'Arcadia': Oscar-nominee John Hawkes on the lyrical, mysterious family road trip indie

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Image Credit: Film Movement

When you’re a young teenager and your dad tells you that you’re moving across the country to California, you kind of have to listen. Even if your mother is mysteriously not joining.

In Arcadia, director Olivia Silver takes viewers on an atmospheric, sun-soaked road trip with Greta (Ryan Simpkins), Caroline (Kendall Toole), and Nat (Ty Simpkins) and their father Tom, played by Oscar-nominee John Hawkes. The reason for the move is cloaked in secrecy. There’s a job in California, and they have to go, but it’s not entirely clear why their mother isn’t there. As the middle child, 12-year-old Greta is the most shielded, and the most aware that something is off. Her older sister knows something she didn’t, and Nat is young enough to blindly accept what he’s told. The quiet film shows a generally happy, but broken family in transition. Eventually we discover along with Greta why their mother isn’t coming.

Arcadia is out on DVD on Tuesday, July 23, with a bonus inclusion of Silver’s 2008 Sundance Film Festival-accepted short Little Canyon. Check out EW’s interview with John Hawkes after the jump about his low-budget passion project.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved with the project?
John Hawkes: Olivia Silver, who wrote and directed, had a short film at Sundance called Little Canyon. I sat down with her and found her to be delightful and kind and went ahead. This was kind of a stretch for me a little bit. It wasn’t really in my wheelhouse exactly, but Olivia was very keen for me to be part of it. I think I was the first person attached. I’m just looking for a really good story. It’s subjective obviously, and I only know what moves me or interests me. Independent film has always felt like a good fit. I don’t much care about the budget. If something is $200 million and gets me excited to get out of bed and go to work, I’ll do that as well, but a lot of them turn out to be smaller films.

This is really Greta’s story and your character Tom is supporting her growth and maturation. 
Absolutely. I play supporting characters more than I play the lead. One of the things I loved was that Greta’s character was that you don’t see a lot of complex 12-year-old girls in scripts and so that was appealing to me. The story as a whole is sort of a kidnapping story, but it isn’t laid out like that. It’s sort of dreamlike. But it’s the story of her and her brother and sister and how they grow up along the way. It was a great experience. The story of a guy who’s kind of kidnapped his kids and is moving them across the country to a new location without telling them that their mother is not ultimately going to come along could be told a lot of ways. I wish I could be more eloquent about it, but I love telling a story that we don’t often see, of a young girl.

Tom has a very tense moment with a heckler on the street and actually gets into a fight, which seems sort of out of character. What do you remember about filming that scene?
It was shot in a parking lot, so it wasn’t actually on the street. The other actor was actually a stand-up comedian, but of course the role didn’t call for that. I don’t want to embarrass him but I think Ty was a little shocked by it. He’s a tender kid. He’s two years older now and probably a different guy, but I appreciate the fact that he was wrapped up in that scene that day and that it disturbed him. There’s low-budget and there’s incredibly low-budget. Those things create challenges and you just try to figure out how to make it real somehow

Did you film across the country?
This was unique because it was such a large span of time and travel done in a very short time in a very small area. We shot it all within an hour of L.A. It was a stretch, but in the long run I think it’s more about the characters and the emotions than it is about making sure the locales are perfect. It would have been really fun to drive cross-country and do this movie, but there’s no time or budget for that.

How have things changed for you since the awards attention you received for Winter’s Bone and The Sessions? Do you care about awards recognition?
Awards are important insofar as they can bring attention to films that might not otherwise get it. It’s like the advertising budget that the film can’t afford. It’s personally gratifying. But the attention is a double-edged sword. I think one of my strengths over the years is that people don’t know who I am and are more likely to believe me in roles. I’ve tried to avoid publicity. I just want to help this film.

Join filmmaker Olivia Silver for an exclusive online screening of Arcadia at 8pm ET Monday, including a live Twitter chat at #ArcadiaFilm, here.

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