The Maroon sat down with actor Kevin Bacon to discuss his newest project, You Should Have Left. Also conducting the interview were reporters from The Daily Illini, The Battalion, The Alligator, The Cornell Daily Sun, The Duke Chronicle, The Daily Californian, and The Red and Black. This interview was lightly edited for clarity.
Chicago Maroon: You’ve obviously been involved in a lot of horror and thriller films throughout the years. How would you say that the genre has changed over time and where do you think that this film fits into, or adds, to that evolution?
Kevin Bacon: You have to look at horror as…a bunch of sub-genres within that genre. The first horror movie that I did was Friday the 13th. That kind of kicked off this genre of slasher movies. They’re pretty formulaic, I think they’ve kind of stayed pretty similar. They’re not really thought of as being great character studies.… They’re more of, you know, kids being killed. I’m not really as drawn to that. The horror movies that I really like and the ones that I got hooked on when I was younger were things like…Don’t Look Now with Donald Sutherland, The Exorcist, The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen; those kinds of things were really more character-driven pieces. One of the greatest examples of that recently is Get Out. It’s such an accomplishment because not only is it scary, but it also has comedic elements, [and] it also has social commentary. To be able to get all of those into a movie is difficult. Midsommar I found really fascinating, Hereditary. I think there’s more pressure, maybe, on horror movies now to be a little bit more elevated and to have a little bit more to say, possibly, about the world or about people or about the human condition.
The Daily Illini: Amanda’s character notes early in the film that Catholic school really messed Theo up as a child. How do you think Theo’s upbringing in the Catholic Church influenced [him] keeping the secrecy of his past behind closed doors, but also finally coming to terms with the sins that he had kept close?
KB: The writer/director, David Koepp, who I developed the story with, was raised Catholic, and I was not. There’s a lot of stuff about the sins of the fathers…and whether or not you can repent enough to be forgiven for the sins that you have done. I think that that comes up a lot for my character, and obviously we find out in the course of the film that I have a lot of dark things in my past and some sins that I have perpetrated. Then, the question becomes: Is there redemption if you ask for forgiveness? In this case, I’m not really asking for forgiveness from God; I’m asking for forgiveness and…to be honest God kind of becomes the little girl in a way. What we’re trying to talk about is thematic, which is, We live in this time when a lot of people’s past sins are starting to come up and haunt them. You see it time and time again, not the least of which was the #MeToo movement [which] was really in a lot of ways driven by that. So, yeah, it is thematic to this movie. Do I have any personal answers around that question? I don’t really, but I think it’s something worth looking into.
The Battalion: This horror film is simultaneously surreal, yet it’s also grounded in this relevant and familiar idea of the past coming back to haunt you. So, like you said, in today’s #MeToo era, what do you think this movie says.…What’s its statement about holding rich and powerful men, like your character, accountable?
KB: I think that’s really one of the questions that we’re raising. Time and time again we see an abuse of that power, and I think that’s really what this character that I play is dealing with. He says, when he talks to his daughter, that things came easily for him. When you think about what that really means, it raises a lot of questions about things coming easily for a certain section of the population and things coming a lot harder for a lot of other people. All of those points are being brought up in this film. Then the fact that he is on his second marriage, but chooses someone that is, really, way too young for him. I think it kind of indicates that he’s trying to hold on to some kind of relevance, and he’s probably on the backside of his power. He’s feeling like he’s on his way out and that’s frightening to him; and because it’s frightening to him, he becomes paranoid and jealous and starts to get haunted by these, as we mentioned before, sins.
Duke Chronicle: One thing I really liked about the movie was what I found to be a pretty accurate depiction of how a lot of men can be caring, protective fathers but also skeptical, not-so-great husbands. Did you have any difficulties with portraying both of those sides, and how were you able to do that?
KB: That is a struggle that I think a lot of men have. It’s also kind of strangely ironic that, if you have two important women in your life, and one is your wife and the other is your daughter, that they don’t necessarily line up in terms of the way that you’re going to treat [them]. I think that that’s exactly what’s going on with [Theo], that the most honest and the deepest kind of relationship—he does love his wife—that he has in the film is with his daughter. Also, [the daughter] seems to have a simple kind of understanding of him that is unavoidable. Why do we function in that way? I don’t have an answer for that. But yes, that was something that was very, very important to us to delve into.
The Alligator: How do you think your past experiences in horror films and also the evolution of horror as a genre affected, or influenced, your role in this movie or just generally as an actor?
