Daybreakers - Ethan Hawke
Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) © Lionsgate

Ethan Hawke’s career was launch twenty years ago with the movie Dead Poets Society. Several Tony and Oscar nominations later, he has emerged as a novelist, screenwriter, director and actor. Hawke has starred in over forty films, including Hamlet, Gattaca, Great Expectations, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Training Day, for which he received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

In his prestigious career, one genre he hadn’t tried before was a vampire movie – that has been rectified with his newest film Daybreakers. In this futuristic sci-fi thriller set in 2019 and directed by the Spierig Brothers, a mysterious plague has swept over the earth, transforming the majority of the world’s population into vampires, which is not good news for the remaining humans. Hawke portrays Edward Dalton, a vampire researcher who is desperately trying to perfect a blood substitute before all the human beings on earth are extinct.

This is an unusual role for you, what was it about the project that made you decide to do it?

Daybreakers - Ethan Hawke
Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) © Lionsgate

I wanted to do something I hadn’t done. The truth is, they had sent me the script and I didn’t read it. And along with it came the movie of Undead, and I watched about 10 minutes of it and I thought it was terrible. So, I said I didn’t want to meet [writer/directors Michael and Peter Spierig].

Then Christmas rolled around, and I have two younger brothers. They couldn’t sleep and they were hanging out, and they put that movie on and they were howling with laughter. I walked down and said, “What are you guys watching?” and it was this movie, Undead. So, I sat down and watched it with them, and then I thought it was genius. I somehow didn’t get their sense of humor. I didn’t really understand this genre.

How did you see the brothers grow as filmmakers since Undead, since that was such a raw movie? Don’t you see a maturity level in Daybreakers?

Daybreakers - Co-Director Peter Spierig and Ethan Hawke
Co-Director Peter Spierig on set with Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) © Lionsgate

I hope so, and I’m not saying that in a negative way. I think Undead is a great cult film and, if Daybreakers does well, people will really start to discover that movie. When you realize how little they made the movie for, you understand the level of their creativity.

What I’m impressed with, with Daybreakers, is how disciplined they’ve been. I can see now why Joel and Ethan Coen have been so successful, and why the Wachowskis have been so successful. A lot of people who are super-gifted and have that kind of vision and imagination, with that often comes an arrogance and a pride, but the one brother beats it out of the other brother.

Daybreakers - Co-Director Michael Spierig
Co-Director Michael Spierig © Lionsgate

When you have a twin brother on set, that happens a lot. “Oh, that’s a terrible idea!” And they force each other to be better. I watched the different cuts of the movie and how disciplined the movie became, and I think they did a really good job.

What I think is most remarkable about it is that this movie is not based on a graphic novel or anything. They thought it up. There is a level of imagination at work because they’ve thought through what this world would be like and they’ve thought through the analogy aspect of the movie, trying to get it working as a straight-up genre film with a subtext.

How do you feel that Daybreakers is new for the genre?

It’s new because it’s the first post-adolescent vampire in awhile, which is refreshing to see. It’s new for the genre, in that it’s not inundated with Christian superstition. It’s rooted in sci-fi, more than it is some kind of uber-underworld thing.It’s one-third futuristic movie, one-third vampire movie and one-third film noir.

There are aspects in the beginning where it looks like a Bogart film. Gattaca did that well, too. I know the brothers like Gattaca a lot, and that aspect of where something that’s really futuristic is retro because we’re always a little retro.

How much are you similar to or different from a vampire? Are you a night person? Does blood make you squeamish?

Daybreakers - A subsider
A subsider © Lionsgate

I’m actually a vampire! (he laughs) I don’t know. I know so little about that stuff. The genius of the vampire myth, for me, is what it’s like to live your life without the fear of death. That’s always the appeal of it. You’re not a werewolf, or something horrible. You’re kind of like yourself, but you’re not going to die.

What I loved about this movie was taking vampires and putting them in the real world, so they have jobs. And you get to smoke all the time because why wouldn’t you? I find that element of it really enjoyable.

Are you attracted to immortality?

Absolutely. What’s the great Woody Allen line? “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying.”

Part Two of this interview concludes tomorrow…


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.