Hawkes, his lanky scarecrow of a body clad in blue jeans and a brown corduroy blazer, says that he didn’t move to Los Angeles until he was 30, and that it took nearly two decades after that to get to a place where he can “not really have to do anything I don’t want to do anymore.” But his fascination with acting began much earlier, during a high school field trip to see a performance of “The Crucible.”
“I knew that something happened that day that created a physical and mental shift in me,” he says. That experience led to his first theater work, as Pig-Pen in a school production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” a part added to the play, he says, to put “extra warm bodies onstage.” Becoming other characters immediately became an inspiration and a comfort; when the young Hawkes couldn’t sleep, he calmed his mind by running dialogue in lieu of counting sheep.
After several years of acting and waiting tables in Austin, he threw himself into the L.A. character actor circuit during the 1980s and began tackling wildly different roles, dialing the edges in his jaw and twinkle in his eye up or down as circumstances dictated. As a result, he has convincingly become, among other things, a besotted optimist in “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” an upstanding Jewish cowboy on HBO’s “Deadwood” and, last year, a beady-eyed, dangerous cult leader in“Martha Marcy May Marlene.”
He has had the sort of ascent that, although slow and steady, can quickly persuade a person to pursue a life of luxury, especially once the Oscar nomination glow kicks in. But Hawkes, like the man he plays in “The Sessions,” places more value on the simpler things in life.
“I’m such a gypsy in this world,” he says. “And to have a fancy place has never really — I’ve thought of it. And maybe I will someday. But for the most part I’m not home a lot so just a place to keep my things is good.
“I’m not poor,” he adds, “but I didn’t grow up with a great deal of privilege. And I don’t seem to crave it.”