Cop Car – Interview with Kevin Bacon and director Jon Watts @ Fantasia

Fantasia continues to show its punch by bringing in big movies, directors and stars. This year the biggest star in town for Fantasia is Kevin Bacon. You know him from movies like Footloose, Diner, Mystic River, and Apollo 13 as well as the television series The Following. He is a well-known and well-respected actor who has had a long and successful career. With his latest film he has gone a little indie and teamed up with director and co-screenwriter Jon Watts for the concept film, Cop Car. In Cop Car Bacon plays a small town sheriff who has had his cop car stolen by two joyriding 10-year-olds and he aims to get it back come hell or high water. The set-up of the film is rather a simple one (I just described it in one sentence), but it will both entertain and surprise you.

On a hot, sunny Montreal afternoon Kevin Bacon and Jon Watts met with Montreal media for roughly 15 minutes to talk about the film.

Q: How did this film come together?

Jon Watts: It all came together within a year from writing it to playing at Sundance.

cop car press conference3Q: Kevin, what inspired you to get behind the wheel of Cop Car as both the star and the producer?

Kevin Bacon: Well, I read the script. It came to me through my agent. The regular channels. I didn’t find it in the garbage or anything.

Jon Watts: I tied it to a brick and threw it through his window.

Kevin Bacon: (laughts) It didn’t come that way. It is an unusual script because it’s in some ways very understated but in some ways incredibly descriptive in a way that made me think that the writers had a really, really clear vision of what they wanted to put on the screen. That’s something that you can kinda get a sense from in a screen play. I liked the idea that the character was a little mysterious. That you really don’t know exactly why he’s doing what he’s doing. You don’t know the backstory of who he is. Sometimes that’s what I call you are kinda acting between the lines because you don’t have the scene where you say this is who I am. You act in between the words. So I liked that idea. Then I went and looked at a movie that Jon had done. It was more in a different sort of genre in that it was more of a straight up horror movie, but I’m a big fan of horror and I though he just crushed it. I thought it was just fun. Shocking, engaging and scary and obviously made for a price, but well executed, so I signed up.

Q: That was “Clown”, the film he was talking about. Kevin, I was reminded at times during the film of “Night of the Hunter” with two kids on the lam and the boogieman after them. I was wondering if you had Robert Mitchum in mind anywhere during the creation of the character?

Kevin Bacon: Well, I like the Robert Mitchum reference because I think he’s great. But I’m embarrassed to say that I have never seen “Night of the Hunter”. I’ll go and check it out.

Jon Watts: It’s really good!

Kevin Bacon: Is it good? I’ll see it. It’s not the first time someone has mentioned Robert Mitchum to me and I think he was fantastic. I tend to try my best not to look at other performances in order to figure out how to do a performance. I really, really love actors and I love to see great work, but I think it is off the point to try to do what somebody else did. I think it’s more about trying to find a real person to reference or to try to create a character based on yourself and people that you have come in contact with. I frankly like documentaries when it comes to basing characters on people. I think that’s a better way in.

Q: I have never seen a movie that is so difficult to describe in a critique without giving the plot away, so I want you to help me with that.

cop car press conference2Jon Watts: I don’t like giving anything away either. All we ever say is that it’s about two 10-year-olds that find a police abandoned in the middle of the fields and then it’s the story of the sheriff that wants to get it back. I don’t know. What else can we say? I don’t want to give any of it away. Not a lot happens in it. It’s very simple. It’s like an Amblin Entertainment (studio behind E.T., Gremlins, Back to the Future, The Goonies, etc.)/the Coen Brothers action film somebody said, which I think is kinda cool.

Q: The point you made about basing characters on real people, have either one of you had encounters with nasty cops in the past that might have informed the performance or inception of the character?

Kevin Bacon: I was driving cross country with my dogs. Two dogs in the back of my station wagon and I was on the border of Oklahoma and Texas. I pulled into this town and I didn’t see that the speed had dropped. I was pulled over and literally it felt like this place was in the middle of nowhere. We were outside a convenience store and the cop got out. A couple of people wandered out beside the gas pumps to see what was going on. He asked me to get out of the car. We walked back to his car and he said “Get in the passenger seat” (in a southern accent) and I sat in the passenger seat. He’s typing on the computer, checking things and doing this and doing that. Then he goes, (again in a southern accent) “I wanted you to know that Footloose is the first film I ever went to. You gotta slow down”.

Q: The dogs got off easy.

Kevin Bacon: The dogs got off easy. Luckily. It could have not been good, but it was fine.

Q: Kevin, you mentioned about acting between the lines when really the first 15-20 minutes when you’re onscreen there’s almost no dialogue. I’m kinda curious about how much freedom did you have from Jon to almost improvise or sort of create the character with no words or was that all on the page in terms of how you’re supposed to behave?

