John Hawkes Fears Backlash Over Disabled Role In ‘The Sessions’

The Sessions has been earning all the right buzz over the past several months, with most of the film’s early attention focusing on the performances, particularly that of Helen Hunt. However, Hunt plays a supporting character, while John Hawkes headlines as the main protagonist.

In a recent interview, Hawkes expressed some fear over potential backlash he may receive portraying a handicapped man when he, himself, is not disabled.

“Of course, that was my first question: Why not a disabled actor?” Hawkes told The Hollywood Reporter. “[They are] a uniquely qualified group of people for this role, who are undervalued and underused. I’ve had a lot of disabled actors come to me after screenings, and they told me to get over it,” he said.

Director Ben Lewin is a polio survivor who uses crutches to walk. Before casting Hawkes, Lewin searched for a disabled actor before ultimately approaching Hawkes.

“It is the 800-pound gorilla in the room in a way,” he said, “but it’s something that, Ben being a polio survivor himself, and the fact that he put time in [to looking for disabled actors], he felt like, would it be politically correct to hire a slightly disabled actor to play a severely disabled actor? He ultimately just hadn’t found his guy. We met, and he felt like I could do it.”

Hawkes understands that not everyone will receive his casting well, but was honored nonetheless to be a part of The Sessions.

“I’m honored to play the role. I’m hopeful that it can somehow open up people’s minds and open up discussion,” he explained. “A lot of these actors have also told me that there are those who are going to be militant, who are going to raise a fuss; that’s certainly their right. I did my best, and I hope I touch people, not only the disabled community but other people as well. It’s all human beings, after all, and that’s the point of the film.”

Helen Hunt isn’t the only one getting Oscar buzz for her role in The Sessions. Hawkes, who earned international recognition with an Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone, has become a critical darling himself, and his upcoming role is no exception.

Here’s the trailer for The Sessions with John Hawkes and Helen Hunt: