Broadway Spotlight: Interview with Corey Hawkins

Rising Star of Film and TV Returns to Broadway

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 3.24.55 PMCorey Hawkins is one of the hardest-working actors out there, taking 2017 by storm with his role in Kong: Skull Island and the lead in FOX’s 24: Legacy. He also returned to Broadway this spring alongside seven-time Emmy Award-winning actress Allison Janney (Mom, The West Wing) and Tony Award-winning actor John Benjamin Hickey (The Normal Heart) in the revival of Six Degrees of Separation.

The Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-nominated 1990 play by John Guare resonates today as a revival with themes highlighting class, race, identity, and crime and opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on April 25 for a limited 15-week run.

At just 28 years of age, Corey Hawkins, a Washington, D.C. native and Juilliard alumnus, has flexed his acting muscle with a career that ranges from starring in Romeo and Juliet on Broadway to playing Dr. Dre in the smash Straight Outta Compton. Hawkins spoke with New York City Monthly and reminisced on his training and memories from Juilliard, praised his famous co-stars and creative partners, and shared why the stage was the place to return to following numerous high-profile film and TV projects…

You’ve had quite the year, starring in one of the biggest blockbusters of the season, Kong, and also in 24: Legacy. How did you even have the time to fit in a Broadway production?

Really it was the need to be back on the stage. I missed it. My last show was Romeo & Juliet and it was thrilling. My goal as an artist is just to do work that I like and work that I’m passionate about.

I could have done a lot of things over the course of this hiatus, but I read this play, and Six Degrees is just a masterful kind of work. It’s a complicated character, it’s a complicated piece. I just wanted to jump into it wholeheartedly.

Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey are of course two celebrated, award-winning actors. What are you most looking forward to in terms of working with them?

They are the nicest people. They are the most kind, loving, big hearted, and funny [people]. But they are that way as people, not just as actors. It’s just a huge part of it, because if you’re not pleasant to work with it could go wrong really fast. But these are two award-winning actors who give me the freedom — and I get the luxury of sitting beside them and playing on stage with them every day.

We’ll be sometimes on stage in rehearsal and it will be the most serious moment ever in the play, and then literally everyone will just burst out laughing. At the same time we’re able to snap back into it and get back into the work. I just feel really lucky.

How do you think Juilliard prepared you best for a career in entertainment and the arts?

We would go six in the morning to, you know, midnight, and then do it all over again. We called it “The Jailyard” because we were there for so long and people never really saw us because we were tucked in the corner. We always said we were breathing the same air as Robin Williams and Kevin Spacey and Viola Davis who all went there.

So it became home, and literally halfway through school I moved uptown to the Upper West Side. And while we were at Juilliard the NYU kids were the cool kids downtown and we wished we could come hang with the cool kids, but when I got uptown it was an artist collective. I was paying $350 a month, I had a tiny room, but it was thrilling because those are the moments you are grinding and collaborating and workshopping. But New York became a character, an influence in my life, just as much as the rest of my life.Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 3.26.19 PMYou play Paul, a con man to a wealthy New York City couple. Courtney B. Vance was the original Broadway actor who played your  character in 1990, and then Will Smith was in the 1993 lm version. Why is this iteration of the production a must-see on Broadway right now?

Everyone is trying to find their identity and understand who they are in relation to other people, not just immigrants but in terms  of the race construction and what that is, and culture, and wanting to be seen. We are all just trying to survive and be seen for not just who we are but who we think we are.

It’s that thing of six degrees where we live in the age of Google and social media, and everyone “feeling connected but not.” It’s a play about experience. I can find the link to you, I know someone who knows someone else who knows you I’m sure, but it’s about the actual connection getting to that person. I think that’s what Paul does.

It’s also the 90s and we didn’t have technology to find people. In that time, he waltzed into these people’s lives. One of the lines Paul says, “I am Columbus. I am Magellan. I will sail into this new world.” Imagination where we are today is what’s missing sometimes.

The play is also hilarious, so I just think right now it’s a timely piece, and a lot of people are going to see themselves in one of these characters. It holds the mirror up to us and where we are today, and that’s what theater is all about.