December 5, 2004|"It's just orange juice, no vodka," I said, pointing to my little plastic cup emblazoned with the brand name of a certain Russian beverage that, this autumn morning, was also a sponsor for the ten-day 27th Starz Denver International Film Festival. "Would've been all right with me," Kevin Bacon assured. Spectral in frame and bearing, Mr. Bacon is in town to receive the John Cassavetes Award--an honour that would seem questionable but for the actor's recent output: unfailingly maverick, skirting with dangerous. Handsome in a feral sort of way, he's best known for his iconic turns in guilty Gen-X pleasures like Footloose, Flatliners, Diner, and, at the top of the heap, Tremors, and yet a closer look at Mr. Bacon's career reveals his tendency towards the dark in the middle of the tunnel as a thing a long time in the making. His is a gallery of rogues and misfits stretching from a bit part in JFK (which the actor cites as a breakthrough for his career) to psychopath performances in films like Criminal Law, The River Wild, and Murder in the First. Between his work in last year's criminally dismissed In the Cut and now The Woodsman, a cautious ode to a recovering pederast, it's possible that Bacon will finally stop being a prisoner of his good-guy, middle-American hero image.
FILM FREAK CENTRAL: What 's your relationship with critics?
KEVIN BACON: Well, I don't read my own reviews and I haven't for probably fifteen years. I read other people's reviews, though, so critics are obviously a necessary part of...
A necessary evil?
No, that's sort of the easy, knee-jerk thing to say that critics are a necessary evil. You have a job to do and the interesting thing about it is that there are movies that get zero critical support and people still go--but there are others that desperately need help and that's when critics can be your most important friend. I don't read criticism of my stuff only because when it's bad, it's rough--and when it's good, it's not good enough. It's just too difficult for me. I tried it for a while, I did try it. I sort of had this idea, and I think I got it from my father, that you had to read every piece of your press--it was like unmanly not to read your critics. But I finally was like, you know, it's not helping me. It's done for one thing and I'm not going to be able to repair the film or the performance.
Different in the theatre.
Yeah--a lot more difficult, too. As I was coming up on the stage there was really one source that could make or break you, the NEW YORK TIMES. I enjoyed rehearsal, previews, this great feeling of camaraderie, but the reviews would come out and inevitably there would be one actor singled out for a better review, or worse, than somebody else. The effect of that was cancerous, divisive. Inevitably an audience would come having been fed something about how to react and where you'd be getting tons of laughs at the preview, the next night there'd be dead silence because they'd been told that the piece isn't funny. I've lost jobs because of the TIMES. But that's not the way that it works in the movies, it's a totally different thing with market after market and so many critics. Identifying the parameters and the actual relational causality of that critic/artist relationship in movies is a really tricky thing.
Were you apprehensive about playing a child molester in The Woodsman?
I've been asked about that a lot--if I was worried taking on this guy who did horrible things to kids. But I found it to be a part that almost picked me. It was so well-written, so good, so interesting, so complex, I kind of felt like, How could I not take this part? I don't really worry so much about image. I didn't think to myself that this would have a negative impact on my image, my persona, because I don't really care about that. I try to just live my own life, my personal life, to my own sense of morality and in terms of the kinds of characters that I play, well, they could be anything.
I saw your cameo in In the Cut as suggesting that all of New York was a convalescent ward and a mental asylum. It makes two, with The Woodsman, women directors--three with Lisa Cholodenko's Cavedweller.
(laughs) It was fun working with Jane [Campion]. It's funny, but I never think to myself that I'm working with a woman director or not. I had read the script of In the Cut and lobbied really hard for the Mark Ruffalo role. At the time, Nicole Kidman was still attached to the project. And for whatever reason, Jane didn't... I didn't get the part, Mark got the part. But she came back to me and offered me this other role and I, initially, said, "No, forget it." Then I realized that my reaction was probably based on the fact that I hadn't gotten the other part, sour grapes. But I'd always tried not to worry about the size of the role or the size of the film, I mean, one of the most influential movies I ever did for my career was JFK that only took four days for me to shoot. Looking back, it's probably the most seminal moment in turning things around for me. That being said, I thought it over, thought about how great Jane Campion is as a director, I'd never worked with Meg before, and the project--cool and dangerous--and called her back and took the park.
You ever fear for those dark places that you go? I'm thinking in particular of the rapist/killer in Verhoeven's Hollow Man and now, of course, the pedophile.
