Kevin Bacon Talks Making ‘They/Them,’ Working With John Logan, and Balancing Charm With Menace

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From writer/director John Logan (Penny Dreadful) and produced by Blumhouse, the slasher thriller They/Them is set at a conversion camp hosted by Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon), a man who makes it clear to the latest group of LGBTQ+ campers that the aim is to psychologically break them down, in order to set them free. But with a mysterious killer on the loose, they must find their inner strength in a fight for survival.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Bacon talked about his desire to walk in different shoes and explore different things, when it comes to playing characters, his reaction to learning that Logan wrote this role with him in mind, balancing charm with menace, the environment created on set, and the most challenging day of the shoot.

Collider: First of all, I want to say thank you and tell you how much I absolutely appreciate your Goat Songs series of videos on Instagram. In a world that often feels like it’s up in flames, those videos have brought some delight and humor to my life.

KEVIN BACON: I’m glad. That’s the point.

When I was a kid, I grew up with movies like Footloose and Tremors, where you were the good guy or the hero of the story, so because of that, I find it so fun to see you in a role like this. When this project came your way, what was your reaction to it? Do you think about playing with perception like that, when you take on a role like this?

BACON: I don’t think about playing with perception like that. Honestly, it’s that funny thing where nobody sees everything you do. I’ve actually done a lot of bad guys who have done some really, really terrible things, so there are people out there that will say the actual opposite to me. They’ll say, “Of course, you’re playing the bad guy. You always play the bad guy.” Everyone’s perception is different, so what I don’t think about is how people feel about me. I’d rather just have the work speak for itself. If it’s an interesting character, and if it’s a character that I feel like I can commit to and find something new to do, then I’ll do it. This is a man who’s different from the men I played in Flatliners and Tremors, and that’s what I’m looking for. I want different shoes to walk in and different things to explore.

Did you go into reading this script cold, or were you given a rundown before reading it? Did you have any expectations of what you would be reading when you went into it?

BACON: That’s a very good question. John Logan is someone that I’ve known for many years and that I’ve wanted to work with, but we had never found anything. He did tell me that he had written it with me in mind, so when I started to read it, I thought, “Well, Jesus, is the way John sees me? Okay, great.” We talked a little bit about how he wanted to expose the horror of this concept of gay conversion but didn’t want to do it in a small drama. He wanted to do it in a more accessible and mainstream format and genre. It’s a little bit of a tribute to seventies camp slasher movies, and I thought that was really a brilliant idea. I was pleasantly surprised. Knowing the level of writing that he does, I knew that it was gonna be fun, but I also really liked the part. It was a pretty easy “yes.”

This is such an interesting character because you have this layer of charm and likability, which lulls people into a sense that this guy might really want to help people, even though he’s actually doing these horrible and despicable things. What was it like to balance that level of charm with a level of menace, and to find the right levels of that?

BACON: You have to just commit to the charm, and then find ways to slide the menace in, with the help of a good director to temper things in little ways. A look can say a lot, and that gets shaped in the cutting room. We did talk a lot about what the arc was gonna be, in terms of starting to discover what’s going on. Anybody that’s watching this that has a progressive point of view is gonna hear what’s coming out of his mouth and go, “I don’t think so.” But there are also gonna be people who listen to it and say, “Yeah, this guy’s making a lot of sense.” You just hope that by the time he’s doing some of the horrible things that he does in course of the movie that they’re no longer on his side. That’s the job.

John Logan has written a wide range of projects and has proven himself to be an excellent storyteller, but this was his directorial debut. Since you’re an actor who also directs, how did you find the experience of working and collaborating with him, as a director? What sort of environment does he create on set?

BACON: He creates the kind of environment that I like. We discussed the fact that we don’t like chaotic sets. We don’t like stuff where people are feeling unsafe. We don’t like sets where there’s yelling and screaming or childish behavior from anybody. That’s the way I work, and that’s the way he works. That’s the set that we wanted, especially when we were dealing with sensitive issues and surrounding ourselves with a cast that had vulnerabilities. We wanted to create a good, safe space to make the film. And John has spent a lot of time on sets. It’s not like he’s a writer who’s just been off in his room and he doesn’t have any idea about the process. He understands the process very specifically, and he did a tremendous amount of preparation. He paid a lot of attention to detail. He was very cognizant of knowing when he had it and could move on. He was conscious of people’s feelings and emotional levels and found a way to communicate with different actors in different ways, depending on what they needed.

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