Kevin Bacon shifts between the Indie and mainstream worlds, but nothing is more mainstream than Death Sentence, in which he plays an ordinary dad who takes on revenge following a tragedy involving his son. The film was directed by Saw’s James Wan, and Paul Fischer caught up with Bacon at this year’s Comic Con.
Question: What was the particular challenge for you in taking on this reluctant sort of action hero?
Bacon: Well, you know, I felt like – actors really like transitions. You like to take a character from point A to point B. And he starts out as a nerdy, suburban run of the mill kind of guy, nothing really extraordinary about him. And has to transform in the course of the film into someone who is able to take another man’s life, quite a few at that – quite a few men’s lives. And it’s a physical transformation as well as an emotional one. So the movie was, you know, you look at some scripts and you go ‘Well, it’s going to be emotionally taxing’. And you look at some scripts and you go ‘Well it’ll probably be physically very difficult to get through’ and this is a movie that kind of had both. There’s about five minutes in the movie where I’m happy.
Question: At the beginning.
Bacon: Yeah at the very beginning. And then from that point on it’s various levels of fear and anguish and sorrow and hatred and physical violence. So, you know, that’s the challenge.
Question: Well as such it’s fun to watch, even though it’s not something any of us would wish on anyone in their life. Is it fun to play?
Bacon: I like to act so things that are deep and give me a lot to play are fun in terms of that. But I wouldn’t say that it’s like, you know, it’s not really like maybe doing a comedy where you got to work and everybody’s laughing and it’s a big Yukfest on the set. Now that being said, in the last section of the film, which has a lot of gunplay and a lot of cars and fights and stuff like that, that stuff is really fun. It’s fun because it’s challenging to see how we’re going to script things and rig things and, you know, what we’re going to do in terms of the guns and James Wan is incredible in terms of his placement of camera and I was always amazed to see what kind of rigs he was going to do. One of the things I’m really very proud about in terms of the film, I’m proud of James’ work and the stunt team and the special effects team is with the, in this day and age most action films are really driven by a lot of CG, by a lot of digital effects. And there’s none in the Death Sentence. So everything that’s there is real and it’s kind of like in a way going back to the way films were made in the early, you know, Bronson’s days or Peckinpah, you know. And I think it’s definitely got that vibe.
Question: Is it a throwback to Bronson’s Death Wish? I mean I know that that’s been the film that this is compared to the most.
Bacon: Yeah. Death Wish was actually a novel. And it is the same novelist. This is another book that the guy wrote. I went back and looked at the first Death Wish, I didn’t make it through all eight of them, which I knew very well as a young man but I had not seen it in a long time. The thing that’s really different about Death Wish is that itr is a movie about a guy who takes the law into his own hands, becomes a vigilante and goes after all criminals. In fact, Bronson doesn’t even go after the guys who hurt his family. He just doesn’t even focus on them. He just puts himself into situations where he knows he’s going to get mugged and turns around and smashes ’em in the head or shoots ’em or whatever. And in Death Sentence it’s much more of a revenge movie than a vigilante movie. True, the guy does go outside the law and makes that terrible fatal mistake, but it’s really more about this cycle of violence that he unfortunately creates and that he is then focussed on this one gang and seeking revenge.
Question: Would you say that the physical demands of this film are the greatest that you’ve faced or something like River Wild still kind of is the top?
Bacon: You know really the hardest thing physically I ever did was Hollow Man because I was invisible but covered in this green suit or a mask glued onto my face or whatever. So I thought that it was going to be the easiest gig in the world because I was invisible and that I would just float in but in fact it was physically demanding, mostly from the standpoint of just claustrophobia and a lot of time in the makeup trailer and all that kind of stuff.
Question: How hard is it to shake off a character like this, somebody who’s this intense – this gamut of emotional rollercoaster?
Bacon: Well what I find is that shaking it off on Friday is difficult because you know that you’re going to have to get back into it on Monday. So it effects your thoughts, it effects my dreams. I feel a strong need to get back in touch with my family and see my kids and kind of reaffirm that they’re OK because I’m spending all this time with the opposite. And of course using them, which I have to use them, for my own kind of memories. if there’s such a thing, connecting with my wife. So I tended to sort of get a little bit dark probably while making a movie like this – at the end of the film it’s pretty easy for me to say goodbye to it. I did a movie called Murder in the First which was really hard and I lost a whole bunch of weight and I was in shackles and there were like bugs crawling on me. It was a really tortuous kind of character, but I’ve got a picture of myself on a beach in Hawaii holding my daughter who at that point was about maybe six months or a year, and I’m emaciated and my head is shaved but you can see in my face that the guy is gone and this is maybe two days after we finished filming – that I’m able to just put them away and kind of say goodbye once the shooting is over.
