Kevin Bacon talks ‘I Love Dick’ and playing an object of feminine desire
There’s a well-known Hollywood anecdote about Kevin Bacon: the actor, then in his mid-20s, almost missed out on being cast in what would become his career-making role in 1984’s Footloose, because the studio head thought — as Bacon tells it — he wasn’t “fuckable” enough.
Well, the 58-year-old actor’s fuckability is never in question on I Love Dick, the latest Amazon offering from Transparent creator Jill Soloway. The show is based on the groundbreaking 1997 novel by Chris Kraus, which was written as a series of letters from main character Chris to “Dick.” The two meet because Dick mentors Chris’ husband, Sylvére, on a fellowship. He is only known to the reader through Chris’ sexual want for him.
Sylvère initially accepts his wife’s letter-writing project — and her crush — as a means to reignite their own flickering romance. Through the letters, which are dense with allusions to obscure academics and artists, the reader is presented with an at-times shockingly intimate window into their marriage. Chris’ unabashed longing for Dick (capital D) and dick (lowercase d) remains one of the most straightforward and shameless celebrations of something so often stigmatized, minimized or ignored: female desire.
In Soloway’s telling of I Love Dick, Chris, played by the luminous and perennially under-celebrated Kathryn Hahn, is a struggling artist and filmmaker who follows along on Sylvère’s academic fellowship to the dusty brown fields of Marfa, Texas, where Kevin Bacon’s Dick is a rockstar in cowboy boots, a standoffish artist and the town’s most popular resident.
Our first real interaction with Dick comes in the pilot, out to dinner with Chris and her husband. Dick, either completely oblivious or all too aware, casually tears her artistic ambitions to shreds before they even order their entrees.
When Chris describes her latest film, about women and “society’s, you know, crushing expectations,” Dick simply replies, “Sounds horrible.” He then picks at some of Chris’ deepest insecurities, leaving her speechless and desperate to impress him while Sylvère (Griffin Dunne) silently watches the whole thing play out. “My guess is that she doesn’t want to be a filmmaker, because if you wanted to be a filmmaker, you’d be one,” Dick says to Sylvère.
Even though his roguish behavior might read as typical for a “difficult man” character, Dick is not the hero (or antihero) of this television show. He is a tool, like a paintbrush or a notebook, something that Chris uses to reignite her own sense of artistic purpose.
At first glance, it might seem like there’s an incongruity between the role of Dick and Kevin Bacon, who’s by far the most famous member of the show’s cast. Bacon, who’s been a perennial Hollywood presence for decades, isn’t the main character — he’s the object of desire, and on a show that’s an adaptation of a feminist text, no less.
Over breakfast in New York City, Bacon told Mic about how he got involved in I Love Dick, his concern over playing a character who’s just, well, a dick and why he hates being typecast as “Kevin Bacon.” His outfit — a black baseball cap and black sweatshirt — wasn’t the sort that Dick would wear, but it nevertheless reflected the character’s personality: inconspicuous but straightforward, hidden and revealed. We both ordered eggs; he also got a side of bacon, and I had the miserable task of pretending I was mature enough not to find that a little bit charming.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Mic: What drew you to I Love Dick?
Kevin Bacon (KB): I read the pilot. The was the first thing. I loved it. It was so unusual. I mean, my last foray into television [The Following on Fox] was an hourlong drama situation. Lot of violence, lot of running and gunning and, you know, action kind of stuff, and also I was in a constant state of whether my character was trying to kill somebody or someone was trying to kill him.
[My wife, Kyra Sedgwick,] said, “You should do it.” [My daughter] Sosie said, “You should do it.” Every woman that I knew was like, “Do it, do it, do it, do it, do it,” without even having read it.
Were they fans of the book?
KB: I don’t think any of them knew the book, honestly. I didn’t know it. It was just more the show’s title and Jill [Soloway], and Amazon.
It’s not just different from an hourlong action drama. It’s different from anything else on TV, really.
KB: It is, although I have to say the difference became more and more evident as we were making the show. The pilot is, in a lot of ways, sort of a more contained and well-constructed comedy pilot. It’s when everything got deconstructed — which it did, very, very quickly — that the show started to take on this, for lack of a better word, indie-arthouse-film feel.
Did you like the way the character of Dick was written in particular?
