Feature Interviews A to E > Kevin Bacon
COMES OUT OF THE WOODS
BY BRAD BALFOUR
All rights reserved. Posted: January 1, 2005.
It's not an easy role for anyone play
-- a pedophile just released from prison who struggles
his criminal behavior while trying to establish
a normal life. But if anyone can
handle playing this role, the ever-versatile Kevin Bacon can, for The
Woodsman is both challenging for the subject matter and the restraint he
showed in playing the character. But Bacon is a remarkable character actor
-- able to be a song-and-dance man in Footloose or a hardnosed
cop in Mystic River. Now Bacon grapples with one of the hardest but
best parts of his career.
When you first read the script, were you
intrigued or repulsed?
Initially, I wasn't offered the part. I was
walking up the beach in Willowbridge, the British West Indies on Christmas
Eve and saw this guy who I know peripherally. He's not in the film industry,
but in Philadelphia real estate or something like that. He said,
"They sent me this script and asked me to invest
in it" and told me there was another actor
involved. That's all he said. He told me to take a look at it and let him
know if it was a good investment. Normally, I would never take a screenplay
under those conditions. You can't read everything. You'd spend your whole
life reading scripts from people on beaches. I got home on January 2nd
or 3rd and it was sitting there. I picked it up and read it and a
barrage of feelings washed over me -- anger,
disgust, confusion, and compassion, feeling angry with myself for feeling
compassionate. I put it down and knew that it was probably going to be my
How did you research the role?
I didn't go out and hang around with sex offenders.
How far inside yourself did you go to prepare for this role?
I've played a lot of different characters. For me, the reason I became an
actor was to put on many different skins and to live inside someone else's
persona. In a lot of ways, Walter is a different guy than me. He talks,
walks, and looks different. To me that's what being an actor is. By the same
token when it comes to getting in touch emotionally, you have to tap into
that reality, you have to use your own life experience. An important element
to this character is an underlying sense of shame. And certainly, we've all
done shameful things in our lives, so it's a question of tapping
Jack Nicholson observed that 70% of a
character is you and the other 30% is something else.
I just saw the struggle of a sick guy trying to get well. No, I didn't see
myself in the character.
Money was invested to make this, but people
don't forgive a child molester. Even in
prison, murderers won't forgive this thing. It's not like a gambling or
alcohol addiction; so how hard is it to put across a story that people will
First off, it's a lot of money by our standards, but not for the film
industry. [The budget] was under three [million] dollars. It's basically a
labor of love. I worked for nothing. It came together because people
believed in it. Working conditions were not good and the page count was
heavy every day. But I felt strongly that we needed to make it for the
price. It would have been ridiculous to go out to raise the budget. Even to
spend five million, to me, would not have been a good idea. It's difficult.
I think one of the hardest jobs is to make it clear to people that they are
not going to a movie where they'll see bad things happen to children because
that is really rough to take.
Walter's background wasn't as fully delineated; there was less of his
back-story than say for Vicky (the girlfriend played by Bacon's wife Kyra
I lobbied pretty hard to take out as many lines as I could. I thought we'd
be doing ourselves a disservice in simplifying the issue and Walter's
struggle. Okay, Walter is this way because of this, or, this is what Walter
did. I wanted more to see Walter rather than talk about him. The fact of the
matter is that there are some things that tend to be statistically
prevalent. You've heard of the cyclical abuse. A large percentage of the
people who will commit this type of sexual offense were abused themselves.
So rather than have something that you could wrap up in a neat little bow
and walk away from the theater thinking 'Oh yeah,
the problem is this,' it was better to leave it
Did you take on the role with trepidation considering that you are a
No. I feel like my parenting is my parenting and I
take it very seriously. I put a lot of time into it and it's important. My
work is my work. If I only took the movies that I thought would be nice for
my kids to see you could just about eliminate pretty much all the movies
that I've done. I can't do My Dog Skip every time.
Did you see the original stage production of The Woodsman?
No, I did not. I don't think I'd really want to see another actor play the
part. That might be counterproductive. Nicole [Kassell, the
screenwriter/director] did a tremendous amount of research herself, clinical
studies, case histories, psychological profiles. She had reams of material
she gave to us, because she had researched this so thoroughly, so detailed,
for years. So there's that part of it that I read and absorbed. But aside
from that, the research is what I would have done for any other part. My own
autobiography of who Walter is, whatever information I get from the script
and then whatever information I come up with in my imagination that the
director and I discuss. And then how does that manifest itself in the way he
walks and talks, looks. In the past I've done research on prison life and
that was very helpful.
