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John Hawkes on body language

By PETER KEOUGH  |  October 24, 2012

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Ask any great actor — Robert De Niro, Christian Bale, Daniel Day-Lewis — if all that physical preparation is necessary for a great performance, and they'll say that sometimes you just have to put your body on the line. I asked John Hawkes, who plays the poet Mark O'Brien in Sessions, and he agreed.

O'Brien was paralyzed by polio in childhood, and muscle atrophy reshaped his body. "Mark had horrible curvature of his spine," said Hawkes. "You can't pretend those things don't exist as an actor. Those are things that tell you how to play the role. I didn't want to use a body double, and the movie couldn't afford computer graphics or prosthetics. So what you see is old-style filmmaking, of trying to convince the audience with what you have. Basically I put myself in a twisted position where every muscle in my body felt abnormal."

Hawkes will next be seen in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (opens November 9), with Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role. Did he have a chance to talk with Day-Lewis about the latter's Oscar-winning performance as Christy Brown, a man with cerebral palsy, in My Left Foot (1989)?

"He's a fantastic actor," said Hawkes. "But the only day I worked with him on Lincoln, there was no talking about anything outside the scene. He wasn't Daniel Day-Lewis anymore. He was the president."

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