KB: I think horror is a fascinating place for an actor to go. You get the script, and chances are, if you’re the lead, really 70 or 80 percent of it you’re going to be scared. So, now, you have to figure out how to not bore people with your scared looks. You have to temper it; you have to modulate it so you go from a little scared to more scared to terrified to running for your life. A lot of movies, as I’m sure you know, are shot completely out of order. In this case, we were jumping between Wales and London and trying to figure out the structure of this house of cards. To keep all of that straight and to create a performance that has an arc and one that the audience can go along with and not go, Why is he freaking out over that? That seems like a little too much or too little of a reaction. It’s a really challenging thing to do. As an actor, I like challenges, and I also like parts and roles that are life or death, and that’s what scary movies are.
The Daily Californian: One of the things that stood out to me about your performance in this movie was that you very much play with themes of duality. That’s a long-tried theme in a lot of horror movies, so I was wondering if there were any particular influences in your portrayal of that?
KB: I don’t look at performances of other people and try to model a performance after them. I love what other actors do, and I try my best to absorb it, not in terms of acting technique, more as a consumer. What I really rely on more are documentaries. There’s a lot of really interesting documentaries where you see two sides of one person, sometimes they’re serial killers. There’s nothing specific that I can think of that was inspiring to me.
The Cornell Daily Sun: In the production notes Koepp attests to the fact that you were brilliantly capable of bringing this complexity to the roles that you play and says that your light characters often have darkness in them and vice versa, as is the case with Theo. So what helped you become that rather complex Theo on screen and how does it relate to your previous roles?
KB: Every role that I’ve ever played has been part of the preparation to get to where I am. When I was a young man, I really thought I knew everything there was to know about everything, including acting, and as I got older I realized how much I’ve learned. Like anything else, [you need] 10,000 hours to really hone a craft, so when it comes to preparation, even my worst performances or my worst experiences on set have been part of my preparation to get to this point. There’s also the fact that I am lucky in that I have a profession where, as I age, the parts that I’m being given to play are things that I happen to be dealing with now. To be somebody who is for the first time considering mortality in the same way that Theo is, it just kind of lines up with what’s going on in [my] life. I approach [the role] like I would anything else, trying to think a lot about the backstory of the man. I have a theory, which is that I try to “use myself and lose myself.” What I mean by that is I want to use my own life experiences, and for the things that I don’t have, I want to feel like I’m going to lose myself in walking in the other man’s shoes. So, when the camera turns on, I don’t want to feel like Kevin. Kevin to me is not interesting. I’m trying to feel like I’ve lost Kevin and I’m in Theo’s shoes.
The Red and Black: In a 2015 interview you said that you create elaborate backstories for every character that you play. Is there anything that we didn’t see about Theo that you worked to develop or is there something that you really fleshed out with this character?
KB: I feel like, a lot of times with characters, you can’t ask too many questions. Sometimes I’ll just sit down and take a couple hours in the afternoon and write dumb shit down, like “He likes pizza, but he doesn’t like hamburgers,” [or] “He would write with a pen but not with a pencil.” because you know that at some point these are going to be questions that you might have to answer. Even if you don’t, they’re all just an aspect of building a character. I like to put together playlists; I’ll gather songs that I think the guy would like. All of these things just kind of add up to become a framework to start saying and learning lines and working with the other actors. I think it’s important to have some kind of a relationship with the people that you’re working with, even though it doesn’t always work that way.
The Cornell Daily Sun: You mentioned that you wanted to explore a scary film that had to deal with marriage and the real, everyday problems that couples face. Why was this something that you wanted to explore?
KB: It was an interesting, serendipitous kind of thing. My wife and I were talking about horror films and what they could be about and she said, “What about exploring a marriage and making that the backdrop for a horror film?” We’ve been married for 30 years, so maybe that’s her own kind of horror, I don’t know. I think that in these kinds of movies you can take a family that’s a perfect unit, then you can throw something at them. Throw some monster, throw a zombie, throw some kind of supernatural element at them and force them to try and battle whatever this outside force is. But that wasn’t really the movie we wanted to make. We wanted to make a movie where there were already underlying issues. That was the way in to start talking about who these characters could be and what the things were that were causing this schism between them. If they weren’t 100-percent working as a unit in the beginning of the film, could we then take them to this outside place where the idea is that this time together could bring them closer…and then just turn that on its head.