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

Doing a vampire movie is a new experience for Ethan Hawke. In the film Daybreakers, directed by the Spierig Brothers, he plays a vampire researcher, Edward Dalton, trying to find a blood substitute, as the human race is being wiped out by the world’s population of ravenous bloodsuckers. When he meets Audrey (Claudia Karvan), a human survivor, and Elvis (Willem Dafoe) who used to be a vampire, they lead him to a startling medical breakthrough, knowledge that both humans and vampires would kill for.

As this type of role is different from the ones you’ve done in the past, what was it like to do the gory scenes?

It’s just absolutely miserable. Do you know what it’s like to sit and eat during your lunch hour, just drenched in blood, trying to talk on the cell phone? That’s the part that’s the least appealing to me.

Did you enjoy that fight sequence with the sub-sider vampire in the kitchen?

Daybreakers - A subsider
A subsider © Lionsgate

That was really fun. Those guys who design the creatures are real artists and it’s exciting to be around them. When I was a kid, Rob Bottin did the monster for Explorers and that was my first exposure to that whole world of people who are into designing models. It’s a very crazy, artistic world.

As they imagined how a body would morph, they would do all these sculptures and it was fascinating. And that’s a real guy, in a real suit. It’s not a computer-generated thing. It’s a little bit of a throwback there. There’s a lot of computer-generated stuff in the movie, but the vampires are actors, figuring out how to do it and swinging upside down. That was a fun day on set. That’s my favorite scene in the movie.

There is this vampire hype right now. Why do you think that is? Does it have a political metaphor?

It certainly does in this film. I think it’s pretty self-evident. The idea that we’re running out of our resources is something that we see on the regular news. The joke here is just that the resource is human beings. But, draining the blood of the earth dry is something that we talk about all the time, as our ice caps melt and everything. I think that’s fascinating.

There’s a great Neil Young song, “Vampire Blues,” that was written in the ‘70’s. It’s an old theme. We are vampires. Every great fortune is made at the cost of something else.

How did you identify with your character’s vampiric appetite?

That’s a good title for a short story, or at least a band. My vampiric appetites can never be satiated.

What was Willem Dafoe like to work with?

Daybreakers - Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe
Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) and Lionel 'Elvis' Cormac (Willem Dafoe) © Lionsgate

What I thought was really fun about this movie, to be honest, was doing it with Willem Dafoe, who I think had the last great post-adolescent vampire movie, Shadow of the Vampire. It was fun to be doing it, where he’s not a vampire. He’s not really a vampire in the movie, but he looks like a vampire, so he’s very believable as a recovered vampire. I was very, very happy to get to do the movie with him.

Did he give you any pointers for playing a vampire?

To grow your nails long. No. I don’t know what exactly possessed the Spierig brothers to want to hire us, but he and I come from the same world of New York theatre. There’s a long history of theatre actors making their living in genre movies, like with Alec Guinness in Star Wars. I took pride in that legacy.

Did this movie make you want to return to serious dramas, or did it give you a new perspective on the genre? Would you want to do more genre films now?

Daybreakers - Willem Dafoe and Ethan Hawke
Lionel 'Elvis' Cormac (Willem Dafoe) and Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) © Lionsgate

I’ve never really cared one way or the other. There’s a lot of stupid cop shows, they’re everywhere. But, doing Training Day was one of the best experiences of my life.

I just want to be in the room with creative people who are trying to push any genre forward. You can do 10 hours about mid-19th century Russian radicals and all you’ll do is put people to sleep, if it’s not infused with somebody really caring and having a real reason to tell it now.

When I did go to meet the Spierig brothers, after my brothers had shown me their movie Undead, their creativity was stunning. If you’re going to keep working in this business, when you start young, you want to be near that. They’re so hungry. They love movies so much. They had their books with all their drawings and ideas and the myth of the vampire. They’re obsessed with it.

They have a whole huge support group of friends who love comic books and this kind of storytelling. And then, they took computer-generated shots of Before Sunset and made my character a vampire. For some reason, they had a passion for it and they wanted me to do this. My hunch is that you just have to follow that. If that’s where people are working from, good things happen from that.


Judy Sloane

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