Question: Have you been looking for a revenge film because weren’t you supposed to do Dolan’s Cadillac and that’s kind of a similar thing, a revenge thing.
Bacon: Yeah well Dolan’s was quite some time ago and I did like that script a lot. I wasn’t so much looking for a ‘revenge’ film but I was looking for a film where I could kick some ass. I felt like, you know, after these very emotional movies, Mystic and Woodsman and Where the Truth Lies, again just very kind of emotional drama, I was looking for something to, I don’t know, just to kind of get a little bit more kind of physical and also while I’ve been in thriller kind of things before with Trap and River Wild, I was bad guys in both of them, so it’s kind of nice to not be the bad guy.
Question: Is it also important to kind of broaden your appeal because those other movies you mentioned in a lot of ways are smallish films that get limited release and was it important for you at this point to say ‘No I really would like more people to see what I’m capable of doing’?
Bacon: Yeah one for the meal, one for the reel. I mean you can say that but it’s always a roll of the dice about whether people are going to see it or not. There’s no guarantees even if you say ‘Well I think maybe this movie feels more commercial/less commercial.’ Who knows? It’s the same thing with the small movies. Sometimes they break out and based on how much they cost, they have a tremendous upside that you don’t really expect. So it’s not so much the reason to do it.
Question: Do you find it strange that they’re remaking Footloose?
Bacon: No. I mean I think I’m right about this. What they’re remaking is the musical that was made from the movie.
Question: Like Hairspray.
Bacon: Exactly. I think it feels like the same kind of idea of Hairspray. You know, John Waters makes a movie which – is it a musical? I forget. No. Then they do a Broadway musical of it and then they remake the movie as well. And so I think it’s a similar kind of thing. So it sort of feels like it’s one degree of separation if you will.
Question: What you said before about ‘putting the character away’, I notice that more than any other actor you have more sequels to your films Echoes II, Hollow Man II.
Bacon: Right. What about Friday the 13th. Of course I was dead.
Question: I just wondered, would that ever be something that would interest you to revisit a character?
Question: Any one in particular?
Bacon: I don’t know. The Woodsman II.
Question: The Return.
Bacon: Yeah. No I don’t know. Yeah, I mean it would interest me. I mean somebody asked me literally if I was interested in Death Sentence because it might have a part 2. Well, first off, that’s pretty presumptuous to think that something is going to have a part 2 and second, I kind of feel like you have to take it one at a time. With the movies that you did mention, they were all straight to DVD. So I didn’t – that’s why I really wasn’t involved.
Question: What about directing yourself again?
Bacon: I’d like to do it, yeah. There’s a script that I really like that I keep reading and we keep talking about looking for a director and I keep thinking, ‘Mmm, maybe I should bite the bullet’. But you know, it’s like I would be in every scene and it would kind of be – it’s kind of the next wackiest challenge, would be to do that. To try to do what Clint did so seamlessly all those times. It’s almost impossible to imagine, you know, having directed a film, what it would be like to take on all that and take on a role but I don’t know. We’ll see. Having worked with James I got really kind of excited about the idea of directing something with a little bit of action in it just because it was so much fun to see the way that he would put those pieces together. And I know that the next time that I direct a film that I want it to be a more guy oriented film because I’ve done a couple of things that are very, very female driven. But I just did another episode this year of The Closer. I did one last year and they gave me a chance to do another one and it was great because it actually had an action sequence in it and I was coming off of Death Sentence and I was like ‘Great’. You know, whatever – think about ways to shoot this and I was really inspired to do that.
Question: You enjoyed directing Kyra I take it.
Bacon: Yeah I did. I mean people say directing Kyra is like ‘Turn on the camera. Stay out of the way.’
Question: Is Death Sentence meant to be kind of a larger metaphor for everything going on in the world today? I mean just reading through the press notes, I didn’t know if it was meant to be kind of a statement on our violence and getting caught up in revenge for something that was done to you, or is it just mean to be more timeless.
Bacon: You know, I don’t really know. I guess I feel like that a little bit more of a James Wan / Ian Jeffers question. We never talked about any of it as being some kind of a statement. I do think that – I wanted to make sure that as a film it wasn’t just cut and dried kind of good guys/bad guys and the fact that the violence that this guy perpetrates, brings on himself, is tragic and has a terrible effect ultimately on his life so that it wouldn’t be in a way straight up glorification of picking up a gun. But in terms of bigger kind of political and social issues, I haven’t really focused on …
Question: What’s the film you’re doing in New Jersey right now?
Bacon: I’m doing a movie called Taking Chance which is for HBO. It’s a movie about what happens to the remains of fallen soldiers overseas, how they find their way back from wherever they’re killed in action to their final resting place. And I have a movie called Rails & Ties which is a film directed by Alison Eastwood, with Marcia Gay Harden and I think that’s going to come out some time this year.