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John Hawkes is a "that guy" actor who over the past few years has offered some of the best performances around, yet gets passed over award season by more famous actors. Formerly cast as a sweet but noble man on Deadwood and indies like Me and You and Everyone We Know and Earthwork, he scored his first Academy Award nod in 2011 with his niche-busting portrayal of the growling uncle Teardrop in Best Picture dark horse Winter's Bone. However, the Best Supporting Actor Oscar that year went to Christian Bale for The Fighter.
But with the Sundance debut of the critically heralded drama Martha Marcy May Marlene, Hawkes seemed poised for Oscar gold once more! Then, shockingly he didn't even score a nomination, but Jonah Hill did. Come Sundance 2012, Hawkes returned with another indie drama that seemed sure to earn him long-deserved accolades. This time he's the lead in a biopic about a man in an iron lung who discovers the joys of sex through a dedicated sex surrogate. To many, his demanding role and profound performance seemed a lock for Oscar's Best Actor award, until Daniel Day-Lewis's affable and chatty Lincoln rolled into theaters.
Now, it should be said, I have no idea if John Hawkes thinks about his career in terms of his Oscars success, but as an awed admirer of his work, I've become fixated on it. And while I'm still pulling for him in Oscars 2013, I'm relieved to see he's got another intriguing indie biopic in the works.
Variety reports Hawkes has signed on to star in Low Down, playing legendary jazz pianist Joe Albany. Mark Ruffalo was originally attached to the part in March of 2011; but when the production schedule shifted, he was forced to bow out. Based on the memoir penned by Albany's daughter Amy 'A.J.' Albany, the film will be set in the Los Angeles jazz scene of the late '60s/early '70s and will portray the father-daughter relationship between the famous but troubled musician and his adoring 11-year-old child. Penned by Amy Albany and Topper Lilien, Low Down will offer a portrait of addiction and parenthood from the perspective of a kid submerged in a land of cocktail bars and shady hotels. Commercial director Jeff Preiss will make his feature debut with the film.
Hawkes has twice conveyed a cagey sexuality playing guitar in Winter's Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene, and so seems well-suited to play a troubled but charismatic musician. And from the looks of Albany's life, there will be plenty of drama to pull from. Though he enjoyed early career highs working with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus, a heroin addiction took hold and brought him low down in his later years. From the dark charm demanded to make Albany not detestable to audiences, to the chops to make his story distinctly poignant, to the ability to play broken but tender opposite a young actress, Hawkes seems uniquely qualified for this role. And with Low Down slated to shoot in March of 2013, we could see Hawkes in contention for Oscars 2014.