KB: I did. I mean, first off, I thought it was really, really well-written. That scene where I sort of dismantle Chris at the dinner — of everything in the pilot, that’s the thing that has sustained a little bit more than anything else, because it was so solid. I found it really fascinating. It’s one of those scenes where he’s saying all of this stuff — why is he saying it? Why is he saying it to her at this moment? Does he 100% believe this? And, is he making some valid points? Is it a valid point that women are working from behind their oppression, by the way? Aren’t we all kind of working from behind our oppression?
But the way he says it, so dismissive — and I have a whole bunch of theories about him and how he’s feeling in that scene — but the issue for me was, if that’s just him, in the entire series, then I didn’t really know if that would be creatively challenging enough for me. Because I can play an asshole. I can do it in my sleep. And if he was just going to be, for the entire series, from her point of view and going to be this sort of object — again, fun, cool, great, it’s fun to be that, I don’t necessarily get a chance to be that — but is it too narrow a character to sign on the dotted line for whatever my contract is, five or six years? Also, if he’s really, just truly a douchebag, it kind of undercuts her character. It sort of makes her kind of shallow, that she doesn’t see past him.
Did you end up reading the book?
KB: Yeah. I thought it was a fascinating book.
There are definitely changes from the book to the show.
KB: Definitely. For one thing, the character Dick in the book is — you don’t know that much about him. He’s a teacher. He’s an idea.
Like “dick” with a lowercase d.
KB: Yeah. But my favorite parts of the book were about that relationship between Chris and Sylvère, that memoir part of the story. A lot of the other stuff, frankly, went over my head. There are so many references in it, things that I don’t know, artists and writers and activists, I found myself constantly Googling.
Half of the fun of reading the book is keeping it out on the subway with the title facing out.
KB: It’s fun to talk about, when I have to force people to say the title. You know, I’ve gone on morning talk shows where they refuse to say it. They’ll refuse to say the title of my television show. They’ll let me say it. I had one guy who said that his producers told him he was allowed to say it, but only twice, once at the beginning of the show and once at the end of the show.
I read a review of the show that said that having someone as famous and visible as Kevin Bacon play Dick subverts one of the points of the book, which was that Dick is supposed to be an abstract idea. Are you conscious of that — your fame, or your persona as an actor — while you’re working?
KB: I’d like to think that I’ve busted my ass my entire career to not be “Kevin Bacon.” When somebody says that, I go, “It’s so dismissive.” I find it insulting. I really do. Truly. Because I think it’s dismissive of the idea that I play a part, that I’ve researched a part. This isn’t the same guy I played in The Following. It’s not the same guy I played in JFK or Apollo 13. It’s a different guy.
I don’t put on those boots and feel like I’m Kevin Bacon. So I honestly don’t even know what to say about that. I’m going to live my life off-camera, doing what I believe to be trying my best in the course of my day to do the right thing and be good to people, be good to the world, be good to my family, be good to my friends. I don’t care if anybody here knows about that or doesn’t know. All I want to be judged by is the characters that I play. In spite of myself, there are certain associations people have of me, from the game [Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon] or whatever. I can’t really control that. The one thing I will say, when it comes to Dick, I really related to the idea of celebrity. I wanted to explore that with this character.
In that town, he’s Brad Pitt. He’s the most famous person you could think of. He’s created that — he’s come from New York, where he was not the biggest fish, and created a place where he could be the king, and I think he’s struggling with that. This is something I think, in my life, I could relate to — not that I was ever a king, but to create a world and create fame. Sometimes once you get that, it’s never exactly what you expected it to be, and it’s not always as great as you want it to be.
On the other hand, Jill Soloway posed that casting you was an advantage, that she dreamed about young people in red states turning on the show to see Kevin Bacon and becoming, in her words, “radical feminist sleeper cells.”
KB: *laughs* Cool. I mean, look, that’s different to me. What she’s saying is, there’s a built-in marketing tool with me, which is that I’m well known and can do a lot of press — which I’ve done. I’ve done more press for this than I did for [2011’s X-Men: First Class]. I think it’s good to have somebody famous attached to the show.
Well, people go into X-Men knowing what it is. I Love Dick is an unknown. But maybe once people watch one or two episodes, they’ll understand what it is and want to follow it through.
KB: Do you think so?
I hope so.
KB: I hope so too.
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