John Hawkes is the guy next door you don’t know. Born and raised in Alexandria, Minn., he’s been nominated for lofty awards yet maintains minimal recognition.
Perhaps a Midwestern reserve has influenced Hawkes’ evasion of tabloid covers, despite prominent roles in TV, theater and film, an Oscar nomination in 2011 and a Golden Globe nod two years ago. He’ll return to his home state for an Oct. 26 appearance at the Twin Cities Film Fest to premiere his latest film, the indie noir “Too Late.”
Hawkes plays an L.A. detective whose twisted past disrupts his present. It’s the latest in a portfolio of bleak characters that include a cult leader in “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” a meth addict in “Winter’s Bone” and a poet paralyzed by polio complications in “The Sessions.”
He’s still down, however, for a good laugh. He recently appeared on Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer” for a parody of “12 Angry Men.”
Career highlights aside, headlines like “Who Is John Hawkes?” trail the actor whose A-list co-stars include Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Aniston and Helen Hunt. And that’s just the way he likes it.
Hawkes has been busy of late, shooting a TV pilot, playing in a band, road-tripping in Minnesota and Texas, and working on several films including the big-budget adventure “Everest” and the indie drama “The Driftless Area,” which by coincidence has its regional premiere Thursday at the Flyway Film Festival in Pepin, Wis.
Q: It sounds like you’ve had a stacked schedule.
A: Yeah, it was a rare moment that won’t last forever. But I’m having a lot of choices and reading a lot of good material and just trying to find something that strikes me, I guess, or kicks me in the butt.
Q: When you come here for the film festival, is there anything you really want to do — if you have a free moment?
A: Walker Art Center would be really great. A Minnesota Wild game would be fun. I like certain parts of downtown a good bit. I think also I may have some family coming into town, so it will be really lovely.
Q: You’ve been in a lot of bands since the early ’80s, when you lived in Austin, Texas. Were there any influences from your days in Alexandria?
A: Oh, I suppose. I’ve written songs specifically about my neighborhood, my dog, where I grew up, things like that. I think growing up on a lake — Douglas County, where I’m from, there are lakes everywhere — and a lot of that has become sadly not affordable for local people. I guess I’ve never lost my love of nature and the outside world as an actor and as a creative person.
Q: You’ve said before that each time you play a role, it takes a little bit out of you.
A: That’s a sort of high-minded, actor thing to say. But I think it’s true.
Q: What did your role in “Too Late” take out of you?
A: Well, acting is openly pretending you’re a person in a certain situation. I have no formal training as an actor, and so I’ve kind of developed my own idea of how to tell a story. When you pretend an intense, unpleasant thing over and over, and imagine what it would be like to be in that situation, I guess in a weird way, you feel that. So in many of the roles I’ve played, there were some extremely harrowing and difficult circumstances for these characters. I’m drawn to it, but I really want to make sure it’s worth it. Also during “Too Late,” without going too deeply into it, there was some sort of death and separation in my life, and in the middle of all that, it was sort of challenging.
Q: You’re now 56. You’ve had quite the heyday over the last decade with these prominent roles and award nominations. What’s it like to be your age in today’s show business?
A: That’s an interesting question there. I don’t really feel any ageism yet. I’m sure that will come along. It’s an unfortunate reality that women have a much more difficult time as actors throughout their careers — and certainly as they get older — whereas since men write and produce and direct a lot of the stories that we see, there are always going to be, well not always, roles for older men more so than older women. I just have a lot of friends of all ages, and so far I don’t feel terribly old here. I feel invigorated by the energy of young people creating around me.
Q: You’ve deliberately avoided the limelight and man-on-the-street recognition. I’m sure it’s become harder in recent years. How have you dealt with that?
A: Yeah, well I might roll my eyes if I was reading an interview to be published in a newspaper [laughs] when an actor says they don’t like publicity. But it is true. For partly selfish reasons, I like to just be able to enjoy my life. I’m not overly outgoing and [am] semi-shy. But I think more importantly from the perspective of an actor, I think the less people know about me, the more effective I can be in portraying characters.
Q: You had a stint on “[Inside] Amy Schumer” recently. What do you think about its feminist spin?
A: Oh, I think it’s fantastic. I’ve alluded earlier to the disparity between men and women. That’s true of the world and the fields I work in. I was doing a play in New York about a year ago, and I’d gotten to meet her there through my nephew-in-law [laughs]. I thought she was a delightful person. We kind of stayed in touch a little bit via text. She asked would you like to come be on the show, I said I’d love to, and so it happened. I think the script she wrote is really funny, and I think the best and very real way to attack inequity is through humor, through storytelling.
Q: I read somewhere that you feel particularly strongly about shoes.
A: About shoes?
Q: In your costumes.
A: Oh, I was going to say, if you looked into my closet, you may feel otherwise. I think it might have to do with the grounding. Most characters, outside of the [paraplegic] character I played in “The Sessions,” walk and move. And you want your footwear in line with your character, how your character looks, moves, feels, all those kind of things. Yeah, shoes can help.
Q: Do you have any tips for braving winters here when it comes to shoes?
A: Oh, boy. Well, I moved [away] 37 years ago. I think Minnesotans do it so well. They embrace it, they get outside. The clothing has gotten much better than when I was a kid. We didn’t have modern gear, but we also didn’t want to come in when it got dark. I remember I would just cry, I would want to stay out in the snow fort even though my wrists were blue, and I couldn’t feel my toes. I loved it. It was a great way to grow up.