Kevin Bacon is The Woodsman
Kevin Bacon is used to terrorizing children, in movies at least. In films like The River Wild and Sleepers, he is menacing kids in various ways, as a popcorn bad guy in the former and as an abusive authority in the latter. In The Woodsman, Bacon plays a reformed child molester. Released from prison, Walter (Bacon) tries to adjust to life on the outside, but his own guilt over his crime proves as big an obstacle as society's view of him.
In some of the film's most intense scenes, Walter approaches a young girl. As they discuss her own abuse, it proves a catharsis for both character's feelings. Bacon was sensitive to his costar in those moments behind the scenes. "I worked with kids quite a bit in kind of rough situations," Bacon said. "I've been in situations that have been kind of difficult for kids, and what I like to do is make it as clear as possible to them that I am not that guy, and they are not that person. That we are actors, and we're going to pretend together, that we are going to be colleagues, and roll up our sleeves and act off of each other. I talked about my little girl and tried to make her feel as safe as possible. She knew exactly what the screenplay was about, her mother knew exactly what the screenplay was about, she knew exactly what the scene was about, she worked with Nicole [Kassell, director] and we spent one rehearsal together, so I think when we got to shooting I think she felt safe, and I think personally, that's when you're going to get the best work out of an actress, young or old."
The final scene with the girl is Walter's epiphany. "I think he sees himself in a way, for the first time he steps back and sees himself looking in and he sees her talking about what's going on with her father. And all of a sudden, it's like he really gets it. I think he gets it for the first time."
As an independent production with a tight shooting schedule, conditions were already tense, but outside forces made the pivotal scene even harder to play. "It was very difficult process, because while when I first read the script, I knew how to play one moment in that scene. I knew it, I felt it, I heard it, I knew how to do it. I didn't know how to do the whole movie, but I knew how to do this one moment. But everything around that took a lot of work, because there were parts of the scene that I really didn't like and while I had a very wonderful and collaborative relationship with Nicole, the director who developed the screenplay and wrote it, we also went to bat quite a bit on that scene and it went through a lot of rewrites up until the point where we shot it. And then we shot it and everything went wrong. Tons of airplanes, it rained, some kid on a f*cking motor scooter that was riding around the park, and it was a rough day. And then the scene went through a whole bunch of transitions in the editing room, and it's actually much shorter than what we shot, much sparser, but at its core, that moment still works."
Forced to think about the issue, Bacon speculated on what makes men like Walter tick. "I feel like it is a kind of disease and a kind of addiction, and I think that it is something that cannot be cured in the traditional sense. That's part of Walter's journey and his struggle that he thinks he's done the crime and he's done the time and it's all behind him. I think what he realizes at the end of the movie is that this is something that he's going to have to deal with every single day of his life in the same way that an alcoholic is always going to be an alcoholic, you know. He may not be drinking, but he's still an alcoholic."
That is not to say that the film is a negative expose on the hopelessness of certain criminals. The film still offers hope for Walter to reintegrate into society. "I think it's a little bit obtuse at the end of the movie what is going to happen to him. It is a slightly hopeful ending, because he is at least willing to reach out to his sister and acknowledge that it is not a victimless crime. I think that at the beginning of the movie he kind of feels like he is the victim, which couldn't be further from the truth, and I also think that he thinks it's all behind him, it's all in the past. It's hopeful in that I think he's starting to get some kind of self-awareness and realize that it's something that he's going to have to deal with, but it's definitely not wrapped up in a neat little bow. I mean, we don't know."
Though the limited release of The Woodsman and its subject matter will limit the audience, Bacon still hopes the work that was so rewarding to him can make an impact on audiences as well. "I hope all movies are for the audience. Whether or not we find one remains to be seen. I mean, it's not Lord of the Rings.I put the same amount of heart and soul into a $100 million movie as I do a $3 million movie. You have to. My overall feeling about the industry is that they are very helpful to each other. We need big budget movies. When I see National Treasure does another huge weekend, I'm like, ‘Yeah, great,' because the industry needs to be strong. Warner Brothers just went
to $2 billion overseas or something like that, I read in the trades today, and I'm like, ‘Great.' It's good that people are going to the movies. I also think that independent films is a place where we will hopefully challenge the studios in terms of their content. And when you make something like Monster, like Monster's Ball, like Napoleon Dynamite, like The Blair Witch Project, like Memento, it's made for a song, and goes out and some guy makes a whole bunch of money on it, studio goes, ‘Hmm, maybe we could invest in a movie that's a little bit more offbeat or has some darker themes or is not as linear in terms of its structure or is a little bit more challenging intellectually.' I've seen that kid of trickle-up effect from the scripts that I read, so for me as an actor, it's good for me to go back and forth. I do The Woodsman because Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers, they're not going to make The Woodsman. There's no way, so that means that as an actor, I never get a chance to step into that kind of challenge. This is one of the first times frankly through all of the years of being involved that there is a chance that I'll do an indie that's going to get seen, because most of them have gone quietly away."
Bacon admits he's been in a dark period in his roles, as his past films from Mystic River to Hollow Man to Stir of Echoes all deal with subjects involving murder, rape and child abuse despite their varied genres. Though Bacon admits he hasn't seen many light scripts come his way, he added, "I also think that you've got to sometimes go, ‘Oh man, I don't know if I want to spend two or three months doing something that doesn't have any weight to it.' I've been conflicted about that, honestly, because I'm sick of being mired in all of the heaviness. I just did this movie with Atom Egoyan, and it's dark and it's very conceptually complex, and it's an edgy movie. And I'm right here, here I am again. But in between The Woodsman and Where the Truth Lies, which is Atom's movie, I did Beauty Shop with Queen Latifah. I played a hairdresser named Jorge, and I worked about six days on it, right down the street, and it was fantastic. I got to be sillier than I've ever been, and I loved it. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Beauty Shop takes off and maybe it will lighten things up for me a little bit."
The Woodsman opens Friday in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco and goes wide in January.
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