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Aug. 19 was a very important day in Kevin Bacon’s life. First, it was the day Amazon started streaming the pilot for his potential new series, I Love Dick. But more importantly, it was also wife Kyra Sedgwick’s birthday, and he was proud to have found her the perfect gift.
“She’s up in Vancouver directing right now,” Bacon tells The Hollywood Reporter last week. “So I found her a ‘Directing Barbie.’ I finally found it in the Barbie Career Women’s Collection. It was perfect!”
This day took on even more importance than usual, though, because if it hadn’t been for Sedgwick, he might never have starred in I Love Dick. “I’d gotten a call from [executive producer] Jill Soloway saying she wanted to talk to me about a show. Before Kyra even read the script, she was, like, ‘OK, you’re doing that.’ I explained that I hadn’t seen it yet, but she just went, ‘You’re doing this,'” Bacon says.
The combination of Soloway — an Emmy winner for Amazon comedy Transparent — and a show based on a popular novel she’d enjoyed clinched the deal for Sedgwick. The book, by Chris Kraus, came out in 1997 and is the semi-autobiographical story of Kraus’ encounter with a sociologist/media critic named Dick (whose last name was deliberately never given), who is working with her husband, Sylvere. The minimal plot revolves around Kraus’ growing obsession with this mysterious macho man, which leads her to dive deep into the world of gender politics.
Soloway has referred to the book as the “invention of the female gaze” and saw it as a perfect next step after the success of Transparent. Dick isn’t picked up to series yet — that will depend on Amazon and it’s so-called audience feedback metric for series pickups, though given its pedigree, it’s a likely bet — but shooting the pilot was one of the more estrogen-enhanced projects of Bacon’s career.
“There were a lot of women on the set,” he recalls, noting that co-star Griffin Dunne’s daughter also pushed him to take on the role of Sylvere. “And there were no men in the writers room. I’ve been around lots of women all my life, so that wasn’t an issue for me. And it was what Jill wanted.”
The Dick character is outspoken but also private, the biggest fish in a small pond called Marfa, Texas. Bacon sees the character as “honest, straight-forward and at a crossroads in his life. He’s certainly troubled, and there’s a darkness in his soul. I love him. I’ve never had a sense from Jill or the script that this guy was an asshole.” Rather, Dick is that guy at a cocktail party who happily shares his brash opinions about everything but seems so sincere that everyone flocks around to listen.
That ability to play to the masses in the hopes of winning their love and respect is something that Bacon is familiar with. After all, he’s a movie star, whether he likes it or not. Playing Dick gave him the chance to analyze his fame, because he sees the series as “an exploration of celebrity.”
“That’s something I’ve lived with most of my life,” says the 58-year-old actor. “People in Marfa know everything about him. They watch him carefully. They’re drawn to him. He’s got this power that celebrity can bring into your life, and he’s conflicted about that. Most celebrities have these moments where they feel ‘Am I really worthy of all this?'”
Bacon admits he’s someone who likes to do thorough research into any character he plays, but Dick was different in that this guy followed the actor home during production — to the point where he started to have dreams about the character, speculating while sleeping about “what he might say or feel in any given situation he finds himself in. Jill actually gave me a little notebook for when I woke up so I could write all these dreams down.” He did end up sharing some of the ideas with the show’s writers but politely declines to say what they were, to not “ruin the magic that’s in them.”
To hear co-star Kathryn Hahn (who plays Chris) tell it, all of Bacon’s research paid off. The actress recalls telling Bacon that he had instantly become “the king of Marfa, Texas” during the cast’s first scouting trip to the city. When he’d walk into a room, says the actress, “the air shifted, and the record skipped. He literally couldn’t help it.”
Working with Bacon could have been intimidating — Hahn’s first cassette tape was the Footloose soundtrack. However, she was immediately struck by his quiet, unassuming personality.
“When I found out that Kevin was our ‘Dick,’ I gasped and kind of stared into space with a dumb grin,” Hahn explains. “He blows my mind as an actor. He forces you to tell the truth or blush from lying. He doesn’t want to talk things to death. And you could tell this was a new way of working for him: full of feeling and exploring and all of it — all the stuff some dudes would make fun of. But I fell in love with his total gameness for a new process.”
A new approach was probably a good idea, especially to add some much-needed levity in his work. After spending three seasons tracking down serial killers in Fox’s dark and violent The Following, he liked the idea of TV work where “there’s no crime to be solved every week, and you can’t describe it with one line. The possibilities with this particular story are endless.”
I Love Dick may be a half-hour series, but, like Transparent, it’s anything but a sitcom. Chris is having a career crisis. Her husband seems distracted by his own work. And after a dinner where Chris finds she both loves and loathes Dick, he goes home to a large, empty house. (Says Bacon, “I love that moment. People don’t really know what I’m feeling in those moments, so there’s mystery there.”)
I Love Dick is one of those rare comedies that doesn’t always have to make you laugh. It’s more like real life, with all its smiles and sadness, which is why Bacon says shooting the pilot was one of the more poignant projects he’s ever tackled. He is hoping the show is picked up so he can renew his relationships with everyone working on the show.
“This was a very emotional shoot,” says Bacon. “Jill is a comedy writer, but her comedy comes from an emotional place. She’s so good at looking at relationships and sexuality and God and spirituality and pain and hurt. You’re going to laugh while watching I Love Dick, but our approach is not to go for the jokes. We had some pretty intense rehearsals.”
Still, the experience working with Soloway was an entertaining one. For example, when she asked Bacon if he had any special skills that would help him embody Dick, he mentioned that he liked to ride horses. The very next version of the script he saw featured him in Western gear riding a horse. It’s that sort of personal touch that he hopes will make this story of a woman trying to find her place in the world and the man who challenges her popular enough for Amazon to take it to series.
“If this was just a story of somebody falling in love with an asshole, it’d be a pretty short story,” explains Bacon. “I feel like I have a responsibility to redefine what we mean by someone being a Dick.”
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