Kevin Bacon: (as Jon Watts is shaking his head) I think a lot of it was on the page (Jon Watts looks surprised) and then we kinda just started talking about it (Jon Watts nods in agreement). Starting talking about who he guy would be. I think we were both agreed that even if it is not said that we had a pretty clear understanding. I did the same sort of work that I would do with any character. I figure out where he’s from and what he likes and what he doesn’t like and what his is past is. All those kinds of things. It’s basically or I consider it an autobiography that I kinda write. Then we started to talk about it. So freedom, yeah, I think there was a lot of freedom, but I also think that when things worked or didn’t work he (Jon Watts) was very clear about it and would say “Yes” or “No”. I think to tell the story of somebody as I said without words is something that I didn’t really understand when I was a young actor. I would look at a script and say, “Shit! I don’t have any lines”. I don’t have as many lines as this guy so how am I going to do this. I remember that with “Diner”, a movie I did a long time ago. My part did not have a lot of lines and I go “Shit! I’m going to be left in the dust because everyone else is going to have a chance to play all these cool scenes”. I think over time I sorta learnt that that’s not really the way it works. The camera is a beautiful piece of machinery and it can see past what is coming out of your mouth. It can see what is going on with your eyes and your body. It was fun in that way and it was his (Jon Watts) idea in the screenplay to try to tell the story with nothing being said.

Q: I was wondering Jon from the outset you decided you were going to work with two kids, but a lot of directors are shying away from working with young people. So, I was wondering about how you went about casting them and how they felt about the screenplay overall?

Jon Watts: They were great. That thing about it being difficult working with kids, I don’t understand it because it’s all so new and fresh to them that they don’t have to work to make something be real. It’s all very real to them. You put them in a car that you are towing down the road that’s real reactions that you are getting. They don’t have to “act”. To find them we did a nationwide casting search. Hays, the kid with longer hair, is from Virginia and James is from New Jersey. They had this seriousness that I was really looking for. Even though they could be making 10-year-old decisions you had to believe that they really thought about it and had really puzzled it out on their own. That they really believed in these decisions. So, of the two of them I really didn’t know who was going to be who. Out in Colorado, where we shot, we had them read for both like two days before we were shooting and then it was pretty obvious who should play who. All we had to do was, James had a Justin Bieber haircut and we had to shave his head, which he did not want to do. Then he thought it was pretty cool. It was great working with them. As a director you really just have to keep your energy up the whole time because the moment that you are distracted or your energy drops they’re gone.

Q: What I loved about the actors in the film is that they are not like movie actors, they are like real kids. They were very natural, the dialogue, the comradery…they talked like real kids talk which you sometimes don’t get out of movies.

Jon Watts: Our joke is that not only does the movie star two 10-year-olds, but it’s also like it is written by two 10-year-olds. I write with my best friend, Chris Ford, and it’s very easy to write like a 10-year-old when you’re with your buddy.

Q: Kevin, this is quite a mean, sadistic and bad character that you are playing. I was wondering how you thought of that in the context of other roles that you have played and also how you tried to temper the character given that he also provides a lot of the comic relief in the film?

Kevin Bacon: I’ve never shied away from playing bad characters. I’ve done some pretty horrible things, let’s face it. I tend to not even categorize them as good guys or bad guys. A lot of people ask me if it is more “fun” to be a bad guy and I don’t really that way necessarily. I feel that characters are fun because they are interesting or well written and they’re different from someone that I did before. Somehow I have found something interesting in them whether what they’re doing is right or what they’re doing is wrong or somewhere in the middle, which is generally is. I didn’t really think about tempering it with comedy. I felt like in a way that was up to Jon (director Watts). I enjoyed him. I liked the fact that if you think about it he had to have started out feeling like he was going to uphold the law and protect the innocent. And somewhere along the way he starts to make some bad decisions. The fact that he has a certain amount of homespun charm was a nice kind of juxtaposition to his desperation and his, as you call it, mean streak.

Q: The subject matter of the film considering what is going on in the States today with the bad cop lend the film any relevancy or unrelevancy?

Jon Watts: Yeah, actually, we didn’t know, but there had been a scandal in one of the counties in Colorado where we were shooting. I don’t know the details of it, but when you show up with your production and start meeting all the police officers they’re like “Is this about that guy? Are you making fun of us? Is this based on anything?” And we had no idea, so once they realized we were clueless about that they totally got on board.

Q: Maybe each of you could tell us what you have coming next?

Jon Watts: I don’t know. It’s just sorta up in the air. I’m looking at a couple of projects.

Kevin Bacon: Yeah, just doing what I can with what I’ve got. I have a movie called “Black Mass” that I have a small part in that’s coming out. Which I just saw the other day and it is excellent. Excellent. A movie about Whitey Bulger, who was a notorious gangster in Boston. Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton and a whole bunch of people are in it. And after that I don’t know. I’m on the horns of a dilemma as my mother-in-law would say. I have no idea what that means, but that’s what she says.

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