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Q&A: Local Actor Brad Hawkins, on Landing a Role in Boyhood

Brad Hawkins. Courtesy of the actor.
Brad Hawkins. Courtesy of the actor.

Twelve years is an unusually long time to film a movie. It’s even more unusual to use the same set of characters over that dozen years to create an authentic time-lapse film, which is why Richard Linklater’s newest production Boyhood scored rave reviews and awards at Sundance, as well as festivals in Seattle and Berlin. Starring alongside Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, is Dallas-area native Brad Hawkins.  Hawkins, who is 40 and currently living in Carrollton, has been acting since he graduated from Plano Senior High School and has had roles in shows such as Walker, Texas Ranger, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Prison Break.

How did you first get into acting? 

I kind of got picked out. I was going to high school. Someone had recommended to me, they were like, ‘Hey, have you ever considered it?’ I guess they worked at Kim Dawson. I was 17 and never considered acting. I was more of a jock. I started going to acting classes at KD studios. Once a year, they would hold an acting seminar, a roundtable discussion where they had managers and agents come in from L.A. to see what talent Kim Dawson had that year. I luckily ended up in the right room at the right time. We did some scenes, and the scene work came easy to me and then I got an offer to go to L.A. [I was] 18, right after high school. I had a box in the back, about $400 cash and thought that’s all it would take.

What was your first long-term job? 

It’s funny, people still give me a hard time about it. I was cast as the white Power Ranger. I was 18, so I was the perfect age for the show. I booked that job, and within a couple of months, they offered me a new show, a spinoff of Power Rangers called V.R. Troopers. It was along the same lines—a live-action kids’ show. I was the lead and it was my first real job. I would go into set at 5:30 in the morning and get done at 6 o’clock at night, working five days a week. That was my job for three years.

A lot of people talk about how difficult the industry is to break in to. Did you experience that at all? 

My personal experience was it’s a harder industry to have ongoing success. I’m looking at 23 years in the game right now. I think it’s harder to break through, not to break in, because I think anybody can go get headshots and get an agent. It’s harder in the beginning because you don’t have anything on your résumé. When you’re brand new, you don’t have those credits, and they can tell that you’re green. That’s a little tricky. When they talk about an overnight success taking 10 years, I can actually vouch for that. I really didn’t start to book regularly for bigger roles until after around that 10-year mark. That’s when my résumé started to show that I’ve been at it for a while.

How did the Boyhood part come about? 

I think I started with those guys about four years ago. I got a call to go down to Austin to meet with Richard Linklater. I was a big fan of his from Dazed and Confused. He’s very organic, very salt-of-the-earth in the way that he does his projects. There was no audition. It wasn’t high pressure. We just talked. He told me about what he was doing with the movie. It sounded very organic and something that I’ve never heard anybody attempting to do before. He was like, ‘I’m looking for a character to play Patricia Arquette’s boyfriend, he’s coming back from Afghanistan, he’s a soldier, we’re just going to kind of evolve that relationship and his past and her past and merge those together.’ There was no script in the whole movie, which is another one of his things. We just started coming up with a scene and creating it. And at the end, he was like, ‘That was exactly what we’re looking for.’ You couldn’t come to the table and really put on a show for Richard. He’s such a purist director that he sees right through it. He wants you to be as natural as you can. That’s the part that really sucked me in. So when I got the part of Jim, I didn’t know what to expect. I went down to Austin, we shot for two days, and then I didn’t hear from them for another year. I took three trips down there to shoot.

Linklater is based in Austin and the movie takes place in Texas. Do you think being from Texas had anything to do with your casting? 

I always hope that being a Texan would play in my favor. I don’t know. If so, Richard never said that. But there is a lot of Texas talent in the movie, which is really exciting to see these actors that are local successes. It was a big deal that I was local. It was easy to get me down to Austin.

What was it like to create and develop your character? 

This monologue that I do, we actually created that with Richard and one of the guys that worked on set. He was a soldier and we pulled him into our writing session. All of a sudden, he was telling us a story, and I adapted his story to my character. When you talk organic, there’s nothing more organic than sitting down and creating something instead of something being scripted for you. It was just unusual, because in my entire career, it’s like, ‘Hey, here’s your script, have this ready to go by the time we film.’ But to go down and not know anything about what you’re shooting is definitely a challenge. I’ve never been around that creativity. The more it is you, the more the lines come from you, the less you have to be anything other than what you are. It’s an extension of you. That’s why [Linklater] is the director he is. He’s an actor’s director.

Was there a lot of build up for you regarding the film since it was filmed over so many years?

I still haven’t seen it. It will make me really nervous to see what the performance is like, because it was so stop-and-go. I love being able to jump into a character. If you do something for a few weeks, or a month, or several months, you can get into that character and really dig in deep. With this, the only thing I regret is that I didn’t dig in as deep as a could have, because you go down and shoot for a day or two and you’re done. So yeah, there will be butterflies in my stomach when I watch it, just seeing how they piece together three years of work. I’m more excited about seeing how they pieced together 12 years of everybody’s contribution.

How was working with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette? 

Brad Hawkins with Ethan Hawke. Courtesy of the actor.
Brad Hawkins with Ethan Hawke. Courtesy of the actor.

Patricia, the vibe that I got was that she’s so busy. I’m sure she had people calling her in multiple directions. Even though we were supposed to have chemistry on screen, I didn’t get to spend much time with her, getting to know her as much as I would like to. I respect her as an actor. Ethan was amazing. He’s the kind of guy that you’d be sitting there and just drinking a beer with. Pulled out a guitar, started playing guitar on the porch in-between scenes and stuff. He’s a very worldly guy and stays really dialed in to what’s going on. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s probably one of my top actors for being accessible and easy to work with.

Are you planning on continuing to act? 

Absolutely. I’m hoping that this will kick up some interest. The bigger the movie gets, the bigger I’m hoping my value gets, or at least people going, ‘Who’s that guy?’ I love working. My perfect job would be to go to set every day. I’ve developed a real passion for this business, and I’ve spent most of my life in it. I would love to keep going. I have an agent here in Dallas. I go out for pretty much all the jobs that are in New Mexico, Louisiana, Austin and Dallas. I’m looking to go back out to L.A. for pilot season—next January through March—and hopefully this will put me in a position where I can get the exposure I need out there, and hopefully get something on a more regular basis.

Boyhood will debut in select theaters July 11 and nationwide July 18.