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SYFY WIRE The Black Phone

'The Black Phone': Ethan Hawke accepted the film's villain role in the most menacing way possible

The Black Phone will answer the call in theaters everywhere on Feb. 4, 2022.

By Josh Weiss
The Black Phone YT

When writer-director Scott Derrickson parted ways with Marvel Studios' Doctor Strange sequel, he decided to return to his rich horror roots with a big screen adaptation of The Black Phone. Based on the story written by Joe Hill, the film picks up in the 1970s when a young boy named Finney Blake (Mason Thames) finds himself the latest prisoner of "The Grabber," a mask-wearing child murderer, who has put the entire community on edge.

Finney is certain to end up like all the others...until the titular phone in the killer's basement, which doesn't seem to be hooked up to anything, starts to ring with calls from The Grabber's previous victims. Taking advice from these helpful ghosts of the past, Finney plots a daring escape. The homicidal maniac in question is played by Ethan Hawke, who had previously worked with Derrickson on 2012's Sinister, but the actor wasn't sure he wanted to play such a deplorable character.

"One of the reasons I wanted Ethan is because I think he has one of the most distinctive voices in cinema," Derrickson, who co-wrote the screenplay with frequent collaborator C. Robert Cargill, told Total Film. "But he'd already told me that he doesn't play villains."

Fortunately, Hawke reconsidered his position and accepted the villainous role in the most terrifying way imaginable. "I sent him the script anyway and that night he left me a voicemail in this menacing voice, and he said, 'I'm gonna murder the f*** out of you... It's gonna hurt really, really bad,'" Derrickson recalled. "It was a line in the script, and that was how he was letting me know he was going to do it..."

Also chatting with the magazine, Hawke said there were "a couple of different reasons" that motivated him to board the project. "What Jack Nicholson did in The Shining was that he taught the world to see his malevolent side, how to see his madness," he explained. "And once you do that really well, audiences don't unsee it. It can be a cumbersome piece of baggage, and I think that's what I was scared of. But also, you know, there's something a little shamanistic about my profession and the idea of inviting all that darkness into my life just never really felt worth it before."

Hawke's no-villain policy was also rolled back for Marvel Studios' Moon Knight TV series coming to Disney+, where he'll be playing the main antagonist (the specific character has yet to be revealed).

Aside from Hill's source material, Derrickson drew on his own childhood. "I grew up in North Denver and it was a violent place," the filmmaker said. "People were fighting all the time, a lot of people were bleeding. At that time, the Manson murders had just happened. Ted Bundy had just come through Colorado. I grew up hearing about kids getting abducted, seeing faces on milk cartons. When I was 8-years-old, my friend knocked on my door and told me somebody had murdered his mom."

Channeling that "air of danger" of his formative years, Derrickson made a conscious effort to avoid the rose-colored nostalgia of certain films depicting childhood in the 1970s and '80s. "They ... tend to be duplications of what other filmmakers have done — Spielberg especially — in portraying this idea of a suburban childhood. The thing is that's just not my experience."

The Black Phone will answer the call in theaters everywhere on Feb. 4, 2022.

Universal Pictures & SYFY WIRE are both owned by NBCUniversal.