Hitchhike a Thousand Miles: Oscar nominee John Hawkes gives seven tips for surviving the film industry
by John Hawkes

Christopher Beyer/Contour by Getty

I’m an untrained actor with no formal education in moviemaking. I learned my trade by observing the work of others, reading books about actin and film, and through trial and error on sets and stages. Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Trust your gut. Don’t guess what the audience wants. Tell the story you want to tell, the way you want to tell it.

2. All arts connect and inform each other. See theater, dance, music, and visual art; read great books. Be thrilled and inspired beyond your niche.

3. Loaf occasionally.

4. Make a vital life outside of the business. Travel, struggle, get a hobby, study, volunteer—gain perspective. This may indirectly benefit your work, as well. Hitchhiking thousand of miles, though I no longer recommend it, greatly enriched my understanding of people and story.

5. This business will knock you down. When it does, try to get up, dust yourself off, and take another step forward. And try to rejoice in the idea that you’ve found work that you love to do. Most don’t.

6. Be kind. Be brave. Be prepared. Work hard. Have a great sense of humor.

7. William Goldman famously said of the film industry that: “Nobody knows anything.” This may be true. I don’t know for sure.


Since making his debut in the 1985 horror-comedy Future-Kill, John Hawkes has become one of Hollywood’s most reliable character actors, racking up close to 200 credits thus far. The Minnesota native has been a familiar face on the small screen, with starring roles in “Deadwood” and “Eastbound & Down.” He has stolen scenes on the big screen in films big and small, including The Perfect Storm, Me and You and Everyone We Know, and American Gangster. in 2011 he was nominated for an Oscar for his powerful turn as a meth addict in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. He’s appeared most recently in Lincoln, and Ben Lewin’s The Sessions.


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13 Responses to “Hitchhike a Thousand Miles: Oscar nominee John Hawkes gives seven tips for surviving the film industry
by John Hawkes


    Outstanding, John. It’s certainly nice to know there’s still integrity out there. Not many actors with your grit. Gives me courage to move forward with my novel.
    All the best,
    Jack Deveny

  2. james

    really? this passes for inspiration these days?

    1. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS? okay, thanks.
    2. WHAT? ART INFORMS OTHER ART? omg john youre a genius
    3. LOAF? Really your third piece of advice – third – is to be lazy?
    4. EXPERIENCE LIFE?? you sir are so cliche it hurts
    5. RECOVER? ok
    6. BE KIND AND BRAVE AND WORK HARD? sorry i’m too busy loafing right now as per #3
    7. NO ONE KNOWS ANYTHING? you’ve made that clear now sthu

    • Lance

      It’s a good thing you were nominated for an Academy Award, yourself. Otherwise your comment might have come off as ignorant.

  3. Kathy McCarty

    Hey Wow John Remember when we were young? And you and Tim Mateer were like hanging around the Buffalo Gals Warehouse? Oh and GREAT ADVICE!

  4. Daniel Gerroll

    Worked with him 20 years ago. Was struck by his humility and gentleness AND by the fact that volunteered on weekends for a charitable cause. Thought he didnt stand much of a chance…. but now look!

  5. Muldfeld

    I remember first seeing him in the very good “The X-Files” episode “Milagro” (1999) in which he was amazing.

  6. Jen Ponton

    Wonderful, simple, and from a very trustworthy source–one of the most connected actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. :) Thank you for sharing your wisdom, John!

  7. Richard Alvarez

    When I was nineteen, after my first year of college – and a year spent working professionally in television at the same time – I was a little burned out. I took a short break. I suppose the term ‘sabbatical’ would be accurate – though it was only for a little over a month. I went hitch-hiking. From Houston,TX -generally northwest through Colorado and the mountain states, up into Canada, across Canada and down through the central states. It was a grand adventure, full of interesting people and experiences. I would not recommend it to anyone now, but the 70′s were a different era.

    This article brought it all back to me. When I reflect upon that journey now, I can see how it informs my life view, and my willingness to not only tell stories, but to hear those of others.

    Listening is an important part of prolonging the ride. – Hitchhiking 101.

  8. Charles E Sibby

    Very inspiring. Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom.

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