Kevin Bacon talks horror movies, portraying modern monsters in ‘You Should Have Left’

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Kevin Bacon is an actor who refuses to be typecast. Though his 1984 happy-go-lucky demeanor in “Footloose” and gripping 1995 dramatic performance in “Apollo 13” are among his most notable leading roles, his status as a household name is likely thanks to the many hats that Bacon has worn throughout his career. One might just as easily recognize Bacon for his comedic bit part in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” or even his small, but incredibly memorable role in “Friday the 13th” — the latter, Bacon said in a roundtable interview with The Daily Californian, played a not insignificant part in shaping horror as one of his favorite genres.

The “Friday the 13th” movie “kicked off this genre of slasher movies, basically … and they’re pretty formulaic … not really thought of as being great character studies,” Bacon said. But speaking both as an actor and an intrepid movie buff, Bacon prefers more substance in his horror films. “The (films) that I got hooked on when I was younger,” he continued, citing “The Exorcist” and “The Shining” as examples, “those kinds of (films) were really more character-driven pieces.” 

Bacon also admires how many modern horror films have employed this character-driven approach to provide insight into complex political issues. It’s this particular niche of horror that Bacon and heavyweight director David Koepp hope to channel in their new film, “You Should Have Left.” The film follows Bacon as Theo — a middle-aged businessman publicly ostracized after he was acquitted for the alleged murder of his first wife — as he struggles in his controversial second marriage to a young actress (Amanda Seyfried). 

The film’s premise, Bacon reports, is a deliberate nod to the #MeToo movement: While the movement hit its peak of cultural relevance in 2018, it laid much of the digital grassroots groundwork for contemporary intersectional discussions of gender, race and police violence. “You Should Have Left,” Bacon says, is a film that seeks in some way to personify the social factors at play in these issues.

With “the rich and powerful men of this world, time and time again, we see an abuse of that power,” he explained. “That’s really what this character that I play is dealing with … things came easily for him. When you think about what that really means, it raises a lot of questions about things coming easily for a certain kind of section of the population.”

With the character’s dark past, however, there comes a desire to do better: Much of the film revolves around Theo’s relationship with his young daughter (Avery Essex), which becomes a way for Theo to repent and leave his past behind him. But Bacon hopes that the film challenges whether this is really possible, an idea capitalized on by its recurring Catholic motifs. “The question becomes: Is there redemption if you ask for forgiveness?” Bacon explained. “In this case, I’m not really asking for forgiveness from God … God kind of becomes a little girl.” 

Through this conflict, “You Should Have Left” aims to address larger questions of the double standards of contemporary masculinity: Powerful men such as Theo are expected to be kind and loving fathers, but not necessarily held to the same standards as husbands. 

“In these kinds of movies, you can take a family, that’s a perfect kind of family unit … then you could throw something at them. Throw some monster, (or) some kind of supernatural element at them,” Bacon explained. “But that wasn’t really the movie that we wanted to make.” Indeed, the film doesn’t have a classic horror movie monster: The true “evil” of the film is evident enough in confronting this familial double standard of masculinity and in the recognition of mortality that leads one to confront it.

Bacon reported that portraying a character grappling with this duality amid something of a midlife crisis — and seeking forgiveness for it — was both challenging and personally significant. “I have a theory, which is I try to ‘use myself’ and ‘lose myself,’ ” he went on. “I have a daughter, bingo … I can carry around a picture of my daughter when she was six and it will get me where I need to go. (But) Kevin, to me, is not interesting … I’m trying to feel like I’ve lost Kevin and I’m in Theo’s shoes.”

Ultimately, Bacon sees the film as an incredibly powerful vessel to explore both societal and personal issues. Acting is not simply as a career, Bacon reports, but a cathartic exercise. “Every role that I’ve ever played has been part of the preparation to get where I am,” Bacon explained. “I’m lucky in that I have a profession where as I age … the parts that I’m being given to play are things that I happen to be dealing with now. So (to) be somebody who is for the first time considering mortality in the same way that Theo is, it just kind of lines up with what’s going on in your life.”

Olive Grimes covers film. Contact them at [email protected].