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Ethan Hawke Talks About ‘Daybreakers’

Ethan Hawke in Daybreakers

Ethan Hawke in ‘Daybreakers.’

© Lionsgate Films

Like your vampire films with real bite? Daybreakers is a vampire movie in which the fanged ones actually drink human blood, aren’t all romanticized, and don’t glitter in the sunlight. Written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig – the filmmaking team behind 2003’s UndeadDaybreakers is an R-rated violent vampire film starring Ethan Hawke as a vampire hematologist working on a substitute for human blood. Humans have become scarce now that vampires rule the planet, and Hawke needs to find a new source of blood before his kind completely run out of food.

Hawke’s hoping Daybreakers finds an audience thirsty for a vampire film not meant for teens. Lionsgate picked up the script back in 2004, and filming took place on Daybreakers in 2007 – before vampires became the new in thing. “You know, it’s kind of funny about the whole collective 
consciousness,” explained Hawke at the LA press day for the Lionsgate film. “I got this script, I remember, when I was doing a Tom Stoppard play, and it seemed like the most radically different and new thing at that moment. Tom was like, ‘It’s time for a good vampire movie.’ I had no awareness of any of this stuff. And it’s been fascinating to
 watch it all explode, knowing I just finished making a vampire movie. But the truth is, that’s how it is with genre movies. Like the Western will
 explode and be in style for a little while, and then there’ll be too [many] Westerns and nobody will want to see one.”

Hawke added, “It’s an R-rated vampire movie. I remember being a kid and sleeping over at my friend’s house and staying up late and watching Nosferatu. Vampire movies are supposed to be secret and bad. They should be rated R.”

Since the vampire genre hadn’t exploded when Hawke read the script, that definitely wasn’t what drew him to the project. “I had been sent the script,
 and the script came with the DVD of the Undead. And I didn’t read the
script and I popped in the Undead. I watched about 10 minutes of it, 
and it was like, ‘That movie sucks.’ And then it was some holiday or
 something, and my brothers were in town, and they started watching it in
 the middle of the night,” explained Hawke. “They just started howling with laughter. 
I came downstairs and I watched the whole movie with them and I got it.”

“I didn’t get the sense of humor of that movie, and I had kind of forgotten
 the sense of humor of this genre and what’s possible inside a genre
 movie. And it got me thinking about when I first started acting with Joe 
Dante. He had just made The Howling and Piranha and Gremlins, and he had a real passion for these movies and really taught me about them. And so
 then I read the script and when I read the script, you realize that
 there’s something… The best of what this genre has to offer, which
 is… First of all, it’s original, meaning that it’s not based on a graphic 
novel or some ’60s TV show or a comic book that came out a million years 
ago. It has real originality. And I think the best genre movies have a 
metaphor or analogy at work in the subtext of them, and this idea of
 people destroying all their resources and not caring until they were all 
gone is a really powerful. It kind of fuels the way that the sci-fi
 element of it works. So by the time I met them, I was really impressed.
 And when you meet them, they have that kind of irrepressible curiosity and
 love of movies that I think is required if you’re going to make a good
 film.”

Asked what he thinks is the most prominent metaphor in Daybreakers, Hawke replied, “When an analogy is really singing, it’s
 what you want it to be. I made a joke that this could be the #1 movie for
 PETA advocates, you know? It could be a huge animal rights champion film,
 in a certain way of thinking. Maybe in another way, it’s… Oil is the most 
obvious one. Sucking the blood dry. You know, there’s that great Neil
 Young song years ago, “Vampire Blues.” This idea that we’re literally
 sucking the earth dry, and the idea of oil as the earth’s blood has not
 started from this movie. But the movie wouldn’t be good at all if that’s 
the only thing that was interesting about it. The movie works as a 
flat-out genre movie. It just happens to have something else at play. You 
know, Gattaca was a similar way, too. It works as just a basic sci-fi
 movie, but there was obviously all these themes at work underneath it.”

Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe in 'Daybreakers.'

Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe in ‘Daybreakers.’

© Lionsgate Films

Working with Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe

The Spierig brothers’ Daybreaker attracted other well-known actors, in addition to Ethan Hawke. Sam Neill plays the corrupt CEO of the company that harvests humans for blood. Willem Dafoe plays a resistance fighter who delivers snappy dialogue while taking out vamps with a crossbow.

