Casting the title role of Dick—a mysterious, caustic artist and cowboy—in Amazon original series I Love Dick, it’s easy to see how series creators Jill Soloway (Transparent) and Sarah Gubbins arrived at Golden Globe-winner Kevin Bacon. Seeing so many of his films become regarded as classics over the course of his career, Bacon has so often appeared as a model of masculinity, of various shades, from Footloose to Tremors to Apollo 13.
Joining the parade of movie stars turning to television in the era of Peak TV—between Dick and Fox drama series The Following—Bacon has had to come to terms with the shifting tides of entertainment, having decided early in his career to focus his energies on film and theater, while seeing great roles in film dissipate in recent years. Bacon followed the writers, and the great stories, and in I Love Dick, he’s as sharp as he’s ever been.
Speaking with Deadline, the actor discusses the kinds of out-of-the-box projects that he responds to and the odd feelings associated with premiering a television show at Sundance.
I Love Dick is a really unusual and thought provoking series. What did you respond to when you were approached for the project?
The first thing I responded to was the script for the pilot, because that’s what I had. I thought it was not only hilarious, but also just unusual, and not really like anything that I had seen on television, or read in recent memory.
I have a pretty long tradition on the film side of things of being drawn to offbeat, outside-the-box films, both in the films that I like to watch, and also the ones that I’ve acted in, directed and produced. This felt like that to me; it felt like a really cool indie movie that we would be able to make as a series.
Jill [Soloway] was attached, and while I didn’t know Jill, I knew of her from Transparent, and I thought she was fantastic. And Kathryn [Hahn] was attached, and I had admired her. It just seemed like a no-brainer.
For most of the first season, Dick is more or less an impenetrable character. What was discussed in your initial conversations with the series creators, in terms of who this man would be?
Well, you kind of put your finger on it. One initial conversation was to get a sense from them, if he was going to move beyond this impenetrable, iconic object.
While I thought that was really cool and interesting, and something that we hadn’t really seen before, I also didn’t know, if we were lucky enough to get multiple seasons, whether that would be something I would want to keep doing. Because I don’t know if that would really be challenging enough.
They assured me that their idea was to actually see into the soul of this man, and see beyond what we learned about him in the book, which was a very different kind of thing.
One of the things, also, that Jill and I discussed a lot, was the idea that when we see him, he’s at a crucial point in his life—what I like to call a “passage.” He wants to make some big changes in his life, and is confronting a lot of stuff. And then, thrown into the mix of that, when he least expects it, is this intense woman and her husband.
That’s part of what we need to see, how they affect him.
With a resume like yours, where you’ve so often been cast as the model of masculinity, was this any sort of homage to roles you’ve played in the past, and the space you’ve carved out for yourself?
No, I really don’t think that way. I can’t really affect or control what people’s association is with me, do you know what I mean? Their own association with me as a person, as a celebrity, or whatever. I really have to just focus on the part.
Now, if I was playing “Kevin Bacon,” which I’ve done a couple of times, that is kind of a funny thing, because then you’re either poking fun at yourself, or you’re doing some heightened version of yourself.
But to me, when I put on Dick’s boots, I don’t feel like myself. That’s not the way I work. What I really want to do is use myself, but I want to lose myself, as well.
There’s a very strange and fascinating dynamic between Dick and Chris, who becomes obsessed with the artist, using him as her muse. What was the collaboration like with Kathryn Hahn?
We immediately trusted each other, as actors, and had a lot of mutual respect. We’re more into throwing ourselves into a situation than questioning a situation.
What I really need to do is get into the scene and start swatting the ball around, and she’s very much like that. I think she’s a very emotionally available actress, and a very fearlessly committed actress, and I really just admire that.
My feeling about what sometimes is considered “chemistry” is that it’s often a little bit of a way to dismiss what actors do, by saying, “Well, they just liked each other, and therefore the scene works.”
I don’t believe in that. I’ve worked with plenty of people that I don’t like, necessarily, but you have to talk to them, and be in the scene with them. And then there’s plenty of examples of people who probably had whatever real chemistry is, that end up getting married or whatever, and then it’s not that good.
I think “chemistry” is really just a word for two actors who are really in the scene with good material, and talking and listening to each other.
It’s always a bit obvious to talk about locations as characters within a piece, but in I Love Dick—in Marfa, Texas—you feel that very deeply.
I know it’s such a cliché, but I really believe that, and it really was true in this case. I think that the portrayal of Marfa was done with a lot of honesty and respect, as well as humor.
