Corey Hawkins Is Blowing Up Big With '24: Legacy' and 'Kong: Skull Island'
If Corey Hawkins can fill Dr. Dre's shoes, why not Jack Bauer's?
The 28-year-old actor has been enjoying a meteoric ride to the top of Hollywood's A-list in recent years, including a six-episode stint on "The Walking Dead" and a breakthrough performance as one of the real-life architects of hip-hop in 2015's "Straight Outta Compton," which led him to be cast as a Yale-educated seismology expert entangled with a legendary gigantic ape in this summer's presumptive blockbuster "Kong: Skull Island."
But his most visible -- and perhaps riskiest -- role yet is that of the young war hero turned Counter Terrorist Unit operative Eric Carter, the central character of "24: Legacy," Fox's hotly anticipated revival of one of its most beloved and influential television series of recent vintage.
It's a major showcase for Hawkins, a demanding turn that requires him to deftly navigate both intense acting and intense action, and as the actor reveals to Moviefone, he's ready for his star turn, 24/7.
Moviefone: You've had a lot of heat on your career since "Straight Outta Compton," you've got "Kong: Skull Island" coming up. What made you say, "Let's go down this road in TV and see what happens"? The key thing that made you say, "I'm in"?
Corey Hawkins: It's always interesting, because television always has this way of doing this sort of reinventing itself. There's a push, there's a goal in there. For me, it's always only about the character, and it's always only about that opportunity to tell that story. And this actually will be a broader audience than any of the films than I've done. I don't know -- we'll see when "Kong" comes out.
But to be in people's homes night after night after night, I felt an immense responsibility once I started doing the research, once I started doing the work to figure out Eric's backstory, and to figure out what it means to be a soldier, what it means to be someone who fights for our country that in the past hasn't seen him fully, and what that responsibility is, where his allegiances lie.
We have soldiers who are coming back home from war right now who are dealing with mental health issues. We saw it in that airport incident that just happened. It's so scary how close to reality this show is, and how we are not actively talking about it. We talk about it because it's happening, and it's news, and we want to report on it, and then all of a sudden the next day, we're talking about silly things during this political campaign.
But what needs to be focused on is that the great thing about television is that week after week after week, he is going to be in their homes. Whether people like it or not, choose to tune in or not, but you're going to go on this journey with him, and we're going to have the conversation about what it means to live in this country, to look this way, to run through the streets with a gun and you're not a CTU agent, and what that means, and struggling, and the family unit. It's rich. That was the jumping off point.
The action format is the candy-coating on the medicine of the messages.
That's it, that's it. That's the thing that we all kind of hunger for. These write so well, without them being didactic about it, without them being pushy. They don't beat you over the head with a message. You want to sit back and watch it, or lean in and watch it, but you've got to trust that he can get the job done.
In the original series, Jack Bauer got tested, morally and ethically, in some extreme cases in his 24-hour periods. Is it going to be that same for Eric, with those sort of issues coming in his way and deciding where he lands on the side of things?
Exactly: it's how do you deal with that? That's the thing. You get to Season 4, 5, 6, and 7 of "24," the original "24," you pretty much know Jack Bauer is going to take care of the job. You know exactly what he's going to do. He's going to take care of it. With Eric, we don't know, and that's the fun of discovering this new character. You know in your heart, you're like, "Dammit, Jack would just beat the crap out of ..." or whatever. But you get to watch Eric, and you get to say, "Would I do that? Would I put myself in that situation? Would I go through with that?"
And Eric has to deal with that because he has a responsibility. He has people that he cares deeply for, people that he feels very responsible for, Grimes, you know what I mean? He has to reckon with those allegiances and figure out how to make the best of it, and we get to go on that journey with him towards being or not being a CTU agent, or his involvement in this world, his trust of this world.
How ready were you, personally, to dive into the action side? Obviously, the stuntmen get to do their thing, but to get as much as they could give you safely, were you excited?