I don't know, man. I think we all have a lot of darkness in our bellies. I find as an actor the challenge of tapping into that, reaching down into that sadness or anger or whatever to be very therapeutic. You've got to embrace your shadow, you know. I don't believe in the search bliss because I don't think that's a human thing--I think we're all on a roller coaster in terms of our happiness and our grief. It's a Yin/Yang thing, always is, there has to be a balance and so I apply that balance to my work. I can't play somebody's who's happy-go-lucky all the time, or heroic all the time, or romantic--I became an actor so I could put on a lot of different hats.
Can you assess, then, put into context the aggregate direction/impact of your career?
That's hard, man, that'd a hard thing to assess. I can tell you that I always wanted, and still aspire, to be something more than just one thing, just one performance. There are people who might be brilliant, but Kyra [Sedgwick] and I have this joke of "same performance, different hair." Or different weight, as the case might be. And I never wanted that to be said for me.
There's a haunted quality to your recent work--what's in the air that makes these roles more available, what's in you that makes them more attractive?
I don't know what's in the air, but stuff like Woodsman, In the Cut, Mystic River... It's a function I think of being older, of being able to find the wisdom in roles like that. There's an ebb and flow, too, a natural progression in the organism of this business. Why do two people make Alexander the Great biopics at the same time? I don't know, there's something interesting in that discussion. A sociological study of cinema. At this point, I don't know if I have all the answers.
What is our sociological legacy? What 's the state of our state?
I think we're in a pretty bad place and have been for the last four years. I think globally there was a moment after 9/11 where we felt the world come together. I felt that really strongly as a New Yorker that the city had bonded in a genuine way, a deep way that transcended race and sex and economic status. We had an opportunity that the president just completely blew and now we've gone so far in the other direction in terms of war and danger. You have a tragedy like that and you've got to hope something good comes of it, but we dropped the ball. And the division in this country now, it's not even generational anymore--you turn on the television and you see twenty-year-olds holding Bush/Cheney signs and I'm just astounded. In some ways, though, I wonder if we're not more united than we seem. Even the people that support Bush aren't happy with the way things are going in Iraq.
What's your role in the conversation?
I don't know, personally, what I can do--what I could have done. Those moments right before we invaded, it's a weird thing to feel, but I wish that I could have done something--done more. But professionally, I don't go in that direction of choosing things based on personal politics. It's funny, I just read a script recently that's sort of an adventure kind of film that included this hunt for terrorists--very good, probably end up being a very commercial movie, but I did assess, did wonder what the film really had to say about where we were. I don't know that I would have had that perspective before. People would ask me after JFK what I believed and I don't know, I didn't care, you know? You presume that people are on the side of their films' beliefs but that's just not always the case.
Do you consciously abridge your comments to avoid being derided as another celebrity with an opinion?
I do struggle with how much and in which way, as an artist or celebrity, that you come out and voice your political views. I sort of go back and forth about that. Not about whether or not I have a right to do it, of course--there are people who tell you to shut up because you're "just" a celebrity, but look, pundits, talking heads, guys on the radio and the cable networks, they're every bit the celebrity and a lot of them aren't any more qualified than the average man on the street. They're just more obnoxious. Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly... I do think about negative backlash though, not to me, but to the cause--does my participation actually cause harm to the things that I'm supporting?
How heavy does the burden of celebrity weigh on you?
Let me say this that I don't complain much about it because 95% of celebrity is good. People are very nice to you, they put you up in really nice hotel rooms, they give you free shit, I mean it's basically good. If I'm in a situation, and this rarely happens anymore, where someone doesn't recognize me and treats me like everyone else, I'm horrified. (laughs) I'm not used to it anymore. That being said, it does get old to have to always be a monkey in a zoo. In the day-to-day thing to have people looking, talking, grabbing, needing something--I don't know what it's like anymore to be anonymous. Until you give it up, it's hard to picture what it's like, but yeah there are times that I do wish that it would go away, if only for a moment.
Part of that is strangers asking you inane questions whenever you have a movie out.
(laughs) Let me say that I would never suggest that people ask me more questions than I am. For me, the thing about it is that I didn't get into this so I could talk about my work, about my movies, about my process. You become an actor to act and you never count on the other things--the press, the celebrity. I know it's important, that it's part of my job, so I do it with a smile on my face, but it's not the most pleasurable part of being an actor for me. Sometimes it can be fun, but it's not what I'm trained to do--I'm not comfortable in the hot seat, you know.
Professionally speaking, when are you comfortable?
It's a miniscule amount of time in terms of actual time, but it's the time that the film is actually spinning in the camera. It's a delicate sound but it's a beautiful sound and you can hear it. When I hear it, you know what I mean, I know that it's my time to do what it is that I've tried to learn how to do. Those are great moments. You add all that time up in the course of a year and it's probably just ten hours--ten hours out of 365 days--in front of the camera, film in the camera. Not enough. It's not enough.