I recently got the chance to talk to Luke Hawker about his role in supernatural film ‘The Devil’s Rock’. Here Luke gives the lowdown on the film, and talks about his life and career as a special effects artist at Weta Workshop…
Hey Luke. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. ‘The Devil’s Rock’ is in selected UK cinemas right now.
I know, it’s very exciting! I’m so proud to be a part of this production and am really glad that all the hard work the cast and crew put in is paying off !
What’s the general plotline of the film?
The plot line of the film (which by the way is totally awesome) is that two New Zealand commandos are sent to destroy a German gun emplacement on the eve of D-Day. As they set out to complete their mission they discover that a group of Nazi soldiers have summoned ‘demonic forces’ to try to help them win the war.
Tell us a bit about your character in the movie…
I play ‘Private Muller’ in the film. A young German soldier who is in the wrong place at the worst time. He’s the first thing that the Kiwi commandos see which lets them know something is terribly a miss. The Kiwi’s find my character as he is running from the bunker scared out of his mind, before pleading with them for help – not the usual thing for a young Nazi soldier to do when seeing members of the enemy…..
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
This was pretty cool. I heard from a mutual friend of Paul (Campion)’s and mine that he wanted me to be in the film. I’d heard of Paul through my wife who had worked on his short film ‘Eel Girl’. ‘Eel Girl’ was also screened at a few international film festivals that a feature film of mine, ‘Blackspot’, had screened at, so I was really excited about the prospect of working with him. I heard nothing for ages and when my wife Frances, who works at Weta, told me she was working on ‘The Devils Rock’, I assumed I’d missed my chance. Then one day, when I was randomly needing deodorant in a hurry (I’m not a weird smelly guy by the way, I’d just ran out), I noticed this guy looking at me intently in the supermarket isle. After 30 seconds or so he came up to me and said ‘Hi, I’m Paul. I think you’re going to be in my movie’. He grabbed my agents details and next thing you know, I’m getting a Hitler Youth haircut and trying to hold down warm fake vomit between takes….totally glamorous!
How would you say this film is different to other action dramas released this year?
I think the two main factors that put this film apart from other action dramas, is the plot and the way in which it was made. The plot is such a creative yet simple premise that allows the struggle of good and evil to play out with great drama and gruesomely frightening images. It also raises some thoughts about what it was like for all those Kiwi soldiers to be so far from home and in such horrific scenarios. Love it or hate it, the two World Wars did shape a slice of our cultural identity. I think films like ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and ‘The Devils’ Rock’ use these world events as metaphors to show the real struggle and I think that horror used in a metaphorical way somehow helps, at least subliminally, to engage and effect more with its audience.
The film stars Craig Hall, Gina Varela, Karlos Drinkwater and has Paul Campion onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew?
Craig and Karlos were awesome to work with. I know many people always say that of their co-stars, but both of them were so relaxed, professional and heaps of fun. We did quite a few takes of Craig stabbing me in the neck and lowering me to the ground and I never, even for one brief moment had anything but complete trust in him. They were both really supportive of each other and focused on their roles which made my job of pretending I was a Nazi soldier a lot easier. They were also very sympathetic to me as I had to vomit warm yogurt and onion dip, take after take … all two litres of it. Paul was really trusting of everyone and was very clear with what it was he wanted. I remember mentioning to Karlos that maybe I should be a little weary of the enemy as I ran out of the bunker near screaming, to which Paul replied ‘No. Your commanding officer has just ordered you to cut out your beating heart so he can feed it to a demon. You are just plain SH#T scared’. Clear and concise direction, I LOVED IT! And even though I only had the pleasure of meeting Gina, I have heard from all my crew friends that she was very brave, very scary and stunningly evil!
