent, it breaks all of our hearts. If more kids were raised right, the world would be in a better place, you know?”
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Jimmie Rhee
The Black Phone is now playing.
Watch the trailer: