In the movie “Sinister,” Ethan Hawke plays a true crime novelist named Ellison Oswalt, who discovers a box of mysterious, disturbing home movies that plunge his family into a nightmarish experience of supernatural horror. Here is what Hawke said about “Sinister” at the Los Angeles press junket for the film.
Can you summarize the plot of “Sinister”?
“Sinister” is basically about a guy who is at the end of his rope, as far as his career, and is longing for one more shot at the limelight, and thinks if he moves into this house where this horrible homicide has happened — this whole family has been killed — he will be able to write a great novel about them. For obvious reasons, he doesn’t tell his wife about it. And that’s basically the set-up: He moves his family into this house where this horrible thing happened in order to research this murder. That’s the first three minutes of this movie. And the rest happens.
What drew you to the Ellison Oswalt character?
Just its complexity. The character of Ellison is, in any genre of film, a complex character. And in particular, in this genre, the horror genre, a lot of times, you’re asked to play cardboard cutouts of people — even in comedy. And this guy was just really seemed to be not really a good person or a bad person. He was a really complex person. And those are the most fun to play.
Also, the script works, in regards to telling a good story. And it has wit to it, which I like. First of all, if it’s a horror movie, it’s got to be scary. It’s got to be really scary. And at their best, they’ve also got to have some underlining metaphor to them. And this one has a very clear and obvious one about a guy who put his own ambition ahead of his family. Watch what happens when you do that.
What was the scariest part of watching “Sinister” for you?
For me, the whole movie is intensely creepy because as ridiculous and outlandish as the scenario is, there’s something about it that’s believable in some strange way that I don’t really understand. I guess it’s just the domestic nature of it all. We recognize so many of the world about it. And the scariest part for me is the end. I love the end of the movie. When I read the script, I loved it. I thought it was really smart and really terrifying.
What was it like showing “Sinister” at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival?
For me, it was a highlight. If you make a comedy, you want to make people laugh. And if you make a horror movie, you make it because you want it to work and be scary and for people to have a lot of fun. And so to sit at South by Southwest and feel everybody respond to the movie and see the movie working. Alone in a vacuum, we don’t know if the movie is scary or not. Until you see it in a group of people, it’s so much about the timing of everything.
What was it like watching that “found footage”?
One of the things I love about this movie is the most horrific parts of it happen in this found footage, which is in these old home movies that he’s found. And so my character has to watch the movie. And so the director just showed the movie and just filmed me watching, which was so kind of wonderful to get to do. And they’re both incredibly creepy and elegiac at the same time. That was what I liked about it.
How would you describe working with “Sinister” director/co-writer Scott Derrickson?
Working with Scott is like working with any other talented filmmaker I’ve ever worked with. If somebody knows what they’re doing and has a real vision with the camera, the whole process becomes so easy. If they don’t really know what they’re doing and don’t have a vision with the camera, it’s really difficult. And this guy knew what he was doing in spades. I feel 100 percent confident in saying that I guarantee you that he’s going to make a lot of terrific films.
What question about “Sinister” have you gotten that really surprised you?
Whenever I do these press days for a movie, you just get a general sense of whether a film is working or not. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so I don’t really get surprised by a question, unless they ask me about my dog Waldo in the second grade or something retarded. What I take away from it is how people are responding to the movie, that the movie is really working, that this movie is what you hope it will be. If you don’t want to se a scary movie, then you probably won’t like this movie. But if you want to see a scary movie on Friday night, then you’ll see one.
Can you talk about your recent work in theater stage productions?
I did four films in this past year, and so I’m kind of throwing myself back into theater right now. I’m doing Chekhov’s “Ivanov” at the Classic Stage Company in New York. And then in the winter, I’m going to do an adaptation of Breck’s first play. It’s called “Clive.”
For more info: “Sinister” website