John Hawkes can express more with just his face than most actors can convey with their whole body. Certainly the actor is generating serious Oscar buzz for his spellbinding turn as paralyzed Berkeley poet Mark O'Brien in the new movie "The Sessions." Struck by polio as a boy, he spent most of his life in an iron lung.

Born John Marvin Perkins in 1959, the 53-year-old actor says he approaches every part from the inside out. He also looks for challenges instead of big paychecks, all of which made O'Brien a part he was dying to play. But Hawkes says it was just as important to capture O'Brien's wit and tenacity as his paralysis. In honor of "The Sessions," which also stars Helen Hunt as the sex therapist O'Brien falls for, we thought we would share the top 5 things you should know about Hawkes.

  • Hawkes first came to fame on the gritty Western "Deadwood" where he played redoubtable merchant Sol Star. Two of his fellow "Deadwood" alums also appear in "The Sessions," Robin Wiegert (Calamity Jane) and W. Earle Brown (Dan Dority).

  • Hawkes was nominated for an Oscar for his indelible turn as the menacing backwoods meth addict Teardrop in "Winter's Bone."

  • Hawkes loves poetry, one of the many reasons he wanted to play noted Berkeley poet/writer Mark O'Brien. He's also a bit of a Luddite who ignores smartphones, Twitter and Facebook in favor of personal contact.


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  • Although Hawkes was initially uncertain if an able bodied actor was the best choice to play paraplegic Mark O'Brien, he commited himself to capturing every detail about life in an iron lung. He studied O'Brien's vocal patterns and facial expressions (captured in the 1996 documentary "Breathing Lessons") and he lay on a soccer-ball sized piece of foam to suggest the curvature of O'Brien's twisted spine.

  • On getting into the character of Mark O'Brien: "I had to get beyond the body to capture his mind and his soul. It was a joy to discover him, his voice as a person and as a poet, which to my mind, is a rare and wonderful thing."

    Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772. Read her stories at www.mercurynews.com/karen-dsouza and follow her at Twitter.com/KarenDSouza4