With two novels under his belt and a co-writing credit on the Before Sunrise films (in which he plays a writer), Ethan Hawke knows something about the "crazy writer" trope.
"I think moviemakers love the idea of the writing process as a place for people to go mad. Being alone with your thoughts is a terrifying thing," Hawke says with a chuckle on the release of the horror movie Sinister.
In it, Hawke plays Ellison Oswalt, a true-crime novelist, who moves his family into a home that had recently been the scene of a multiple murder (a detail he hides from his wife and two children).
Blinded by the possibility of a best-seller, Ellison neglects to tell local police about "home movies" of various murders he uncovers, and clumsily opens the door to the demon world.
In Ellison's defence, Hawke says, "what I kind of like is he does have a reason to do the wrong thing, and that's ambition. It's like if you told me, 'If you just go live in that house, you'd be the greatest actor of all time,' I might say, 'Interesting, I suppose I could live with a ghost for a couple of days.'"
A horror movie was actually not on Hawke's radar. But one of his best friends, Jason Blum, is the producer of the Paranormal Activity series. "We started a theatre company together in New York in the early '90s and he produced my Hamlet.
"We've been friends for a long time and he's always been a fan of horror movies and has always tried to talk me into doing one. And I just couldn't kind of see my way around it. And he called me up one day and said, 'This is the one, I think. It's a great character, great script and the director (The Exorcism of Emily Rose's Scott Derrickson) is brilliant. He knows about the genre. If you ever wanted to make a horror movie, this is the one we should do together."
As with the Paranormal Activity films, Sinister evokes chills in the most prosaic ways, doors opening by themselves, still photos on computer screens turning and looking at you. "I love that there's no blood, there's no heads getting chopped off. It's very much an old-fashioned ghost story.
"Obviously you have to put your foot on first base, which is to make the thing terrifying as hell.
"But then there has to be something else going on. And the way the movie's secretly about how this guy destroys his marriage by being blind to anything but his own career - I love that. I could make that into something personal."
Meanwhile, Hawke has just wrapped Before Midnight, Richard Linklater's third film about American Jesse and French girl Celine (Julie Delpy)'s now 18-year on-again off-again romance. Is it the third and final act, or will they be still hooking up in their 60s?
"I tend to think it is a natural third act, but who knows?" Hawke says. He adds that his reunions every few years with Linklater and Delpy is, "very much like a rock band getting back together. We know our parts."
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