Note: This piece appears in Paste Quarterly #1, which you can purchase here, along with its accompanying vinyl Paste sampler.
In person, he’s skinnier than you think. Not unhealthy skinny, but definitely wow-he-really-is-skinny skinny. He looks, in fact, like he just jumped down from the poster of his most famous movie to lead the town in a dance. Films like Animal House and Diner had already made him a familiar face, but Footloose put Kevin Bacon in the catbird seat, and he used his juice not only to land great roles in great films like JFK, A Few Good Men, Apollo 13 and Mystic River, but also to help get more challenging fare made, films like The Woodsman, Jayne Mansfield’s Car and Cop Car. This year, he’s the titular object of desire in I Love Dick, Jill Soloway’s “tool of the matriarchal revolution” (her words), an Amazon original series based on Chris Kraus’ 1997 novel. At Sundance in January, as a blizzard dumped ludicrous amounts of snow outside on the streets of downtown Park City, Utah, we escaped the weather for breakfast and talked with Bacon about his new show.
Paste: Jill Soloway describes your character in I Love Dick as a symbol for the entire patriarchy. So, how does that feel?
Kevin Bacon: You know, it’s funny. I love hearing her talk about that kind of stuff. It’s fascinating, and she’s brilliant. Every time I hear her talk I think to myself, “You know, you should be a writer.”
Paste: That’s a great idea, right?
Bacon: Yeah! You know, my day-to-day work on that character, even being a symbol for the patriarchy or being an object, all of these things are not really actable. I try my best to understand Dick at as deep an understanding of him as I can—complexities and the things that I can relate to and the things I can’t relate to but that I have to create. And then go in and be true to who he is and let her point of view tell those other stories, the social, political concept stories.
Paste: You’re certainly married to a confident, very strong, very talented woman [the actress Kyra Sedgwick]. How has that experience informed you being able to relate to Jill? I can imagine that working with her can be a little daunting for a male actor.
Bacon: I don’t feel daunted at all. I really don’t. I feel respected and collaborated with, and I feel like she’s a partner. People have said, it’s interesting on this show that you’re being surrounded by so many women. But I don’t really think about it. You know, when I first heard that there were going to be no men in the writers room, I was kinda like, “Well?” I wasn’t sure about that. And I remember saying to Sarah Gubbins, the co-creator, “Really? You don’t need any kind of male point-of-view?” And she said, “No, we don’t need that. We’ve got Kevin Bacon.” Not quite sure what that means, but that’s a whole lot of pressure. But no, I love this gig. As you point out, I do have strong women all around me in my life, including my four sisters. Ever since I was a kid I had friends who were women. And I’ve felt very comfortable in the presence of strong women ever since.
Paste: What I’ve always thought was very interesting about you is that you had a great deal of success early on in your career, and a lot of power comes with that. And you have used that power not only to create really beautiful art, interesting projects, but also to make projects that probably would not have gone on had they not had Kevin Bacon in them.
Bacon: Sure, and Sundance is a good place to talk about this, you know. I’ve been here many, many times and often with those kinds of projects. It’s “One for the meal, one for the reel,” right? I really was drawn to acting through what, in retrospect, were independent films, even though at the time, you know, in 1976 did we actually even call it independent film? But I’ve always been a lover of films like Mean Streets and Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter. So when I see the state of filmmaking now, it’s heartbreaking. I was here couple of years ago with Cop Car. Made for a song, great little indie film. And we came away with a VOD option. There was a time when something like that film would find its way to an audience. And now, except for this time of year, when we see all the front-loaded Oscar stuff, my options are comic books or whatever. And that’s also as an actor. That’s a sad, frustrating piece of it. But I feel so grateful to be making this sort of out-there kind of art that really exists because of this digital platform. I don’t think we could make Dick, the way we’re making it, even on HBO or Showtime. And you have Netflix and Amazon here at Sundance acquiring content, when four years ago you’d be saying, “What? That’s where I get my socks.” They have been so supportive. It’s not like we go to work and they’re back there behind the monitor telling me I should shave. That’s not how they make their shows.
Paste: You’ve worked on a ton of sets in your life. How is this one different?
Bacon: It’s a great place to work. Even some of the things we do—I called my wife at the end of the day and said, “Jesus Christ, we’re doing breathing exercises? And stretches? Like we did back in acting school at 17 years old?” I’d had so many experiences in the business that it was hard to imagine I’d have a new experience on set. But Kyra said, “Just try to leave yourself open to it.” And I really took that to heart. And it’s such a great place; there’s so much respect for everybody, and for everybody’s job. It’s just a really open-hearted, trustful place to work.
There’s also not a lot of “Action-Cut.” We’ll kinda flow into a lot of things; we’ll stop and talk about it and go back. We’ll do takes that are completely silent—we will have shot the scene, and we’ll do a version that’s just all about the physical connection. I came in once in the middle of the day, and there’s music on and everybody’s dancing. And I said, “Wait, what are we dancing about?” It’s just cool, man. It’s fluid and open and we understand the characters. I learned this from John Hughes: If you really have a good understanding of the character, you should be able to be thrown into any situation and just understand who he would be in those circumstances. And working with Kathryn [Hahn] and Jill, tapping into that level of talent and fearless commitment, is just so great.
I Love Dick premieres Friday, May 12 on Amazon.