Let’s talk a bit about you Luke. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
From the age of 8, I was a keen gymnast and through my training I was taught dance. I quickly began to enjoy dance much more than gymnastics and started to concentrate solely on that. I thrived on stage when dancing and was involved with professional dance groups and musicals from the age of 13. I found the more I was on stage, the more I enjoyed it. I began to want more of my secret little drug called ‘performing ‘, so I started to take part in school plays and drama exercises. Acting suddenly became all I wanted to do and I realised that acting on stage was the most comfortably uncomfortable thing I had ever done. After I attended a one year audition based young actors course at NIDA (Sydney’s Toi Whakaari) I realised I wanted to do nothing else. Acting allowed me to study and continuously learn about the subject that I find endlessly fascinating and inspiring – people. I love watching people, studying how they speak, why they think a certain way and then trying to figure out how in the hell you can react to them in the instant over and over again, I never tire of it. My father, funnily enough, recently found an old note where he’d asked us boys to write down what we wanted to be when we grew up. I was 11 and I wanted to have a nice wife and family and to be an actor.
You’ve had some great opportunities in your career – who has been your favourite actor to work alongside with so far and who has given you the best advice?
Yeah I’ve been pretty lucky with some of the people I’ve worked with. Peter Jackson of course, Geoff Murphy. James Cameron was always a bit of a hero of mine so that was pretty exciting /scary as hell!! Working with James (can’t call him Jim just yet) also gave me the opportunity to work with Giovanni Ribisi and I must say watching Giovanni getting so deeply into his character and giving every take absolutely everything he had, was truly inspiring. Although ‘Avatar’ isn’t a drama heavy film, Giovanni has always been a very amazing actor to watch on-screen and in person he did nothing but instill in me the need to give every second you’re in front of the camera your absolute everything. My favorite actor to work with I must say is Jed Brophy. He is such a undyingly positive person and he truly cares not only for his colleagues but relishes in and wants them to succeed, he’s also a bloody good laugh! But the best advice I’ve ‘received’, must be from David Mamet and his book ‘True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor’ in which he claims his best piece of advice and summation of acting is; ‘Find your mark, look the other fellow in the eye, and tell the truth’.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
I’ve always found that people who make their own films not only show a passion and drive for the industry, they also show a level of commitment and staying power that is a very attractive attribute to have in any level of the industry. Getting together with like-minded people and making films is a great way to learn not only about filmmaking but how to work collaboratively with creative people. It can also lead to making great contacts within the industry. I would also suggest to be open-minded and malleable within the facet you choose. Often people say they want to be nothing but a director and while this strong focused goal is great, it may limit not only your immediate opportunities but also the amount of learning you achieve by working in differing aspects of the industry. I’ve learnt invaluable lessons about the process of making films by working in a broad range of crew roles. These not only gave me insight into many areas but allowed me to truly value and trust the crew around me. But positivity and pro-activeness I think are the greatest ways to achieve what you want in the industry and in life in general.
What has been the most interesting piece of local / national news you’ve heard in the last month?
I read in the newspaper the other day that a sculpture that had been on the Wellington Water Front for a few months – named ‘Reflection’, was donated to the City Council by the sculptor. Funny thing is, the Water Front didn’t want it. They said that they already had a similar sculpture, the brother one (of the one in question), and they didn’t want to have two of anything. In the article it mentioned that the City Council are offered sculptures all the time and they mostly turn them down. Political issues aside and of course I know that they can’t accept everything they are offered, it did strike me as very funny that with all the grants that artists are asking for to make pieces, these guys keep turning gifted pieces down. A comical grave yard of unwelcome sculptures hidden somewhere in Wellington sprung to mind. I don’t really have a strong opinion either way but I must say, art without an audience is pretty much nothing.
We should mention that you’ve also had jobs in various films like ‘Lord Of The Rings’ as a special effects artist – could you tell us a bit about what these jobs involved? How did you get into that area of the industry in the first place?
