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Where The Truth Lies - Kevin Bacon interview

Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon in Where The Truth Lies

Interview by Rob Carnevale

Q. After this and The Woodsman you seem to be going through your tough and intense period. Is this the kind of thing that you love to get your teeth into?
A. I think it’s a lot easier to play a character that’s written with some depth and interest rather than to try and make something out of nothing. There has been times when they expect you to fill in the blanks. I like to be as collaborative as possible and I like to explore as many aspects of a character’s life as I can. But I’m not a writer so if something is meaty, then it’s easier.

Q. This does come from a novel in the first place but there must have been plenty of places to go to research your character?
A. I looked at a lot of comedy duos through the years. Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello. I looked at quite a lot of stuff to do with the genesis of the duo thing, which is Vaudeville and the Vaudevillian kind of performance that had an act.
I looked at The Smothers Brothers and obviously Martin and Lewis. I spent a lot of time looking at The Rat Pack in general because there was this element of Sinatra and Sammy Davis. You kind of looked at these guys and felt that they were having a party before you got there and it was going to continue after you left and you were getting a chance just to hang out with that for a while. That was the kind of thing we were trying to evoke.
In the book there’s a lot more Martin and Lewis but Atom wanted to depart from that a little bit. As far as I know, there was no 50s music or comedy act that had a British guy and an American guy. What we wanted to try and do was make it feel like it could have existed, even if it didn’t.
Then like any other character, if there is a book or a piece of source material that’s great because you can read it and fill in some of the blanks about who he is and where he comes from that the script doesn’t have the time to explain.
And whatever is not there I just do myself – kind of like writing an autobiography. I start with my childhood and do the big strokes questions of what kind of relationship to the parents, what religion and those kinds of things. Then comes the more detailed stuff that may or may not inform the character.
The thing about research is that you don’t know if it’s 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 I looked at. I just do it because you might as well do it than not.

Q. I read that you would like to play the hero who saves the day and gets the girl. Is this true?
A. Yes. The thing about the dark characters is that those are the ones that recently have been seen. I’ve always done them, whether they be off-Broadway from the time I was a young guy, playing offbeat unusual characters is always something that I’ve been drawn to. It’s not like I was a leading man who all of a sudden found this other life. I’ve always thought of myself as a character actor. But I think that just in the way that JFK turned things around for me and made it possible for people to see me in a different sort of light other than the Footloose kind of guy, it’s good to keep surprising people and keep doing things that are unexpected.
It’s good for me, it’s good for the audience and it’s good for my career.
So what’s kind of unexpected now is to do something that’s more heroic and to do a film that’s not quite as heavy. I love those kinds of movies. I watch them and they’re just as interesting to me.
I’ll give you an example. I was up for a film recently where the character was going to be a nice guy who ends up being a killer. I didn’t get the movie because the director and the producer said that if we put Kevin in the movie then everyone knows he’s going to be the killer. That’s an obvious thing.
But that’s changed a lot from the days when people said ‘wow, I can’t believe you played the killer’. I once did a movie with Gary Oldman and I played the sociopath and Gary played the heroic lawyer and people said ‘that was such a shock to us, we didn’t think it was going to be that way’.
Those times have changed now so I think the time has come for me to turn it around the other way again.

Q. Do you have any of Rupert Holmes’ albums in your record collection?
A. The Pina Colada guy? When I read the script and saw it was from a book by Rupert Holmes I went ‘that’s not the Pina Colada guy is it? No way!’ But he’s really kind of a renaissance man. He’s a novelist, he’s written a Broadway show, he’s a record producer, a songwriter and a recording artist, so he’s a really unusual cat and I like him a lot. He came in to visit us and we had a chance to go to a couple of film festivals together.

Q. There’s a bond of trust and familiarity in comic partnerships. How did you build that up with Colin Firth?
A. 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 had admired each other’s work and had a mutual friend who had said to me a number of times that I really should work with him. But you’re thrown into a situation and within the course of a week you have to feel like you’ve been gigging together forever. I mean it’s like a marriage for these guys, they’re sharing women, drugs and the excitement and building this act.
Atom had left a lot of open questions in terms of what the act was going to be. A lot of the comedy was not already written. Musically, pretty much up to a couple of weeks before we hadn’t really picked the songs. His character was originally an Italian-American.
I kept saying are we getting a choreographer or a comedian to write this? Are we getting a musical director? And he was like, ‘I think we can work it out, you can work with the band’. So soon we were all working on the musical side of it together, how we were going to arrange the songs. I was coming up with ideas in terms of the comedy part of it and Atom was writing stuff and we were emailing back and forth. Colin came in one day and did that crazy rant that follows him beating the guy up, that was a complete improv on his part.
It all felt a little bit frightening because in our time together we had to make it look like it was real. But I think that, in a way, it gave us a lot of pressure to come together which was ultimately kind of helpful.

