Kevin Bacon Interview
Kevin Bacon is without question one of the hardest working actors of his generation. He made his film debut back in 1978 with frat-comedy Animal House, but it wasn’t until Footloose in 1983 that his career really started to kick off. Since then there’s been no stopping him, he’s clocked up over 45 movies, in films as varied as JFK, A Few Good Men, The River Wild, Mystic River and The Woodsman.
His new film Where The Truth Lies [out now on DVD] finds Kevin and Colin Firth as a 50s comedy duo Lanny and Vince, whose careers comes to an abrupt end after the mysterious discovery of a dead woman in their hotel room.
LOVEFiLM: With Where The Truth Lies and The Woodsman, you’re obviously going through a phase in your career where the roles are tough and intense, are you enjoying getting your teeth into something with substance and layers?
Kevin Bacon: Yeah, I think it’s a lot easier to play a character that’s written with some depth and some interest, than it is to try and make something out of nothing. I mean there’s been times when they expect you to kind of fill in the blanks there. I like to be as collaborative as possible and I like to explore as many aspects of the character’s life as I can but I’m not a writer. So if something is meaty, yeah it’s easier.
LF: There is a whole wealth of research that you could do for your character Lanny, did you do much?
KB: Yeah, I looked at a lot of comedy duos through the years; Laurel and Hardy and Abbot and Costello. I looked at the Smothers Brothers and obviously Dean Martin and Jerry Lee Lewis. There is a lot more Martin and Lewis in the book, but [director] Atom Eygon I think wanted to depart a little bit from that. As far as I know there was no 50’s musical or comedy act that had a British guy and an American guy, but what we wanted to do was make you feel like it could have existed, even if it didn’t exist. So, of course there was a lot of research I did.
The thing about research is that you don’t know, you don’t know if its going to have an impact, you don’t even know once you’re playing it whether or not it helped to have looked at the tapes that I looked at. It’s hard to say, I just do it because you might as well do it than not do it.
LF: I remember reading a quote of yours saying one day you would like to play the hero who wins the day and gets the girl. Is that still relevant or do you see it more as a joke?
KB: No I’m not joking about that at all; the thing about the dark characters is that I’ve always done them. From the time I was a young guy playing offbeat unusual characters is something I’ve always been drawn to. It’s not like I was a leading man who all of a sudden found this other life. I’ve always really thought of myself as a character actor. But I think that JFK kind of turned things around for me and made it possible for people to see me in a different light, rather than the ‘Footloose’ kind of guy. It’s good to keep surprising people, doing things that are unexpected.
It’s good for me, it’s good for the audience and it’s good for my career. I think what’s unexpected now is to do something heroic and to do maybe a film that’s not quite as heavy. I love those kind of movies, I’ll give you an example: I was up for a film recently and the character was going to be a nice guy who ends up being a killer and I didn’t get the movie and they didn’t cast me in the movie because if we put Kevin in the movie everybody knows he’s going to be the killer, that’s an obvious thing! [Laughs] So that’s changed a lot from the days when people said “Wow, I can’t believe you played the killer.”
LF: There’s a bond of trust and familiarity in comedy partnerships, working together all the time, I wondered how you built that up with Colin?
KB: Look, one of the challenges as an actor is to create something in a very short amount of time. We didn’t know each other at all, we admired each other’s work and we have a mutual friend who had said to me a number of times, ‘You really should work with this guy; I think you’d really like him.’ But that’s the thing, you’re thrown into a situation and within the course of a week you have to feel like you’ve been gigging together forever, it’s like a marriage with these guys.
LF: The role you’re playing explores the pitfalls of celebrity. Is there any aspect of your own life as an actor that you could bring into the role?
KB: Oh yeah, definitely. Some of the stuff that really interested me about the film was the way it talks to celebrity. Defining yourself by your fame and being afraid that your fame is going to slip away; all that stuff is very, very true. As I said, I have rarely, if ever, gotten the chance to play a celebrity, yet it is something I live so it is interesting to try and tap into that side of it.
LF: Do you think having had a stable relationship [He’s been married to Kyra Sedgwick for over 17 years] for so long has helped you avoid having the vacuous position you could have got into?
