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How Ethan Hawke Has Mastered The Art Of Being A Villain

Ethan Hawke has never been known for his work as a villain in films. He is better known for his work in indie films and very serious roles. So when Hawke began to appear as villainous characters, audiences (and even Hawke himself) were confused but intrigued. The multi-hyphenate actor-writer-director has had trepidations playing a villain for most of his career, telling Entertainment Weekly:

I was always a little apprehensive; there’s a certain kind of actor that really excels in that universe, and I’m still not sure I’m one of them … The uber-rich villain mastermind isn’t interesting to me. I love the ones who believe that they’re a good person and that’s why they have to kill you. That I find really terrifying.

Ethan Hawke, Your New Villain

Hawke is able to breathe new life into the characters he chooses to portray, this is not new information. However, he seems to do it in a more intriguing and captivating way when it comes to villains, as his recent roles attest to. His villains are unexpected and surprising but scary nonetheless. He portrays them in a cerebral light versus an overtly violent one.


If you have no idea that Ethan Hawke has ever even played a villain, maybe it’s because his portrayal of villains is definitely more recent. In fact, his first villain role was in 2017, his second in 2021, and his third in 2022, so it’s not shocking that not everyone knows about the new character arena that Hawke has entered. It may even be the future of Hawke’s career, which is a part of why he avoided the roles in the first place but is now embracing them. As he says in the aforementioned interview with Entertainment Weekly:

I’ve always had this theory that when you teach an audience how to see the demon inside you, they do not un-see it for the rest of your career. Jack Nicholson can be playing an accountant and you’re still waiting for him to explode like he did in ‘The Shining.’ But I realized I’m on the other side of 50 and it’s time to put a new tool in the tool kit. Villains might be my future.

Hawke is quite new to this arena, but he has already started to leave his mark on it. In fact his most recent role has fans (not so) patiently waiting for his next villainous casting.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

As Hawke’s earliest entry into the villain arena, this is not the actor’s best work (for that, see his films with Richard Linklater), but it is a great example of how far his portrayal of villains has come and will continue to grow. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was made as an adaptation of the Valerian comics and thus was created with a pre-existing audience. While this means that people certainly saw the movie (with a $ 226 million box office), it does not mean that they liked it.

Related: Here Are Ethan Hawke’s Best Movies, Ranked

Though the film was not overly loved by fans, many agreed that Hawke’s portrayal of Jolly the Pimp, a previously known character, was accurate to the one from the comics and a deliciously wicked role. Hawke was able to harness what the character had previously stood for in the comics and expand upon it in the films. This is a distinct accomplishment, as this is not always the case in adaptations (with franchise ruining fans picking apart every single portrayal). Hawke was able to expand upon the character and create a villain that fans loved to hate in the best way possible.

The Black Phone

This is Hawke’s most villainous role among this list. In The Black Phone, Hawke plays a creepily masked killer who attacks pre-teens, and while Hawke’s basic character profile is scary, what’s scarier is the energy he brings to the character. Hawke’s character is known to members of the town as “The Grabber” and carries around balloons which he uses to knock out the children he takes.

In the basement where The Grabber holds the kids, he has a black phone which does not work. However, it only rings for the child who is held in the basement, mysteriously allowing the currently kidnapped boy to communicate with the past victims that The Grabber has killed. Hawke portrays The Grabber in a cerebral and majestic manner. As The Grabber is a magician of sorts, Hawke’s movements are light and airy but somehow still aggressive and violent because we can never forget that he is still a murderer.

Related: The Black Phone Trailer Teases Ethan Hawke’s Sinister, Smiling Kidnappers

Hawke’s ability to mend these two styles and versions of this villain is beautifully done and equally scary; as Meagan Navarro writes for Bloody Disgusting“[Hawke’s] portrayal goes far to convey the abject menace long before we see the aftermath of his depraved work. There are shocking bursts of violence and scares, but none of that holds a candle to Hawke’s decisive turn. “

Moon Knight

For Hawke’s most prominent villainous role, we can look to Disney +’s Moon Knight. Hawke plays a cult leader with ties to an Egyptian God. Without spoiling any part of the show or Hawke’s character in particular, his portrayal of Arthur Harrow is frightening to say the least. While Harrow may not be the most aggressive or physically violent character on the show, he is “harrowing” for sure. Hawke is able to portray a quiet, calm villain, one who would be challenging to navigate for a lesser actor.

It’s quite easy to play the overtly violent villain who punches, kicks, and kills. However, Hawke’s version of Harrow is the complete opposite. Harrow is soft-spoken but strong, not overtly violent but can kill someone when he needs to. Hawke’s portrayal of Harrow is opposite to the average villain, especially opposite to the average Marvel villain, the universe in which this character resides. Hawke breathes new life into the space for villains in the MCU. Fans hope to see Hawke and the whole crew behind Moon Knight return for a season 2no matter how scary Harrow’s reappearance could be. Moon Knight is really the role that has solidified Hawke’s excellence at villainy, and perhaps a new stage in this wonderful actor’s career.

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