The book had nothing to do with Marfa—Dick was in no way any kind of wannabe cowboy. That was all something that Sarah and Jill came to as an afterthought, because they had heard about Marfa, and went there. For instance, my riding a horse wasn’t even in the original script. I just mentioned that I loved horses, and they put me on a horse. It was a morphing, changing piece of art, to actually make this thing.
But the light in Marfa, the vistas…To be in that spot, on that porch, and look out and see jackrabbits and javelinas running through the prairie, and walk up at dawn and step into that pool, that’s like an actor’s playground. It’s such an evocative place, in so many ways. People go there to find themselves, or to get lost. That really permeates every moment that you’re there.
Much is made in entertainment today about the long list of movie stars coming over to television. For you, what has been the experience of working in television lately, particularly a series intended for streaming?
When I started out, kids watched television, and adults watched movies. And now, kids go to the movies, and adults watch television. There’s a part of me that’s actually saddened by it, I have to say, because when I became an actor, I just wanted to do movies, and theater.
I left Guiding Light in 1979, or something like that, and was like, “Goodbye, TV.” There’s a part of me that is sad about the state of the movie business, in that I can’t find anything. It becomes harder and harder to find anything to do in that space. The studios make a handful of movies, and a lot of them are comic books, and if I don’t get the bad guy in a comic book movie, then that’s kind of it. [Laughs]
It’s like, “Where’s The French Connection, where’s Dog Day Afternoon? Where’s Serpico, and The Deer Hunter, and the films of John Cassavetes?” These are the types of movies that I would like to be working in. But since they’re not in the movies, I’m going to try to find them wherever I can.
That’s what I Love Dick is like—a cool, experimental film. And yet, it doesn’t have to be in some little rundown theater on the Lower East Side, where you’re begging anybody to come see it, and hoping that there’s lightning in a bottle, and it gets an Oscar nomination so that people will know about it. That becomes a struggle, after a while.
So, I’m thrilled. I think it’s really cool, and I love that you could watch it all at once. In fact, I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they did watch it all at once, and that was kind of part of the experience, where you just kind of immerse yourself in Marfa and the lives of these people for four hours.
I first discovered Jill Soloway via a film, Afternoon Delight, which also starred Kathryn Hahn, and Soloway has obviously shifted in large part over to TV. Did you share your sentiments on the issues you’ve just discussed with Soloway?
I had discussed it with her, yeah. In fact, it was kind of strange for us. Really, our first exposure on the show was at the Sundance Film Festival, where I’ve been going since 1988 or something, with films that I’ve directed, or films that I’ve acted in, or produced, and they’ve always been kind of left-of-center in some sort of way.
And, again, this was sort of bittersweet. I couldn’t think of a place where I’d rather launch something like I Love Dick. On the other hand, it made me think, “Wow, this is technically not a movie, and yet, here we are at Sundance.”
I’m not giving up. I think things are cyclical, and I feel like, hopefully, there will be some good movies in my future. But I haven’t read them. [Laughs] And in the meantime, I’m thrilled that Jill picked me for this part.
There are a lot of ideas at play in this series, in terms of the female gaze, and subverting traditional narrative structure. And in the end, the viewer is left in a complicated place. What’s your takeaway from Season 1?
I’ve heard really great conversations from people that have absorbed it, and I think like any other piece of filmmaking, or art, if something is getting people to have strong opinions about it, I think that’s great. I always felt like the show was not going to be for everybody.
In terms of the female gaze, male gaze, what I think is sort of interesting is that you have something that’s made from a woman’s perspective, with all women in the writer’s room. And yet, I believe that Griffin [Dunne]’s character and my character are two really fascinating, complex and well-written male characters.
When the two of us sit down to get drunk together, I see that whole series of scenes as a very perceptive and well-realized exchange between two decidedly male characters.
I think that really what it comes down to is that the writers, you can feel that in their own way, they love Dick. [Laughs] They love Dick, and they love Sylvere, and I do, too. If he was going to be just a f—khead for the whole season, it wouldn’t be that interesting. I also think it would undercut Kathryn’s character if her obsession was with this guy who was just kind of gross—just a pig. Why would we care about her, at the end of the day? And also, where would it possibly go?
The fact that, in those subsequent episodes, you get to see the fact that he has certain struggles, that he’s confronting his own kind of demons, and life crisis, I think is something I was really, really grateful for. Plus, it gave me good stuff to play.