KB: Well first off there’s a lot more that’s good about being famous than bad, I’d like to make that clear! I think that eventually in your life, as I have learnt, you have to find something outside of your work that’s going to give you strength and peace. That is gonna make you feel whole, because the work and the celebrity will eventually let you down -eventually it will become not enough.
When you look at a character like Lanny Morris, you see him as a young man as a God, going from woman to woman to woman, having a great time, doing the drugs and performing and getting love back from the audience - but when you see him later on, all that has kind of waned a little bit. It’s not that’s he unsuccessful, but both of these guys are not who they were in the 50’s. They don’t have that same kind of adulation. Yes he’s flying first class and he’s probably got a lot of money and he’s been able to parlay this stardom into a producing/directing Morris Productions kind of thing, but he hasn’t found anything else in his life and he’s basically lonely. And in their own way they’re both kind of pathetic characters. You have to eventually get something else; whether it’s yoga or needlepoint I don’t know! It’s never gonna be enough, it’s never gonna fill you up.
LF: So it’s like a narcotic in that sense, is fame it’s ultimately destructive?
KB: I think so, but it’s also like a narcotic in the sense that if you don’t get it and if it seems like someone is about to take it away from you, you’ll do anything to get it back. I’ve been an actor for a long time, I’ve seen rises and falls of a lot people and sometimes you’ll see somebody who will make their way back into the papers in a really kind of objectionable way, but whether they’re conscious of it or not they’re still reaching for the headlines. That’s because you need it, it’s like a drug unless you have something else.
LF: Kevin, you’ve got an incredible body of work….
KB: I thought you were going to say body!
LF: …It’s incredibly prolific. Did you have a game plan when you started? I mean you never seem to stop working, what governs those choices, is it fear of being out of work or is it being excited by different challenges? Or having to bring up your kids?
KB: Yeah it’s all those things. You said having kids to support and I have to say even though the job that I am in is definitely a very kind of ‘larger-than-life’ job, I still have this Protestant work ethic. I’ve always really thought about doing an honest days work so I can bring home my pay and support my family. That’s always been important to me from the time I became an actor.
One of the reasons why it seems like I work all the time is because I’m not only doing movies where I’m in a lead. I’ll do things, smaller things, ensemble things. I’ll go someplace for a couple of weeks if I think that the part is interesting and has some value or it’s something that I wanna explore. When you make those kinds of choices you end up with a very very long IMDB!
I think there was a time maybe in my life not unlike the character. When I was running from movie to movie because this was where I felt most at home, and these were the most important kind of relationships to me. Those sort of relationships are very seductive. You go onto a movie set and you feel like a family and you meet these people and they feel like lovers or best friends or father figures or mother figures or whatever, you feel like that’s your home.
One of the things I realised over the years was that if you really make that kind of commitment to everyone every time, down the line, when it ends there’s something kind of sad about that - because you realise you don’t stay friends forever. You can’t stay friends with everyone you meet on every single set with every single crew forever. Nobody has that amount of time!
LF: I wondered what your reaction was when you discovered your film was being given an NC-17 certificate and whether you feel this was necessary because there was more than just heterosexual sex involved?
KB: Could be. The problem with the ratings board is that they don’t actually tell why they are giving you the NC-17. The only thing I can say is that in the other scenes he did as much cutting as he could and they still handed down the rating. In the final scene there was really no way to cut it. I think there is a fairly puritan wind that’s blowing right now in the States and I’d like to think that it’ll turn around.
LF: Did it give the wrong message though to the American audience of what the film was about?
KB: Absolutely, the movie is not a sex movie, obviously. If you’re apprehensive about not wanting to see a something that has over the top sexuality then an NC-17 is definitely going to keep you at home. And if you go to the movie hoping that it’s going to be soft-core porn then you are going to be disappointed because there is not enough to merit that. So I think either way it’s probably not a good thing.
LF: So you wouldn’t do a NC-17 again?
KB: Well I’m definitely not making another NC-17! I learnt my lesson and we’re going to make absolutely sure it’s not another NC-17!