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MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

On The Farm
To re-create Martha's life on the farm, Sean Durkin knew he needed an actor who could evoke both the allure and savage impulses of the community leader Patrick. He had no doubt that John Hawkes, fresh off his Academy Award® nomination for the searing role of Uncle Teardrop in WINTER'S BONE opposite Jennifer Lawrence, could give the character the necessary human depth.

Hawkes says that working with Elizabeth Olsen reminded him a lot of the catalytic impact of watching Lawrence perform. "I got a pretty great idea early on that Lizzy was hitting it out of the ball park, a lot like Jennifer did on WINTER'S BONE,” he says. "They are both young women who are wise beyond their years, both very game and very brave.”

Indeed, Hawkes sees some elemental similarities between the two gritty, indie films, despite their very different subject matters, locales and styles. "What is interesting is that they both focus on a young woman in ways that we don't usually get to see,” he says.

It was the unusual nature of the whole story that grabbed Hawkes from the beginning. "There are a lot of scripts about cults out there, but this one was very different,” he says. "It was only half about life in the community and the other half was about a young woman's attempt to live in the world after escaping that. The writing had a lot of gray areas, a lot of tension and no easy answers. Once I spoke to Sean on the phone, he was so convincing and interesting that I took that leap of faith.”

Although Patrick shares personality characteristics with several infamous American cult leaders – from Charles Manson to Jim Jones to David Koresh -- Hawkes did not want to emulate any of them. "I'm usually very much an over-preparer but in this particular case, I didn't want to research a great deal. I didn't want to pattern Patrick after any true-life character,” he explains. "I felt like my job was to make him a credible seducer but never too arch or over the top. I thought the more I could make him a real, caring, charismatic person, the more this guy would be someone Martha would want to follow and truly believe in. I tried to avoid the obvious. I wanted to play him as a decent human being because that makes the way things turn out much more interesting.”

Part of Patrick's appeal is his ability to boost a young person's self esteem, with just a nod of approval or warm, paternal smile. "I think a lot of manipulators are good at that,” observes Hawkes. "They find what a person lacks and try to feed it to them. Patrick is able to be just the kind of father figure that a young woman in distress would cleave to.”

Yet for all of his exploitation and moral degeneracy, Hawkes was able to find a drop of something genuine at Patrick's core. "I've never played a character I didn't like and I wouldn't be able to,” he comments. "This is a difficult guy to like, but one of the exciting things about being an actor is finding moments with a guy like Patrick that the audience can side with. That was the challenge.”

Shooting in the Catskills, in a peaceful, rural setting that felt like its own private world, helped Hawkes to sense the moments that make the farm community seem to young newcomers like a more loving alternative to the harsh, outside world. "We were all kinds of marooned there and it truly felt like a family, like a real community, and that was great for the film,” he says.

In one riveting sequence, as true-to-life as it is unsettling, Hawkes portrays Patrick serenading his followers with a song for Martha. Having played music all his life, Hawkes was willing to tackle the intimate, campfire-style performance, improvising around a classic 60s folk tune by Jackson Franks called fittingly "Marlene.” "I wanted to serve the song the same way you serve the story in a film,” he explains. "We did it without edits, just me playing solo shot straight through, warts and all. It was very cold that day and part of the challenge was just trying not to let my teeth chatter!”

He goes on, "I felt like it was such a great song for the movie – it was mysterious and odd and psychedelic, yet it had a soft, lovely edge to it. I was worried about how that scene might go but it was real fun and exciting. It was almost like adding to the score in a way, and it provides some texture to Patrick, showing his positive side . . . and the more you can get that out there in the story, the better.”

The song brought home to Elizabeth Olsen why Hawkes was so right for the role. "If you had someone who was just creepy and scary, you wouldn't believe they could entice all these people to come to the farm, but with John, there is something else, just a little edge,” she comments. "He can be such a kind person and when he sings Martha a love song, she falls for it. I'd fall for it, too.”

A rising young star who have become part of the Borderline Films family comes to the fore as a member of Martha's cult family: Brady Corbet plays Watts, who recruits her into the unusual collective; and Christopher Abbott is Max, who grows close to Martha when she is Marcy May on the farm.

Corbet, who made his feature film debut in THIRTEEN, and is known for his role as Derek Huxley on the hit television series "24,” describes Watts as "a true believer who meets girls in the city and brings them to the farm.” He might have some deep-seated regrets over luring innocent kids into the controlling atmosphere of the community, but Corbet says he is beyond recognizing them. "Watts is too far gone at this point – it's too late for him to save himself or to save anyone else,” he says.

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