Q. Was there ever any suggestion that you and Colin take the opposite roles?
A. No. I didn’t know when I met with Atom that Colin was doing the movie. So I was told that I was meeting for either part. I wrongfully assumed that he probably saw me more as Vince. It had been a while since I’d done anything that had that sort of razzmatazz and that sort of goofball quality. So I was pleasantly surprised when he said I wanted to do Lanny. In some ways it seemed like more of a challenge for me to do that, rather than Vince.

Q. What’s the nearest you’ve ever come to doing any stand-up or comedy in your career?
A. I don’t think I’ve ever really done any kind of comedy but I do have a band so I’m very used to playing music live in front of people. I’ve never done a musical. And I’m definitely not a song and dance man. Any of that dance is just stuff that I made up on the spot.

Q. Would you like to do a musical?
A. I would, sure. I think that my voice tends to not be a musical legit kind of voice. I’m much more of a rocker. I’ve tried to work in that world and it was great, it was a challenge but I would enjoy doing it.

Q. Was there any aspect of your own life as an actor that you could bring into the role of Lanny?
A. Oh definitely. One of the things that really interested me about the film is the way it talks to celebrity. Some of the things that the journalist asks him about what it’s like to relinquish his anonymity are true. His response to that, such as still feeling like that little kid that used to get beat up. You don’t feel like Lanny Morris. That kind of defining yourself by your fame and being afraid that you’re fame is going to slip away. All that stuff is very, very true and I have rarely, if ever, got a chance to play a celebrity and yet it is something I live so it was interesting to tap into that side of it. I related to that.

Q. Do you think that having a stable relationship with your wife has helped you to avoid some of the pitfalls that trap many celebrities?
A. First off, there’s a lot more that’s good about being famous than bad. I’d like to make that clear. People are very nice to you and you get a chance to live a very interesting and exciting life. I mean look, if you become an actor, the day you make that choice it’s one of the things that you’re working for. You don’t go into your room alone and act. You do it to be watched and to have people love you. That’s what’s at its core. Eventually in your life, as I have learned, you have to find something outside of your work that’s going to give you strength and peace and is going to make you feel whole because the work and the celebrity will eventually let you down. It will become not enough. So when you look at a character like Lanny Morris, you see him as a young man and he says ‘we felt like Gods’; he can go from woman to woman to woman and he can have a great time, do the drugs and perform and get that love back from the audience but tragically when you see him later on all that has waned a little bit. Not that he’s unsuccessful but both of these guys are not who they were in the 50s. They don’t have that same kind of adulation. Yes, he’s flying first-class and he’s probably got a lot of money, but he hasn’t found anything else in his life and is basically lonely.
In their own ways, they are both kind of pathetic characters. You have to eventually get something else, whether its yoga or needlepoint. But it’s never going to fill you up.

Q. So is it like its own narcotic in that sense – if all you pursue is fame, it’s ultimately destructive?
A. I think so. But it’s also like a narcotic in that if you don’t get it, or it seems like someone is about to take it away from you, you’ll do anything to get it back. I’ve seen a lot during my time as an actor. I’ve seen these rises and falls of a lot of people. Sometimes you will see someone who will make their way back into the papers in a really kind of objectionable way but whether they are conscious of it or not, they are still reaching for the headlines. That’s because you need it like a drug.

