Corey Hawkins’ performance in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” was shaped by one scene partner in particular: the inimitable Denzel Washington.

“I’ve known Denzel before this,” Hawkins said at the Variety Lounge at BFI London Film Festival. “But I’ve never had the chance to work with him. I say it all the time, but this man not only has mentored me and talked to me, but this man has prayed with me. I know the man, you know what I mean? And that’s what means the most to me. Every time I watch it, it’s a joy and it brings back fond memories of a rehearsal process and a process that, if they can take the risks that they’ve taken now … they don’t need to prove anything to anybody at this point. So I just respect that, and if they can do it, then I damn well better be able to do it and keep surprising myself and taking risks.”

Hawkins also spoke to Chief Film Critic Peter Debruge about finding the joy in Shakespeare.

“I didn’t grow up knowing Shakespeare,” he said. “I wasn’t exposed to it. I ended up when I went to Juilliard, I struggled with it a little bit. For me, I fell in love with it. It was my second year and I did a scene from ‘Macbeth’ for Michael Kahn — who runs Shakespeare Theater in D.C., and he also used to run the Juilliard drama division — and it was terrible. I wasn’t focusing on what needed to be focused on, which is the text, the words, the work. From then, I made it my mission, after being embarrassed for the next year, to just study the classics and get to love and find the commonalities in Shakespeare, the things that I can identify with and find myself in the work. That’s what I spent the next year doing at school. It was day in and day out. I lived, slept, drank, ate Shakespeare. So it was refreshing and really dope to be able to do it, and to do it with this cast and with [director Joel Coen].”

“The Tragedy of Macbeth,” which also stars Frances McDormand, hits theaters on Christmas Day before its Apple TV Plus debut on Jan. 14.