“Well, that’s the Spierig brothers,” said Hawke about the film’s talented cast. “They wanted us. That’s the kind of actor they wanted. I mean, go figure. A lot of these kind of people who
 make these kind of movies, they don’t care about the acting. They’re so
 interested in their shot or their thing, and they just want somebody to do
 this thing. You know, Claudia [Karvan’s] a very accomplished
 actress as well. And even the young people, Isabel [Lucas] and Michael Dorman are 
incredibly good. I always think that that’s what makes a good genre movie. 
You know, if the directors can also care about that.. Obviously the movies
 aren’t really oriented around performance the way that a movie like Before
the Devil Knows You’re Dead is. But if at least the acting doesn’t stink,
 it goes a long way. I mean, Blade, it wasn’t just…Wesley Snipes is great 
in Blade. The first one, he was awesome. And that’s what separates it.”

Analyzing Genre Movies and Where Daybreakers Fits In

Hawke was ready for some tough action scenes in Daybreakers, as long as they served the story and didn’t overwhelm the characters. “There was nothing demanding about this role at all, except how much 
I didn’t want to make a bad genre film. Personally, as somebody who has
 never done this kind of movie, that was part of the appeal, but I didn’t
 want to make a bad one. I thought it’d be really fun if we could do it
 really well. The challenge of this movie is like, invariably, you don’t 
have enough money to make the movie of these guys’ dreams. They want to be
 James Cameron some day and get to make all their dreams come true, and
 this was a very finite amount. And I’ve had a lot of experience in
 independent film and about how to choose. You’ve got to be very discerning about where you put 
your five bucks, and where you cut and what you don’t cut,” explained Hawke.

“One of the things that separates a good genre movie from a bad genre movie, I always 
think, ironically, is when you care about the people. The dime a dozen
 ones are where you don’t have any awareness of the character. Even like
 something like the first Blade film. Kris Kristofferson is great in that 
movie, and you’re really sad when he gets killed. And it’s hard to do 
that. The best example is Han Solo. You fall in love with these
 characters. And I’m not saying that we achieved that, but the good John 
Carpenter movies, for example Kurt Russell in The Thing is great. 
There’s something appealing about the people. And these guys knew a lot
 about comic books and stuff like that, but trying to make a good movie
 that’s not too long, it’s not too short – that’s what’s difficult about
 it.”

Hawke added, “I’ve done movies that were physically grueling. This was not one. I watched Apocalypto the other day. I couldn’t imagine. There are
 so many shots of that guy running! I thought, ‘How in the hell…?’ That
 guy must have ran for a year through the forest! Every time they’re coming
 through the brush, the actor in me was, ‘Okay, that hurt.’ How many takes
 of that did they do?”

Looking Into the Future

After finishing up Daybreakers Hawke reunited with his Training Day director, Antoine Fuqua, for Brooklyn’s Finest. It’s another cop drama, but that didn’t stop Hawke from jumping at the opportunity to be involved.

“The thing about the cop thing that I like is that it’s actually one of the rare opportunities. Right now, if you’re interested in being a dramatic actor, they’re not making that many just regular dramas. Movies have to have some other thing going on. The nice thing about the cop genre is that it’s regular people so you get to deal with real people who eat at restaurants,” explained Hawke. “I like that genre for that reason, because you get to play characters that are recognizable. I enjoy that the most.”

As far as comparisons and living up to what they accomplished with Training Day, Hawke acknowledged there was pressure involved in living up to the standards they set the first time out of the box. “It doesn’t matter what. When you do Before Sunset, you know while it’s a limited audience, there was a very small group of people that love Before Sunrise. You feel a certain pressure to make sure that you uphold a level of quality that has been a bar. You set a bar and you have to at least match it. There’s no doubt in my mind Brooklyn’s Finest is different than Training Day. It’s not the same kind of movie, but it’s a great double feature with Training Day. There’s no doubt in my mind that some day Antoine Fuqua will be at a film festival and they will do a double feature of these two movies. It’s East Coast/West Coast. They’re fun. Antoine loves these people, these characters and these situations. It’s what he really excels at.”

And Hawke’s character in Brooklyn’s Finest is nothing like the rookie cop he played in Training Day. “It’s totally different. [Brooklyn’s Finest] centers around the hottest precinct in the U.S., which is in Brooklyn. It follows three different officers in this one precinct in their overlapping lives. It’s a little Magnolia crossed with Amores Perros, crossed with Training Day.”

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January 8, 2010 - Posted by | 1

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