ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — When Lynn Thoennes watched fellow Alexandria classmate John Hawkes in the movie “The Sessions,” she completely forgot she was watching her friend.

“That is a testament to his acting skills,” she said of Hawkes, who was known as John Perkins when he graduated from Alexandria’s Jefferson High School in 1977.

Thoennes is looking forward to seeing Hawkes in his latest movie, “The Peanut Butter Falcon."

She has been following Hawkes’ career, which now spans more than 30 years, and says it’s been exciting watching him go from having a single scene in a movie to an actor with top billing.

Hawkes has starred in several movies, including “The Perfect Storm,” “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Hardball,” “The Sessions,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “Winter’s Bone.”

He has also acted in television series including “Eastbound & Down,” “Lost,” and “Deadwood.”

For his role as Teardrop in “Winter’s Bone,” Hawkes was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and also received several awards.

In “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” Hawkes stars with Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal and Thomas Haden Church. The movie is about a young man with Down syndrome who escapes from the assisted living facility he lives in to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.

Interestingly, Thoennes said Hawkes was involved in wrestling for awhile in school. She also said he was active in school plays, which may not come as any surprise.

“John was friendly in high school,” said Thoennes, who has periodically seen him since they graduated more than 40 years ago. “He’s been to a few class reunions and remains friendly and quite humble about his career.”

Hawkes was named to the Alexandria Alumni Hall of Fame, along with Joani Nielson and Richard A. “Bud” Peterson, in 2012.

Thoennes said she is not only proud to call him a classmate, but to also call Hawkes her friend.

Longtime friends

“It’s the sweetest movie and I can’t wait to see it in our theater,” said Bryan Stoeck of “The Peanut Butter Falcon” playing at a theater in Alexandria.

Stoeck also graduated with Hawkes, and the two have been friends since fifth grade. They went on to be roommates at St. Cloud State, and Hawkes stood up for Stoeck as his best man when he got married.

Hawkes was good friends with just about everybody, Stoeck said, because he was just that type of guy.

He recalled how Hawkes got his start in acting. Two teachers, Scott Fodness and Tamara McLintock, wrote in a part for Hawkes in the play, “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.” They wrote a part for the character Pig Pen, who was not in that particular play. According to Stoeck, it was Hawkes’ first experience on stage.

“He caught the acting bug in junior high and it’s been no looking back for him ever since,” said Stoeck.

In college, Stoeck said Hawkes took plenty of acting-related classes, including method acting, speech and a performing arts course.

After moving to Texas and then to California, Hawkes continued to hone his craft, eventually getting his first big break when he starred in the movie “The Perfect Storm.”

Regardless of how many movies or television shows he stars in, Stoeck said his friend doesn’t ever forget where he came from.

One of his favorite Hawkes films is “From Dusk Till Dawn.” He said the best scene in the whole movie takes place in a convenience store with Hawkes as the store clerk. “He owned that scene.”

Stoeck also noted that while Hawkes was never going to be a leading man like George Clooney, he is “the finest character actor of our generation.”