Detective Noir With A Ditty: How John Hawkes Got “Down With Mary” In ‘Too Late’

Foe Killer Films

EXCLUSIVE: Oscar-nominated for his chilly turn in 2010’s Winter’s Bone, John Hawkes will vie for Oscar gold once again in 2017—but this time, in a different category entirely. Contributing the original song “Down With Mary” to Dennis Hauck’s indie drama, Too Late, Hawkes now finds himself competing with 90 other entries in the Best Original Song category. A project of unusual specs—shot exclusively on 35mm, in sprawling, 20-minute takes that take the viewer into the darker corners of Southern California—the thriller explores the tangled relationship between a troubled private investigator, Mel Sampson (Hawkes), and the missing woman he’s been hired to find. 

In a memorable flashback scene with the missing Dorothy (Crystal Reed), Hawkes pulls out his guitar and sings, in an episode mirroring Hawkes’ pursuits in his life off set. A passionate working musician, Hawkes continues to perform locally in Los Angeles with fellow actor/musician Rodney Eastman, as part of the duo “Rodney and John.”

“The script at one point says something like, ‘Samson strums away and sings a song about a woman he once knew named Mary, and the good time they had.’ So that was really all there was on the page,” Hawkes says, describing the genesis of his musical contribution to Hauck’s film. “But it was the very first thing we got together and shot as a group in making the film, and it was the most ambitious.”

In regards to the former Deadwood cowboy’s musical roots, Hawkes performed in a punk band called Meat Joy in the mid ‘80s in Austin, TX with Gretchen Phillips. He is better known, however, for the L.A.-based alt-Americana band King Straggler, which included Eastman and actor/musician Brentley Gore. The band released a full-length album and an EP on Authentica Records in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Many of their songs were featured in TV shows and movies, such as The AmateursMen of a Certain Age and .45.

In the video above—which gives a glimpse into the film’s creation— Hawkes offers his thoughts in composing a song for the film, the iterations it went through, and the process of re-recording the song in a “more lush, orchestrated version” that gave it “new life.”

Following its limited release, Too Late is now available on VOD.

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