Kevin Bacon Comes Out of the Woods
by Brad Balfour
Originally posted on January 1, 2005.
It’s not an easy role for anyone play — a pedophile just released from prison who struggles against resuming his criminal behavior while trying to establish a normal life. But if anyone can handle playing this role, the ever-versatile Kevin Bacon can, for The Woodsman is both challenging for the subject matter and the restraint he showed in playing the character. But Bacon is a remarkable character actor — able to be a song-and-dance man in Footloose or a hardnosed cop in Mystic River. Now Bacon grapples with one of the hardest but best parts of his career.
When you first read the script, were you intrigued or repulsed?
Initially, I wasn’t offered the part. I was walking up the beach in Willowbridge, the British West Indies on Christmas Eve and saw this guy who I know peripherally. He’s not in the film industry, but in Philadelphia real estate or something like that. He said, “They sent me this script and asked me to invest in it” and told me there was another actor involved. That’s all he said. He told me to take a look at it and let him know if it was a good investment. Normally, I would never take a screenplay under those conditions. You can’t read everything. You’d spend your whole life reading scripts from people on beaches. I got home on January 2nd or 3rd and it was sitting there. I picked it up and read it and a barrage of feelings washed over me — anger, disgust, confusion, and compassion, feeling angry with myself for feeling compassionate. I put it down and knew that it was probably going to be my next movie.
How did you research the role?
I didn’t go out and hang around with sex offenders.
How far inside yourself did you go to prepare for this role?
I’ve played a lot of different characters. For me, the reason I became an actor was to put on many different skins and to live inside someone else’s persona. In a lot of ways, Walter is a different guy than me. He talks, walks, and looks different. To me that’s what being an actor is. By the same token when it comes to getting in touch emotionally, you have to tap into that reality, you have to use your own life experience. An important element to this character is an underlying sense of shame. And certainly, we’ve all done shameful things in our lives, so it’s a question of tapping into that.
Jack Nicholson observed that 70% of a character is you and the other 30% is something else.
I just saw the struggle of a sick guy trying to get well. No, I didn’t see myself in the character.
Money was invested to make this, but people don’t forgive a child molester. Even in prison, murderers won’t forgive this thing. It’s not like a gambling or alcohol addiction; so how hard is it to put across a story that people will go to?
First off, it’s a lot of money by our standards, but not for the film industry. [The budget] was under three [million] dollars. It’s basically a labor of love. I worked for nothing. It came together because people believed in it. Working conditions were not good and the page count was heavy every day. But I felt strongly that we needed to make it for the price. It would have been ridiculous to go out to raise the budget. Even to spend five million, to me, would not have been a good idea. It’s difficult. I think one of the hardest jobs is to make it clear to people that they are not going to a movie where they’ll see bad things happen to children because that is really rough to take.
Walter’s background wasn’t as fully delineated; there was less of his back-story than say for Vicky (the girlfriend played by Bacon’s wife Kyra Sedgwick).
I lobbied pretty hard to take out as many lines as I could. I thought we’d be doing ourselves a disservice in simplifying the issue and Walter’s struggle. Okay, Walter is this way because of this, or, this is what Walter did. I wanted more to see Walter rather than talk about him. The fact of the matter is that there are some things that tend to be statistically prevalent. You’ve heard of the cyclical abuse. A large percentage of the people who will commit this type of sexual offense were abused themselves. So rather than have something that you could wrap up in a neat little bow and walk away from the theater thinking ‘Oh yeah, the problem is this,’ it was better to leave it open.