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Column - At long last, Hawkes gets an Oscar nod

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Congratulations to Alexandria native John Hawkes, the superb character actor who finally nabbed a long-overdue Oscar nomination.

Not to brag, but I predicted more than 20 years ago that Hawkes was on his way to an Oscar nomination, if not a win.

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I was disappointed he didn't get nominated for a Golden Globe for his moody, subtle performance as Mr. Teardrop in Winter's Bone. On January 24, I heard via TV the Oscar nominations had been announced. On the Internet, I scrolled down the list of nominees and yelled a loud "YES!" when I saw Hawkes' name in the Best Supporting Actor category.

Years ago, Hawkes used to return home periodically to visit his mother, Pat Perkins, and his friends in Alexandria. Several times I had the chance to interview him for stories about his increasingly successful acting career. It was obvious to me that Hawkes, so dedicated to his craft and so hard-working, was "paying his dues" in aces and spades.

During one interview in his mother's apartment, Hawkes decided to perform part of his role as an old man in a play called Greater Tuna that he was involved with in Austin, Texas, where he was living at that time. I sat in the living room as Hawkes went into the kitchen and briefly psyched up for his role. The archway between kitchen and living room, like a proscenium arch in the theater, gave the illusion, to me, that I was watching a performance taking place on a stage. Then Hawkes proceeded to perform his old-man monologue, and it was as astonishing as watching a rabbit leap out of a hat. Within seconds, young Hawkes had turned into a doddering, creaky, cranky old man. Through some kind of voodoo magic (it's also called great acting) Hawkes had virtually aged 60 years right before my eyes. It still has the power to take my breath away.

Through the years, I saw so many riveting Hawkes performances in movies and on TV shows. Like all great character actors, Hawkes relishes strange, sinister or odd-ball roles that most "star" actors wouldn't touch. The range of his roles runs the gamut, proof that Hawkes can "bring to life" any kind of character to flesh-and-blood reality. Hawkes proves the adage that it's the character "supporting actors," not the stars, who are most often the greatest of actors.

I first heard about Winter's Bone while I was reading its movie review in The New Yorker magazine some months back. The writer, David Denby, gave Hawkes a rave review. Later, in an issue of the Alexandria Echo Press, I was so glad to read Hawkes had come back to Alexandria for a special screening of the film. By then, I was dying to see Winter's Bone. Luckily, it was available via Netflix.

Winter's Bone is not exactly a thigh-slapping fun fest. It is, in fact, a bleak movie shot in the brambly boondocks of the Missouri Ozarks and filled with varmints that could be kissin' cousins of the sadistic villains in the movie, Deliverance. Winter's Bone is depressing, but what redeems it is the determined and courageous search of a young woman to find her father and to save her house for the sake of her two younger siblings. Hawkes's "Mr. Teardrop," the young woman's uncle, also helps redeem the movie. Wasted by drug use, living in a kind of purgatory of despair and self-loathing, Mr. Teardrop is torn between letting sleeping dogs lie and helping his niece. It is a spine-tingling performance, especially as Teardrop's long-buried decency starts to percolate, skittishly, to the surface.

On Oscar night, February 27, I will be sitting in my living room with my fingers crossed, hoping Hawkes wins. And even if he doesn't, I can almost guarantee this will not be his last nomination. That is because he is one of the finest actors in American movie history.

Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at dennisdalman@jetup.net.

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