Film

The Good Lord Bird’s Ethan Hawke tells Desus and Mero that Denzel deserves the credit for his John Brown

Desus Nice, The Kid Mero, Ethan Hawke

Desus Nice, The Kid Mero, Ethan Hawke
Screenshot: Desus & Mero

Ethan Hawke’s in Ireland—in a hotel ballroom in Ireland, more specifically, as a wary European film industry gets back to work, and some bad shared WIFI meant that Hawke got some seriously socially distanced alone time to talk to Desus and Mero. Broadcasting from the empty, echoing reaches of the one spot in his accommodations with a strong enough signal to reach Showtime HQ (with a stop in Desus and Mero’s separate Bronx lairs), Hawke greeted his hosts’ enthusiasm for his Oscar-nominated role in Training Day with some appropriate deflection toward legendary co-star and eventual Best Actor winner Denzel Washington.

“I learned on that job what an actor could be,” Hawke enthused about his four months in a Monte Carlo with Washington, “It’s no joke—it’s seeing a great artist really up close.” Hawke, who credits his then 30-year-old self with being “a decent actor” at that point (2001) in his now 40-year performing career, says that it’s Washington and director Antoine Fuqua’s shared effort to get him what became a career-changing part that allowed him to entertain the notion of playing rip-roaring abolitionist John Brown in Showtime’s The Good Lord Bird. Mero did note that, for all the “canonical movies” Hawke was in prior to Training Day, it really was Hawke’s turn as the neophyte white detective partner to Denzel’s street king corrupt cop that brought him the respect of segments of “the ’hood,” as Mero put it. (For the much-memed, “You like to get wet” scene, if nothing else.) In their extended interview, Hawke also hinted around about some of the less-reputable films he’s done (play IMDb guessing game—now), and how, when there’s no Denzel around to elevate things, you just have to take Charlotte’s advice, write ‘humble” on your crappy script, and think about your kids as you cash the check.

Hawke says it’s his time on the Fuqua-directed, Denzel-starring The Magnificent Seven that opened him up to The Good Lord Bird’s mix of comedy and never-more-relevant bloody historical drama, with Seven cinematographer Mauro Fiore bringing James McBride’s acclaimed source novel to his attention. Noting that playing his Civil War-scarred character in Magnificent Seven meant driving to the Louisiana set listening to the debate about states still flying the Confederate flag, Hawke said of The Good Lord Bird, “Making this show became a lot more dangerous.” Agreeing with his hosts that the often white-centric narratives of many well-intentioned Hollywood depictions of various civil rights incidents and struggles “rub you the wrong way,” Hawke was animated in explaining that his larger-than-life, gun-toting, scenery-chawing John Brown represents the skewed perception of the series real narrative center, Joshua Caleb Johnson’s escaped slave, Onion.

Plus, as Hawke, Desus, and Mero all agreed, The Good Lord Bird has the benefit of being eminently, scabrously, and disreputably funny, even as the series portrays some real-life horrors “that are not something anybody wants to think about.” Says Hawke of his character’s take-no-shit-from-bigots approach to 19th-century systemic racism, “That’s what he was fighting against. You know, the way that this country was actually built at its foundation, that there were some lies there, and they were big, hurtful lies.”

With New York transplant and NBA fan in the house (well, ballroom), Desus and Mero also naturally segued into some signature laments about the state of their beloved Knicks, with Hawke going all John Brown on departed coaching legend Pat Riley. “He did Pat dirty!,” Hawke exclaimed in fan fury about now Heat coach Riley’s fax-delivered 1995 resignation from the trio’s favorite team left NBA legend Patrick Ewing in the lurch—and contributed to the unmitigated shambles the Knickerbockers remain to this day. The three even entertained the unthinkable—becoming Brooklyn Nets fans—when (and if) normal, stadium-going life begins again. Until then, at least they get to relish Riley’s recent Finals loss to LeBron’s Lakers. It’s the little things.

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