I was gung-ho! I'm still gung-ho about it, but I'm gung-ho because this is the thing. You show them that you really want to do it, they're going to make it safe. Eric Norris is our stunt coordinator, obviously the son of Chuck Norris. He has made such a name for himself in terms of stunts in this industry, and my amazing stunt double, Nico Woulard, they're like, "Whatever you want to do, this isn't about us showing people jumping there and bullets flying. It's about Eric and it's about making that real."
Even in the construction site at the end of the pilot, it's not karate/kung fu. He has to survive. They're gouging each other's eyes out. It doesn't go on forever. He sees a piece of rhubarb on the ground, and that's how we crafted it out. Stuff was lying around -- that's what I would f*cking do in this moment! It's life or death.
And to really go down that path, when they heard my enthusiasm -- we've been running with it, much to my dismay sometimes! But it's fun. I love it. I love it, and they give me as much as I can handle, and I take as much as I can handle. Sometimes they'll be like, "OK, let's make it safe." I'm like, "No, let's shoot it! Let's do this. Let's keep the energy." It's fun, because they love that stuff, and I love it, and it keeps the realness of "24" real. So that when it looks like I'm tired, I'm tired. That's definitely me.
As far as the high-profile projects with "Straight Outta Compton," NWA and its music -- that's something people had feelings about. King Kong is something that people have feelings about. "24," people are invested in. "The Walking Dead," the same. To do these projects like that, where you're like, "Oh, OK -- this isn't just a movie or a TV show. I've got to show up and work," what's that been like for you to have those experiences lined up that way?
It's been fun. You can do something that people kind of like, "I'll go see that. I'll see what that's about. I don't feel any kind of way about it." Or you can do stuff that people are going to have really strong feelings about. They'll be like, "I'll look at it once. I'll look at the first episode and see how I feel. I'm definitely going to watch the first episode because he better bring it, you know what I mean?"
That's the bar you've got to set for yourself. I set it for myself regardless of the audience anticipation or whatever. That's the bar that you have to kind of set and exceed. I f*cking love that, man! I haven't been like, "Oh, that's a big thing, let me do that. Oh, that's bigger, let me do that." I've just been fans of all of the people that I'm working with on it. I just saw it as an opportunity. It's just been crafted that way.
Next, I'm going to go do a Broadway play and go back to Broadway. That's just because I want to go and do it. We'll see if it becomes a moment, or if it's timely. I think the play is extremely timely, but it's that kind of thing. It's like picking projects that you like, and actors that you like to work with, directors, that's how you've got to look at this business. Some will succeed and some won't, and I'm OK with that, because I'm invested in it regardless.
Tell me what that experience was like for you to be a part of the production of the scale of "Skull Island."
It was crazy. It was like a merry band of brothers -- and sister, with Brie Larson. We were all super-close, and when I say super-close, all of us. It was me, Sam [Jackson], all the stars of the movie: John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Tom Hiddleston -- they were just in the mud with us, too. They were going on new little outings with all of us.
Everybody was sort of there for the entire six months in Hawaii, in Australia, in Vietnam together. And it was challenging. It was really, really, really hard to make this movie, because it's such a big thing, and you're trying to hone in on what the story is. But I think in the end, we made something that we were all really proud of, and we put stuff on camera that we were really proud of, and I learned so much.
I learned about working with Sam Jackson, and John Goodman, and John C. Reilly's life and love of life. I learned that preparation from Sam and John, that sort of always being ready. Never a wasted moment. You have to be ten times better than anybody would normally expect. I learned that from Sam. You've got to come correct.
It's just been great. Jordan Vogt-Roberts is an amazing director. We would try stuff, wouldn't work, would work, whatever, whatever. It was guerrilla filmmaking, no pun intended.
Since "Straight Outta Compton," have you talked to Dr. Dre?
Yeah, yeah. We've talked since. We've talked since. He's actually working on a project right now with Michael K. Williams -- I did a little piece in it, so we'll see what happens with that, too. I'm just really excited for him because he's just been expanding his world view, and expanding what he's doing.
It's very easy to become a mogul and to rest on your laurels. But he's always been a huge supporter. He's been a huge mentor throughout filming. Before filming, throughout filming, and since. So he's been super supportive.
"24: Legacy" premieres February 5th, after the Super Bowl, on Fox.