My older brother Ben wanted to be a special effects artist since he was five years old. After seeing ‘Star Wars’ and making an R2-D2 droid out of a bucket and some Gumboots, Ben decided to utilise his ever-present and inquisitive little brother and I was ‘volunteered’ to be the model/actor for his crazy creature creations. These lead to us making silly homage movies with our Super 8 camera – with me as the house paint covered, toilet roll wrapped star…Ben went on to pursue his career as a special effects technician and began working at Weta Workshop in mid 1999 on the ‘Lord of The Rings’ trilogy. I had just completed my last year of high school in Sydney and was killing time (and brain cells) before I auditioned for the full-time acting course at NIDA. Ben informed me towards the end of the year, that Richard Taylor was looking for any skilled labour in the area of make up and prosthetics – and seeing as though I’d helped Ben make plenty to stick on me, I figured I could come over for a quick holiday to New Zealand and hopefully work a month or two on the biggest film trilogy ever made!! I was employed as a creature effects artist and began by making foam latex, which is kind of like baking a rubber cake that you stick on people’s faces. I then had a wide range of roles such as mold maker, make up artist and on-set armour and weapons standby before settling in as the Workshops’ Mold Room supervisor. After five years of working in the workshop making amazing creatures and traveling the country to work on the most breathtaking film sets I have ever seen, I realised while I had achieved a lot more than most people could hope for in their careers, almost all the work I had done was on the ‘wrong’ side of the camera. So I decided to put my experience and contacts to use and with my brother Ben, wrote and produced a feature film called ‘Blackspot’, which I starred in and of course had prosthetics stuck to me during, this time not created by Ben but by my wife to be, Frances.
What does a Luke Hawker day usually consist of?
Each day for me is quite different from the next and it really depends on what film hat I’m wearing but they usually start at about 6am or earlier. If I’m at Weta I’ll catch a bus from home into Miramar, during which I’ll either be working on a script or reading one off my laptop, and then I’ll spend the next eight to ten hours in movie geek heaven making Hobbit feet, dwarf hands or most recently exploded body parts!! My Weta days are often broken up with an audition or a meeting about a friends script or project they want to me to help with or hopefully be in. If I’m not at Weta I usually get to set at about 5am or 6am, sometimes earlier depending on what exactly it is I’m doing. Earlier this year I played a zombie in a computer game trailer and was required at 4am – in order to have full prosthetic make up put on me, before being repeatedly bashed by a sexy elven girl with a big mace…. so much fun! I get to have my sleep-ins when I do motion capture work, as putting on a spandex suit and reflective dots is a lot quicker than normal costume and make up. I must need a lot of work to look good in real life. My evenings usually consist of more writing, spending time with my wonderful family or playing a murder victim or suspect in Corporate Murder mystery nights, all of which are riots of laughter.
What’s coming up for you in 2011? I hear you’ve just finished a project called ‘Contract Killers’…
2011 has been a pretty full on year for me. I’ve been involved in about five different film projects already, which has been great! ‘Contract Killers’ is a true boys toys action film, in which I play a crooked cop and have some wicked fun scenes, including a massive martial arts fight scene with a real kung fu master – could hardly walk the next day. Funnily enough at the same time I was being a crooked cop in ‘Contract Killers’, I was also playing a young and naive cop in Tom Scott’s new tele feature ‘Rage Rage’ which is about the Springbok tour of ’81 and is directed by the absolutely wonderful and completely crazy, Danny Mulheron. Working with Danny is one of the most scariest and funniest experiences you’ll ever have. I’m looking at completing a feature film script that I hope to move into development with the New Zealand Film Commission soon. I’ve also acted in a couple of short films and had a guest appearance in a web series with some friends of mine called ‘The Time Ripple Chronicles Of Jack And Chops’. I’ll be doing some hard yards at Weta as we move through making all the prosthetics, creatures and armor for not only ‘The Hobbit’ but for some other exciting projects that Weta are working on currently. But as an ecstatic and horribly clichéd new father, the most exciting thing for me this year is spending time with my beautiful new daughter and wonderful wife.
Thanks for the interview!