John Hawkes is generating a flood of praise and Oscar buzz for his performance in “The Sessions,” in which he plays the poet Mark O’Brien, who was left paralyzed from the neck down by childhood polio and spent much of his life in an iron lung. Awards are nice and all. But the viewers Hawkes cares about most are not the ones judging him just on artistic merit. They’re the people who knew and loved O’Brien, who died in 1999 at 49.
“Hopefully I’ve made the character recognizable for a friend or relative to see Mark in there,” Hawkes, 53, says during a recent interview in Boston, where “The Sessions” will open on Friday. “Playing a real person carries a great responsibility to do right by their memory.”