The Third Degree of Kevin Bacon:
Ubiquitous Actor Taking Gays for a Ride?
by Tony Phillips
“I really couldn’t give a shit about Kevin Bacon’s image,” begins none other than, you guessed it, actor Kevin Bacon. “All I want to be judged on is the work. The days are long since over when I was afraid someone wouldn’t find me cute or whatever the hell. I’m just an actor. In terms of who I am — that’s something that my family knows, my friends know, my children know, my wife knows — it’s not something that I worry about. The risk is more about will we put our heart and soul into this movie and hope that people go see it? You know, I don’t make these films just for my friends and family to see, I’d like some people to see them. We didn’t know, having made this movie, if we’d even get distribution. We went to Sundance without it and lucky when Newmarket Films was courageous enough to take it on. But the risk is will I do a good job? Will I play the part? Will I be able to make it work?”
Whether it’s his natural charm or technical skill, Bacon pulls off the near impossible in the film he’s discussing, his latest entitled The Woodsman. He draws us in and makes us care about his character Walter, a convicted pedophile freshly sprung from a twelve-year prison sentence. Even when Walter begins to descend that slippery slope into recidivism, we’re still pulling for him. Why is it, then, that Kevin Bacon the actor can’t even muster the charisma to take off his sunglasses when granting interviews to the press? You already know the short answer, but the longer answer lies somewhere in the question of how Hollywood eats itself. Serious actors promoting serious films take themselves, well, seriously. For most of the actors present, including Benjamin Bratt and Bacon’s wife Kyra Sedgwick, this means mentioning your kids, as much as possible.
For Bacon, it’s all sunglasses and frowning down the suggestion that his recent spate of black co-stars — rappers Eve and Mos Def in The Woodsman and force of nature Queen Latifah in Beauty Shop — are the result of black audiences having a hard time playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. “They called me up and it was a hairdresser named Jorge,” Bacon explains of his recent pairing with Latifah. “I felt so great about getting the offer because it was an acknowledgement of what I’ve been trying to do as an actor, which is not get stuck in doing one thing.” He’s not even willing to admit that working with his wife as much as he has been, both on The Woodsman and the upcoming Loverboy, could be construed as odd. For every Tom and Nicole cited, he counters with “Paul and Joanne obviously did okay.” As for the curse of the working together couple, he finally admits, “Kyra was very reticent to take this part based upon that time honored curse. She felt it would take people out of the film and be distracting, but I convinced her that we could do it as actors and that she was the perfect person of the part. I don’t think that we could be accused in a movie like The Woodsman of trying to trade on any sort of tabloid relationship.”
And so, what the fuck, my Six Degrees joke already tanked, let’s probe deeper. What is it like having sex with your wife on the big screen? “It doesn’t make it any easier,” he begins impatiently, “and it’s important to note that the sex scenes are not a glimpse into Kyra and Kev’s bedroom. That’s Walter and Vicki, that’s the way they’re making love. When I’m doing those kinds of scenes I tend to feel more concerned for the woman than myself because it’s a more difficult place for a woman to go. So I guess if anything my concern was heightened because that woman was my wife.” But it’s at this point in the discussion that the incongruities on the table begin to make it break apart. First of all, for as much as everyone is mentioning their kids, they might have realized it’s been quite a couple of months for the children. Everyone’s taking their cue from the Catholic Church. Almodovar may have been first out of the gate with his sensitive, if confusing, treatment of the subject in the Oscar-ready Bad Education, but at this point, almost everyone has weighted in: from Nicole Kidman and that creepily eye-browed child actor from About A Boy making out in Birth to the Toronto premiere of Gregg Araki’s visualization of Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin which puts molestation up there with other All-American pastimes like baseball and UFOs. It’s been a banner year for pedophilia, one which EW could have cover-lined “Hot, Hot, Hot!” and not been too far off the money.
And while Woodsman’s first-time filmmaker and recent NYU grad Nicole Kassell doesn’t wants anyone to miss the ingenuity of her situation — First day on-set: “I didn’t know how the whole food thing worked and that I could walk up and order my own breakfast and not have to pay” — at least she’s not blind to her creation’s place in the zeitgeist. “I really feel that the Catholic Church explosion was just was like an atom bomb for getting this into people’s consciousness,” she admits, “and it’s not a surprise at all that two years later a number of films are dealing with it.” You can almost forgive her the incongruities of placing Walter’s first post-prison pad directly across the street from a grade school, but the pedophile with the utilitarian name Candy for whom Walter provides a sporting play-by-play on as he preys on young boys is a little harder to take. Kassell defends her decision to depict two male pedophiles, one with a taste for young girls and the other with a predilection for little boys by saying, “I didn’t want to depict only one kind of scenario because the fact is it crosses all genders and ages. I was just trying to say these are the many ways it manifests itself.” It’s a noble answer, and I’m willing to cut her some slack because if she has her own kids, she keeps them out of the promotion of this film, but what about the female pedophiles? Granted, they are statistically rare, only 4% according to the US Department of Justice, but homosexual ones are almost as rare at just 9%. “I was worried more about people saying the worse offender is the homosexual one,” she says, “but really the reason I created that dynamic is that Walter has a thing for young girls and I didn’t want to depict only that kind of scenario.”
It’s not a perfect answer, but it’s positively enlightened when compared to Bacon’s response: “I hadn’t really thought of that. I don’t know. You’re the first person to ever comment on it so I hadn’t really thought about that.” But maybe we should cut Bacon some slack too. After all, at the end of the day, we’ll always have Footloose. And maybe he’s just preoccupied with his own directorial duties on Loverboy, which will bring him back to Sundance again this year. “Acting is a young man’s gig in a way,” he muses behind his shades, “you have to kind of sit around and wait for the phone to ring. You’re working for the man and people are messing with you: changing lines all the time, putting makeup on you, tinkering with your wardrobe. I find it ultimately kind of emasculating. I think that most people, by the time they have a successful career in their 40s, are usually running the show. That’s why directing is a natural extension for actors and you see actors do it so often. They spend so much of their lives on a set they finally say let me be calling the shots. That being said, it’s really about having a story you want to tell, because all directing is having a story to tell. With everything you do, you tell the story: with the shots, with the casting, with the direction, with the wardrobe, with the hair, with the editing. It’s all just about telling your story.”