The Winter's Bone star is gaining Oscar buzz for his convincing portrayal of Mark O'Brien, a paralyzed 38 year old desperate to lose his virginity, but he wasn't his director's first choice.
And Hawkes admits he too was wondering why polio survivor Lewin didn't hire a disabled actor for the part.
Hawkes says, "That was my first question: why not a disabled actor? (They are) a uniquely qualified group of people for this role, who are undervalued and underused.
"It is the 800 pound gorilla in the room in a way, but it's something that Ben, being a polio survivor himself... felt like, 'Would it be politically correct to hire a slightly disabled actor to play a severely disabled actor?' He ultimately just hadn't found his guy, and (when) we met, he felt like I could do it."
And Hawkes hopes disabled moviegoers aren't offended by the project - because he gave the character his all.
He adds, "There are those who are going to be militant, who are going to raise a fuss; that's certainly their right. I did my best, and I hope I touch people, not only the disabled community, but other people as well. It's all human beings, after all, and that's the point of the film."
Hawkes risked permanent back trouble and health issues to convincingly play O'Brien, using props and painful poses to perfect his subject matter's frail and contorted state.