Kevin Bacon wants you to know that “Dick” isn’t an asshole.
Bacon stars in the new Amazon pilot “I Love Dick” as the title character, the prickly (and somewhat mysterious) leader of an artists’ enclave in the tiny town of Marfa, Texas. Kathryn Hahn plays Chris, a filmmaker who comes to town with her husband, author Sylvere (Griffin Dunne).
“Transparent” executive producer Jill Soloway (who also directed the pilot) and Sarah Gubbins are behind “I Love Dick,” which is based on a 1997 novel that has become a cult favorite for its exploration of men and women relationships. On the show, Chris quickly finds herself attracted to Dick, and a complicated dance between all three of them promises to change all of their lives.
For Bacon, “I Love Dick” (if it is picked up to series) is his first regular TV role since Fox’s “The Following,” which had marked the actor’s major return to television. Bacon spoke to IndieWire about why he loved the complexities behind “Dick,” as well as working with Soloway and his first experience on a digital streaming series.
What attracted you to join “I Love Dick”?
I was a big fan of Jill’s, love “Transparent.” I read the script and it was really not like anything I had read before. Then I found out Kathryn was going to play the Chris part and I think she’s just fantastic. I also was looking for something that wasn’t an hour-long drama. I don’t think “Dick” is a light comedy, but it is funny.
It’s definitely lighter than your last TV show, “The Following.” I assume you were looking for something completely different from that experience.
If you look at my movie career, I do switch it up a lot. I’m always looking for a lot of different parts. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a situation that was romantic. Certainly I had relationships on “The Following.” But “Dick” is more focused on relationships.
“I Love Dick” is based on a book that has developed a following for its themes of relationships and feminism. Have you had a chance to read it?
I read the book, and I think the show is very, very different. But it was a good starting point for Jill and Sarah and the writers to try to explore this triangle relationship. In the book, the character of Dick is very vague. You don’t really learn that much about him. What you learn is Chris and Sylvere’s obsession with him. I felt like with creating the character for this show, anything was fair game. In my mind, I didn’t look to the book too much as a source for inspiration.
What do you make of Dick? He’s still a bit of a mystery in the pilot.
I think that he’s at a really crucial point in his life, about relationships and his history and this town and his power. The show, for me, is a little bit of an investigation into the complexities of celebrity. He’s a celebrity in a fairly small circle, this town and this institute. Everybody knows Dick and everybody looks up to Dick and everybody wants to know what Dick is thinking. He has that living a fishbowl existence. He’s questioning whether that’s valid. And I can relate to that. It’s one of the things I liked about the character, an opportunity for me to tap into something that I’ve lived with for a really long time.
What do you make of Dick challenging Chris to the degree that he does? With lines like, “Most films made by women aren’t that good,” is he trying to provoke her, or is that just who he is?
I think it’s who he is, it’s what he believes. I think he’s completely honest. The name “Dick” obviously has a lot of connotations to it. He’s a dick, it’s a very dismissive thing to say. It’s my job as an actor to see whatever the association with that line can be redefined. I think if the guy was just an asshole and that’s what I was going to have to do for a few years – if we’re so lucky to stay on the air that long – I really wouldn’t be interested in it. But he’s a complex man. He feels things very deeply. He thinks things through. But he has a lot of traditional male values and male qualities that I think are necessary for me and the show to embrace.
It’s that complexity of Dick that attracts Chris to him, and I assume drives his celebrity in town.
You can tell by the end of the show that he’s at a little bit of a crossroads. He’s struggling with some stuff internally. And possibly the introduction of this woman into the town is a new beginning.
What’s it like to now be working for a streaming service, and what do you make of Amazon posting its pilots? You’re doing press for a show before we even know if it will be picked up.
It’s all a new world. Stuff changes so quickly. From the time I signed on to “The Following” things have already vastly changed in the entertainment world in general. It’s an adjustment for me. I started making movies in 1977, and I didn’t even think about the idea that I would ever be on a television show. Once I finished the “Guiding Light,” I was like, “I’m done with television!” So to be on whatever you call it, a platform, it’s wild. I will tell you the only reason that I would do press at this point is because I believe in the show. I’m proud of it, the work that Jill did, Kathryn, Griffin and everyone. I have the same kind of passion for this show that I’ve had for some of the independent films that I’ve been involved in.
What was it like working with Jill?
Really interesting technique and a great sense of collaboration, both between the cast and all members of the crew. It elevated the work that we do to an almost heart-filled, therapeutic level. Connections and intimacy. That trickles down to an incredibly happy and concentrated but loving working situation.
This town, Marfa, is also fascinating. What was it like to shoot there? Will you continue to shoot there as a series?
We’re going to go. I don’t know how much we’ll do there, but we’re going to go back. We have to. You hear this said a lot, “The town is almost like a character!” But it really is, and really is important. I had never been there, I had never heard of it. Now I am very familiar with it and Donald Judd [the late minimalist author who bought several buildings around town and used them as art projects] and the history of Marfa. I love it. It’s a very unusual place. When you see the pilot, it’s not really a heightened version of what that place is. It’s very authentic to what Marfa is.
How did Marfa residents react to the show coming to town?
There was a tremendous amount of support for us. Everybody was really excited about it. I think that all of us really tried hard to connect with the town and not just breeze in, leave our shit around and leave. There was a concerted effort to be inclusive of the people in the town and it paid off.
What’s the plan for the show if it moves forward? What were you looking for in agreeing to do the show?
Half an hour means it’s a short time commitment. If we go we’ll maybe do 10 episodes, and that leaves a lot of time for me to do other stuff. And also given the fact that there are other characters, it’s not me every day. Television is a funny thing because when you get a movie script you know what your scenes are and you know what you’re going to be doing in the course of this shooting schedule. Here, all I know is who the guy is, because we’ve talked a lot about that. Where he’s going is much more vague.
How much have you discussed the direction of the character with Jill and the writers?
We have talked about it. I’ve sat with them and said, “These are some things I’m interested in.” She’s very collaborative and wants to know what I want to play. I’ll give you an example, off the cuff we were having a conversation and I joked that the only special skill that I actually have I never get to do, and that’s ride a horse. And the next draft I read, I was riding into town on a horse! We’ve had some talks, but her task is to create this fantastic room of, in this case, all women writers, all brilliant, and see where it goes. It can go a bazillion different directions because we’re already pretty far off from the book. The possibilities are endless.
What did you think of Dick’s disrobe in the final scene?
I thought it was really cool. Not to get too symbolic about it, but there’s a sort of baptism that’s happening there. I’m disrobing for a reason. I don’t find it to be gratuitous. I spent the night at that ranch, and when you’re up there, you are all alone. Frankly, there’s no reason I would wear a bathing suit into that water. I thought it was appropriate. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. That whole morning, getting up there and shooting it at dawn. I’m not a spiritual person, but it was pretty breathtaking.
The “I Love Dick” pilot is now streaming on Amazon Prime.