Kevin Bacon on the complexity of I Love Dick

By Sarah Daniell

Kevin Bacon. Photo / Leann Mueller
Kevin Bacon. Photo / Leann Mueller

TV is killing it right now.

Absolutely -- that's because all the writers are there.

Do you think it's only possible to achieve the complex themes in I Love Dick because it's a series of television rather than a 90-minute film?

I do. I really do. I think part of what's going on with this TV boon is that people are wanting to spend multiple hours with characters and get deeper than they could in a film.

So if we had two hours to tell that story and show well-rounded characters I think it would be difficult. In four hours we can do a better job of that. It's a complex issue and I think they're wonderfully complex characters, so I'm glad we had some time to do it.

It must be wonderfully satisfying as an actor?

As an actor, it's been a kind of leap of faith. Because Dick in the pilot has some mystery, I had to trust that in the course of the season we'd be able to peel back the onion skin and show some other characteristics -- less guarded, more vulnerable, and the side of him that is struggling.

I said, are we going to be able to do that? While I think it's kind of fun being the jerk -- I don't have a problem with that -- I don't know if I want to do that over multiple seasons. The writers assured me they were interested in exploring more sides to the male persona.

How did you research for this role -- did you watch the works of fantastic female writers and directors such as Jane Campion, for example?

It's funny we mention Jane Campion. I worked with her. She directed me in a film (In the Cut). There were a few things that were helpful. I read the book, of course.

But there was a character who inspired me called Donald Judd -- a sculptor in New York and very popular in the 80s. He had driven through this Texan town, Marfa.

He decided he would return there, buy a house and have a studio and eventually an arts institute -- and bring other artists to this quiet, sleepy Texas town. He was kind of a wannabe cowboy. He ended up getting a ranch -- multiple ranches. He is very similar to Dick.

Does it feel like art is thriving right now or are artists up against it, in the US or anywhere?

It is reassuring that it is thriving. I also feel like art has to keep pushing boundaries and challenging itself. Like Picasso had to break up the form -- a lot of people could look at that, or a Jackson Pollock and say, "my kid could do that", right? But that had to happen in order to transform art.

Like music for instance. You have to keep pushing the boundaries of creative expression. I think that it's harder to do that these days in film, which is why -- if you can take something a little outside the box such as I Love Dick and reach an audience -- I feel good about being part of that.

Kevin Bacon and Kathryn Hahn in I Love Dick. Photo / Leann Mueller
Kevin Bacon and Kathryn Hahn in I Love Dick. Photo / Leann Mueller

I feel good about making something that isn't going to necessarily be for everyone. It's not necessarily a mainstream thing in the way it's shot, edited, the music. I talk to people who sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable about it -- the sexuality or the female gaze. I think that sometimes puts people ill at ease and I think that's fantastic.

What is it like working with the female writers, the creators -- what perspective does it give that's unique?

I feel like women approach the world in some ways with a more open heart than men do. That will colour the agenda in the way the film is written and shot and the vibe of the crew. There are these broad generalisations, but the assumption is you have women who are feminists and they are going to write a show where the men won't fare so well in their portrayal. Certainly there is an element of that.

But as the show progresses you end up with a couple of the most complex and interestingly written male characters I have ever seen or played. It's very true and revealing. It's also written with a lot of love. Not just disdain for men. I think I admire that these women wanted to create a working environment where they could be in control. But at the same time there were a lot of laughs.

I mean, there're men in the show. The show is called I Love Dick. But they were really interested in my experience. I will say though that when I get on the set it doesn't feel necessarily all that different because they are women. I grew up with sisters, I have a wife, I have a daughter.

When I was a kid I had a lot of female friends who weren't girlfriends. It's the way I have always been. I like to be around them. I don't walk on to set and go, oh my god, I'm surrounded by women.

Growing up as a young man, was there an actor -- male or female -- who embodied this idea of being evolved?

A male role model?

Someone you looked to and thought, this is someone who's got it going on.

I think being self-aware is an evolutionary process. When I was in my teens and my 20s, I don't think I had the same attitude as I do now -- towards the world and probably towards women.

This is something you have to conquer. In terms of actors, two people pop into mind -- one is Meryl Streep, who I ended up getting a chance to work with. I looked at her and the kind of work she did across the board embodying these characters and being truly universal.

There were two influential moments when I saw Dustin Hoffman, first in Midnight Cowboy when I was a really young kid. I said, wow they must've found a homeless guy to play that part. Right after that I saw him in The Graduate and I said, "Oh my God, that is the same guy, and I thought, okay, that's what an actor is."

Lowdown

I Love Dick is screening on Amazon Prime Video. Customers can sign up for a free seven-day trial at primevideo.com

- Weekend magazine

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