What happens to Walter after the final
(Laughing) Are you talking about Woodsman II? I don't think
I'll be signing up. Well, let me take it back a little. I feel that with
Walter's journey, when he gets out of prison, he mistakenly feels
'I've done the crime, I've done the time,'
and this is all behind him. I think in his head he almost feels he's the
victim. I don't think he's really taken responsibility for the fact there
have been victims of these crimes. I also think he's sitting there, for instance,
with the shrink and he doesn't want to be there. He feels I'm cured. And
what happens through the course of the movie and, of course, with the little
girl is that he starts to come to terms that he has done terrible, maybe
irrevocable damage, to people he has come in contact with. So this is
something he's going to live with everyday of his life. So while I don't
think of it as a happy ending, I do think that realization is hopeful.
Because maybe then he will continue to seek out the help he needs, and
continue to make retribution.
Though, he did a terrible thing, it was one where he didn't physically
assault someone. Had
Walter been a rapist or a murderer would the movie have had the same impact?
As an audience you make those decisions. I certainly wouldn't pass a
judgment on Walter and say that's not such a terrible thing. I think that is
a terrible thing, just about the worst thing. Everyone is going to make
their decision watching this film based on their own experience. I don't
honestly set out, or collectively, we set out to say, 'Oh
please like this guy.' The film is not
manipulative in that way. If you look at it technically there's no big music
swelling when you're supposed to feel something. It's much more obtuse than
that. It doesn't have a nice, happy ending, nor does it slam the door on the
character at the end, or have him die a horrific death --
the way a child molester is normally handled. We were just trying to
tell this one guy's story in a real way. And for me, that's what's scary.
Scary is not the sex offender as a monster. What's scary is that it's closer
to the truth, just like regular human beings in a lot of ways. You couldn't
pick them out in a room and they are closer than you think in your schools,
your churches, or the person you ride next to on the bus. It's incredibly
widespread. At its best, the film will hopefully spark a discussion, to
bring out some dialogue that we would really prefer not to talk about and
instead sweep under the rug.
Do you make films to prompt such discussions?
Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. I'm not on a soapbox to get things going.
I just think about the character first. It's not the same guy I played last
time. I'm just trying to put on different hats and different skins. If the
film ends up being controversial, for some reason, and brings up some issues
then that's interesting. That's more a director's vision or choice to tell
stories in that way.
Do you consider this one of the hardest roles you've played?
All roles are hard in different ways. Some are physical. Actually the
hardest role physically I did was the Hollow Man and I was invisible
in the movie. But it was incredibly, physically taxing and it got delayed.
Murder in the First was both physically and emotionally terribly
difficult. I would say this one is right up there. Other times it's hard
because the script sucks or the director is an asshole.
How was it working with Kyra?
It's great in the sense of here's a fantastic actress when you get to the
set. You're there for each other. It's someone you trust and you throw the
ball back -- which is good. In terms of a
marriage, it's probably not the best thing. What we found through the years
is that she works and I become sort of her support system. And then I work
and she becomes my support system. And when we're both working in the same
project at the same time, it's hard for us to be there for each other as
husband and wife. We sort of have to come back together after the job's
Would you have been able to handle the emotional aspects of The
Woodsman if Kyra wasn't there?
Yes, I don't ask my costar to hold me up. That's not why she's in the part,
she in the part because she's the best person.
What happens when she's the boss as in the case of Cavedweller [for
Showtime] which Kyra produced and said, "Come, I
need a rock star"?
I'm used to her being the boss [laughs good naturedly]. There's
nothing new about that.
What's happening with your music career as the Bacon Brothers [his band
with brother Michael]?
We're going out tomorrow morning. We have a 5 a.m. pickup out to Phoenix to
plan a gig and then that's it for the year. I'm hoping to go back in the
studio in the spring.
Aren't you producing your next film?
I've got Loverboy that I directed, Kyra and I produced and she stars
in it. That's going to premiere in the premiere category at the Sundance. I
did Beauty Shop, starring Queen Latifah. I play a hairdresser named
Jorge. I'm looking forward to everyone seeing that one. And I have a movie
called Where the Truth Lies with Alison Lohman, Colin Firth and
Have you ever through about giving up the acting?
There's times, especially when I'm doing the interviews.
All rights reserved. Posted: January 1, 2005.
us Let us know what you
Return to the features page