I raised my eyebrows just once seeing The Woodsman at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival: why would a pedophile desperate to go straight after twelve years in prison rent an apartment across from an elementary school? That question began my Toronto interview with Kevin Bacon, who plays the pedophile, Walter, in the somber, effective movie directed by NYU film grad Nicole Kassell.
"Walter makes a reference that ‘It’s the only place he could find that would take his money,’" Bacon said. "But there’s an implication that Walter is someways in denial, thinking he’s done his time, he’s cured, he doesn’t want to be in therapy. I think he looked for a place, but he could have looked harder. As for not needing therapy, he’s not correct. He doesn’t know about himself that you can’t be cured of pedophelia by taking a little pill."
Bacon’s research? "A lot of psychological stuff was gathered by Nicole. She had reams for me to read: books, studies, all kinds of websites. That’s all good and helpful, but I did what I do with other characters. My process: creating a biography of Walter’s twelve years in prison, filling in the blanks, deciding what could inform his choices: his favorite color, what kind of music he listens to, what does he like to eat? What are the external manifestations? What does he walk like, talk like?
"The important thing was that nothing should say ‘Sex Offender.’ If you lined up six people, you couldn’t pick one out, but you could pick out an ex-Marine. Now Walter wanted to disappear, so the way he walks and talks is very different from me. I don’t talk to disappear. I have a natural swagger, a more confrontational way of being. Walter would like to hide. He isolated himself in prison. To protect himself, he was the loneliest man in the criminal heirarchy.
"Some characters are verbose. Walter is quite the opposite. It’s his internal life which is tumultuous, the trauma inside. He’s got so much pain, so much guilt, so much self-loathing and shame. Especially shame."
Had Bacon seen M, Fritz Lang’s 1931 German classic about a pedophile murderer? "I did not see M. It wasn’t until we were at Cannes [with the finished film] that a director said, ‘Did you see how, as in M, there’s a shot in The Woodsman of a ball at someone’s feet?’ Nicole hadn’t thought about it. And honestly, I don’t look at films to do films. That’s looking at actors, at another performance, that’s cheating. It seems weird as research, though documentaries are helpful, like Capturing the Friedmans. You look at that father, he’s such a regular guy!"
Does Bacon attend rushes? "I always watch rushes. They give me a sense of whether I’m going in the right direction. You work hard and hopefully get encouragement from what you see. When I was younger, I watched everything. I’d watch six hours of helicopter shots that I was not even in!"
Were mistakes discovered in the rushes of The Woodsman lead to some reshooting? "We never reshot things because the tone wasn’t right. Sadly, three days of footage were ruined by the lab, a fucking disaster! I’d never experienced this before: there were little white spots over some of the sex scenes. They were not easy to do the first time. We had to revisit them, which was painful."
The sex scenes were performed with Bacon’s long-time wife, Kyra Sedgwick. She plays Vickie, a woman he meets at work who operates a forklift. "It took a lot of convincing to get Kyra to do it," Bacon said, "to play a sexy beautiful woman who we can believe works in a lumberyard." How did they maintain the lonely, alienated feeling of the relationship of Vickie and Walter? "We didn’t hang out so much during the shoot, we had separate head spaces. Sometimes we’d have lunch together, or have dinner, some wine, and talk about our kids, or about the movie. But there are some actor secrets you keep sometimes, and you want to keep."
And being directed by Nicole Kassell? "She’s fabulous, so smart, unbelievably compassionate, has such a great heart. She was so close to the material, having lived with it so long, including directing a short film similar to The Wooddsman. I wanted to see her vision. I like to be supportive of first-time directors, I don’t want to bust their chops. But the thing I hope is that I’m working with someone who wants to collaborate, who will respect that I’ve done 49 more movies than they have. Sometimes, first-timers are afraid to admit they don’t know something, or are so cocky it’s irritating. Nicole was smart enough to know she’s got stuff to learn."