Q. When you were starting out, did you have a game plan? What governs your choices. Is it fear of being out of work, continuing to be excited by what you do, or is it having kids to support?
A. It’s all of those things. Even though I have this very larger than life job I still have a very protestant work ethic. I’ve always really thought about doing an honest day’s 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 that I’m not only doing movies where I’m in the lead. I’ll do smaller things, ensemble things and go some place for a couple of weeks if I think the part is interesting or has some value. When you make those kinds of choices you do end up with a very long IMDB.
I think there was a time when, not unlike the character, I was running from movie to movie because that was where I felt at home. 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. You meet these people and they feel like lovers or best friends or father/mother figures. You feel like that’s your home. But one of the things I’ve realised over the years is that if you really make that kind of commitment to everyone every time, when it ends it’s something kind of sad about that. You realise you don’t stay friends forever because you can’t stay friends with everyone that you meet on every single set. Nobody has that amount of time. I often felt things like ‘I thought this guy was my best friend and now he’s not, so who am I’? That filled me with a lot of self-doubt.
So nowadays I don’t work all the time. I haven’t worked since Where The Truth Lies. I’ve done stuff with the band but I haven’t acted. I try to find things outside of it that give me pleasure.

Q. Is directing something you are keen to develop? We haven’t seen Lover Boy yet…
A. Lover Boy should be out in the States in May or June and then hopefully over here some time after that. It’s the second thing that I’ve directed and I love directing. I really enjoy it and I think it’s a natural kind of progression for an actor. You spend so much time on the set and putting yourself in someone else’s hands that there is an element of being a puppet no matter how big a star you are. You are giving yourself over for someone else to pull the strings, which you can do in the editing room, or in marketing, or with music and the way you move the camera. So there’s something that is kind of emasculating about that. I’ve often said that acting is a young man’s gig, you start to feel at some point like you’re growing out of people touching your hair and pulling things off your clothes. If you’re a carpenter, by the time you’re my age hopefully you have your own business and there’s other people working for you. But in acting there’s a lot of times where it doesn’t really work that way.
So that being said, I think you have to find a story that you really want to tell. I’m always looking for stories and books and scripts that I will look at and start to think directorially about them. If you hear the music, see the casting and start to see the shots, then you know that you’ve started to think about it as a director. But it does take a lot more time than acting and you have to really be willing to commit for at least a year, from pre-production and shooting through to post-production and marketing.

Q. The two films you’ve made have been fairly small. Would you like to move up a step, budget-wise?
A. I’d love to. I think the hope if you’re directing is that you will. I wanted to start at a really low budget level. My second film was a few hundred thousand more than my first film, so I hope I can move up from there. That being said, I like the artistic constraint that a lack of money gives you because it makes you think creatively about how you can make that work. I’ve done a lot of independent films so I admire that in filmmakers.

Q. You said you have never played a celebrity but you have played yourself on TV, how was that?
A. In Will & Grace I played myself because I thought they had a really kind of funny take on who I am. It was fun and I’d love to do it again.

Q. What was your reaction to the NC-17 certificate in America?
A. The problem with the ratings board is that they don’t actually tell you why they’re giving you the NC-17. In some of the scenes he did as much cutting as he could and they still handed down a rating but in the final scene there was really no way to cut it.
But I think that there is a fairly puritan kind of wind that’s blowing right now in the States. I’d like to think it’ll turn around.

Q. Does it give the wrong message to the audience about what the film is about?
A. Absolutely. The movie’s not a sex movie. If you’re apprehensive about not wanting to see something that has over the top sexuality, then an NC-17 is definitely going to keep you at home. But if you go to the movie hoping that it’s going to be soft-core porn they’re going to be disappointed because there’s not enough to merit that.

Q. To what extent, if at all, has marriage to Kyra dictated your choices?
A. We work autonomously except when we work together. I’ve directed her, she’s produced things that I’ve been in and we’ve acted. But we’ve been married for 17 years and that’s only a handful of projects so more often than not we work separately. We tend on a pure scheduling matter to not work simultaneously because in terms of raising the children it makes more sense for one person to be the support and the other to go out and work. We try and flip-flop that but it doesn’t always work out, we overlap a little bit and given that she’s on a series now there’s a much longer time commitment for her, so I think we’ll eventually have to work at the same time.
But in terms of our choices I’ve never taken a part without her reading it. I don’t think she’s ever done anything without me reading it. She is very clear about offering her opinion about the project and there have been a handful of times when I’ve done something that she’s not been too enthusiastic about and she is inevitably right. So one of these days I will learn my lesson!

Q. If you had a wish-list of something you’d like to film what is it?
A. My passion right now is a movie based on a Japanese novel called Audition that was made into a brilliant Japanese film. Not to jump on the bandwagon of making American films out of Japanese films, but this is something that is a perfect kind of part for me to do at this point in my life. So I’m working on trying to get a screenplay out of that.