Admittedly, Corey Hawkins forgot all about the Tony Award nominations, which were announced the morning of Tuesday, May 2. He was, after all, at the 2017 Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit honoring Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons and the “art of the in-between” just the night before. “As you can imagine, the morning was a little rough,” admits Hawkins, who, after his breakout role as Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton, played the lead role on Fox’s highly anticipated 24 spinoff, 24: Legacy, and is the star of the Broadway revival of Six Degrees of Separation.
Wearing a navy blue Todd Snyder tuxedo at the celebrity-filled fashion event co-hosted by Katy Perry and Pharrell Williams, Hawkins was, in some ways, very much living out the dream of Paul, a con man who upends the lives of a wealthy Manhattan couple (played by Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey) and yearns for a place in a world out of his reach in John Guare’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play. The role -- originated by Courtney B. Vance on Broadway and famously played by Will Smith in the 1993 film -- earned Hawkins his first-ever Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play, putting him up against the likes of acting veterans Chris Cooper and Kevin Kline.
While at the Met Gala, where fellow celebrities notoriously let their guard down behind closed doors, people were wishing Hawkins good luck as he joked that he’d try not to be hungover for the following evening’s scheduled performance, not realizing they meant the nominations. The next day, shortly after 11 a.m., he realized his name had been announced earlier that morning and “freaked out.”
“It was surreal,” he says, adding that he’s amazed by Vogue editor-in-chief and host of the Met Gala Anna Wintour’s “genuine appreciation” of the arts community, including everything from fashion to theater. “It was fun to be celebrating each other.”
Having seen the film version of Six Degrees of Separation when he was younger, Hawkins was familiar with the story that explores the existential premise that everyone in the world is connected by six people. But to play Paul, who not only cons art dealer Flan Kittredge and his wife, Ouisa, but several other couples around Manhattan, the actor says, is a fortunate challenge. “Paul is a visionary. His imagination, his intellect, the way he envisions himself in the world … it’s a roller coaster. I get to be a different person in every scene.”
And for the current production, which earned two Tony nominations, including Best Revival of a Play, to happen was no small feat, especially working around Janney’s notoriously busy schedule. The actress, who was busy finishing up the latest season of Mom, also squeezed in the time to play Margot Robbie’s onscreen mother in the upcoming Tonya Harding biopic. Hawkins reveals the cast went to Los Angeles for a short time to rehearse after Janney was done with daily shoots on Mom, forcing him to fly directly from Atlanta, where he’d just wrapped on 24: Legacy.
“That’s what you do when you don’t want any downtime,” Hawkins says, admitting he likes to be busy.