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'Black Phone' star Ethan Hawke & young co-stars on what it's like making a horror movie with kids

Ethan Hawke and his young co-stars tell SYFY WIRE what made them want to pick up The Black Phone.

The Black Phone (2022)

By Joe Dziemianowicz

The Black Phone — the new supernatural horror movie set in 1978 Colorado starring Ethan Hawke as a kid killer notoriously nicknamed “The Grabber” — is all about the powers of connection.

When 13-year-old bully magnet Finney (Mason Thames) is abducted by the mask-wearing psycho and imprisoned in a cellar, getting out alive means connecting not only with the freaky murderer’s slain victims, but also his own courage. At the same time Finn’s kid sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), whose dreams are weirdly on the killer’s wavelength, has to tap into her visions to help her beloved brother.

Do they make the life-saving links in co-writer and director Scott Derrickson’s upcoming movie? No spoilers! But considering his 2012 flick Sinister, also headlined by Hawke, things could go either way.

With the film’s June 24 opening date fast approaching, SYFY WIRE asked Hawke, Thames, and McGraw what grabbed them about The Black Phone. Here’s a condensed version of those conversations.

Ethan, what drew you to The Grabber?

Ethan Hawke: Throughout my life I’ve never really been particularly drawn to “capital V” villains. I like complicated people, problematic people, but being the embodiment of evil was not something I was really dying to do. But I had such a wonderful time working on Sinister with Scott. If you're going to spend your life dedicated to acting, you better have at least one movie to play at midnight.

Your first movie, Explorers in 1985, was a sci-fi fantasy.

HawkeWhen I was a kid my first director was Joe Dante. Joe came from Roger Corman; Joe came from flat-out grind house horror movies, and he had really taught me a love of them. Scott reawakened my love… of genre movies. We’ve been wanting to work together. You know, he probably should have cast me as Doctor Strange, but he didn’t. [Laughs.]

Madeleine, on Instagram you posted that you read the script and “instantly felt such a connection to Gwen.” How come?

Madeleine McGraw: First of all, she’s super-tough, and I'm super-tough on the soccer field and just in general. She has so much loyalty and she will do anything to protect her brother, and I would do anything to protect my family. A way that I think we’re different is that her family is broken. Me and my family – we’re all super close. But also she uses her tough exterior to hide her vulnerable side.

Mason, were you instantly drawn to Finney?

Mason Thames: Definitely. One thing I love so much about him [comes through] in the basement scenes. I thought about how I would react in that situation. He really kept his calm. He realized what kind of situation he was in. He played it smart.

Madeline, did you and Mason connect?

McGraw: We got along so well right away. That really helped with our characters and their connection. I really hope that everyone sees and follows their bond in the film.

ThamesWe just have this funny banter back and forth. We’re basically siblings in real life.

Was it ever frightening while you were shooting the movie?

McGraw: It wasn't scary at all making it. You know everyone on set, and there’s lights and cameras. The crew is running around. There’s no music when you’re on set and they add in all the effects in post-production and editing. But it was so scary when I saw it, even though I knew what was going to happen.

Mason, you have a lot of scenes with Ethan. Did he stay in character as The Grabber?

Thames: He didn’t stay in character. He’s the nicest person I've ever met. The way he snaps into character is so amazing. I mean, watching him work in person is something I will never ever forget. I hope to work with him again.

The Black Phone opens in theaters this Friday, June 24.