Lying doesn’t come naturally to Corey Hawkins, though you wouldn’t know it from the roles he’s been playing lately.
Earlier this year the rising star played Eric Carter, an ex-Army Ranger enmeshed in international intrigue on Fox’s “24: Legacy,” and now he’s earning raves on Broadway in the revival of John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation,” running at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre through July 16. Hawkins plays Paul, a bright, charismatic young man who just might be the secret son of Sidney Poitier — or so he claims. It’s a ruse he foists upon a gullible Upper East Side couple (Allison Janney, John Benjamin Hickey), who let him into their lives. Based on a true story, the production drew a Tony nomination for best revival, and Hawkins is up for best actor.
Raised by his mother, a police officer, in Washington, D.C., Hawkins, 28, earned a scholarship to Juilliard, after which he burst on the film scene as Dr. Dre in “Straight Outta Compton” in 2015.
Many congrats, sir, on your Tony nomination.
I’ve been really lucky. And I’m really happy for the show. It feels good that John Guare’s play is still recognized all these years after the original opened.
Today, we’re still discussing what constitutes a lie, and what doesn’t. And even if we know something’s a lie, do we care?
It’s a question of . . . what we choose to believe. . . . For my character, Paul, every time he says he’s the son of Sidney Poitier . . . he believes it.
It was written before the existence of social media, which might have helped people figure out that Paul was lying.
Maybe. But even if they knew, there are always people who’ll ignore the truth. I’m not partial to social media. I’ve never been. It gives you this false sense of understanding of other people’s lives. There are a lot of Paul Poitiers on Facebook and elsewhere on the internet. You look at the beautiful pictures people post and you think, “Look at that world. I love that, I want to be in that.”
Right, but it’s all just posing, and using filters to make photos look nicer than they really are.
You can easily get seduced by that.
What does it take to tell a good lie?
Truth. You have to believe it. People ask me: Who is Paul Poitier? And . . . I don’t know. It’s different every single night. Sometimes he seems a little more truthful, sometimes a little less.
Are you any good at lying?
I’m a horrible liar. [He laughs.] Believe me, I’ve tried it a few times and it never turned out good for me. So I try to stay as honest as possible. I don’t think actors are good liars. They’re good truth-tellers.
I assume like any kid you had moments when you tried to get away with stuff, but your mom is a police officer. Could she always tell?
Oh, she knew. Sheeee knew. And she was tough. If you did something, you knew you’d be in trouble because . . . Officer Hawkins was gonna find out. You couldn’t get away with anything.
One last thing — I hear you’d like to do a film about Sam Cooke.
I’m definitely interested in doing something that deals with his life and music.
Why not, Sam? That’s always my question. He was a musical genius who saw so much, and died at such a young age. Sam grew up in the church, and I did, too. I grew up listening to his music. I had his vinyls. I loved, loved, loved Sam Cooke. One of my favorite songs of his is “Jesus Gave Me Water.” It’s just an old recording . . . and it’s . . . it’s . . . magical. And then you think how he later wrote “A Change is Gonna Come,” and how inspired you have to be to write something like that during that time in history. The symphony of it all. When I was in “Straight Outta Compton,” I saw how to make a music biopic that isn’t a standard music biopic. Sam is a sort of living energy and I want to be able to tap into that in some way. People have loved his music, but we don’t understand him. It would be great to find the man behind the music.