BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Kevin Bacon (search) wants you to know the same thing he told his kids: No children were harmed during the making of his latest film. In "The Woodsman," (search) Bacon gives a career performance as the most reviled of sex offenders, a child molester coming off 12 years in prison for abusing young girls.
Filled with self-loathing, his character, Walter, makes an honorable attempt to go straight but is tormented by temptation, shunned by his family and abhorred by co-workers who discover his past.
Bacon and his wife, co-star Kyra Sedgwick (search), sat down to discuss the film's difficult themes with their 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter.
"We said, 'Mom and Dad are going to do this movie, this is what it's about, this is who we're playing, and we just wanted you guys to be aware of it,'" Bacon said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"I told them, `It's not a movie where you're going to see any bad things happen to children,' which is something that I also feel like we should put out there in the public, as well. It's dangerous subject matter, but it's not a gratuitous, sensationalized film."
Directed by first-time filmmaker Nicole Kassell, "The Woodsman" is adapted from a stage play by Steven Fechter. Along with Sedgwick, who plays a co-worker romantically involved with Walter, the film co-stars rappers Mos Def and Eve, Benjamin Bratt and David Alan Grier.
The script came to Bacon in an unusual way. While vacationing in the West Indies, Bacon was approached by an acquaintance who was thinking of investing money in the film and wanted the actor's advice.
The prospective financier ultimately decided against investing, but Bacon was hooked after reading the script. Though he broke into film as a snooty frat boy in "National Lampoon's Animal House" and became a teen idol with "Footloose," Bacon said the dark tone of "The Woodsman" was more in line with his dramatic sensibilities.
Any doubts he had were not about the daring material or how the role might affect his image, but about whether he and his collaborators could pull it off.
"Yeah, I had hesitation. I had hesitation about, would I do a good job? What kind of job would Nicole do as a first-time director? Would we be putting our hearts and souls into something that no one would see?" the 46-year-old Bacon said.
"I don't have hesitation surrounding me and my image, my persona. That doesn't apply to me in my life. I'll play anything. I've played a lot of bad guys, people who have done a lot of bad things."
Bacon's other roles include one of the stranded astronauts in "Apollo 13," an invisible mad scientist in "Hollow Man," a man haunted by ghostly visions in "Stir of Echoes" and an Alcatraz inmate driven violently mad by three years in solitary confinement in "Murder in the First," which drew him rave reviews.
He also was part of Clint Eastwood's terrific ensemble cast in 2003's "Mystic River," playing a cop investigating the death of a childhood friend's daughter.
After "Footloose," Bacon had trouble adjusting to teen stardom and shunned life as a romantic idol, turning down similar roles because he did not want to repeat himself.
"That's a bore. People who only do that bore me. They bore me as actors. The guy that just does the same funny guy every time, or he's only the hero saving people from getting blown up," Bacon said. "I don't want to do that. That's not who I am."
Bacon and Sedgwick have become more active developing scripts for themselves, including "Loverboy," which premieres at January's Sundance Film Festival, where "The Woodsman" debuted last winter. Directed by Bacon, "Loverboy" stars Sedgwick as a mother whose obsession for her son endangers the child's welfare. Bacon also co-stars.
This spring, Bacon cops an outrageous European accent and long locks as a pompous, scheming hairdresser in Queen Latifah's "Beauty Shop," a spinoff of the "Barbershop" flicks. He also has finished shooting Atom Egoyan's drama "Where the Truth Lies," starring with Colin Firth as a '50s musical comedy duo whose act broke up amid scandal after a dead girl was found in their hotel room.
The variety of roles has made Bacon "much happier" now than at the peak of his stardom in the 1980s, he said. "My career, today notwithstanding, is at the best place it could be."
"Today notwithstanding" refers to a flurry of interviews for "The Woodsman," a task that still makes him uncomfortable. Yet Bacon has worked tirelessly the last year to promote the film, accompanying it to Cannes, Toronto and other festivals to help draw attention to "The Woodsman," whose bleak story line makes it a tougher sell to audiences.
Also an executive producer on "The Woodsman," Bacon sought to strip down the script to its barest elements to present a shadow of a man living in anguish inside himself, director Kassell said. Dialogue was sparse to begin with, but the screenplay became even leaner after Bacon was through, she said.
"I really think of him as an incredibly truthful barometer," Kassell said. "If something didn't feel truthful or organic to the story to him, we would cut it, or he would bring it up and question it and if it was important to me, he would make me articulate why and defend it."
The film has drawn Academy Awards buzz for Bacon, who has never been nominated. "Mystic River" earned Oscars for co-stars Sean Penn and Tim Robbins and a nomination for Marcia Gay Harden, but Bacon never drew serious consideration during the 2003 awards race.
Though he concedes an Oscar nomination would be good for his career and for "The Woodsman," Bacon is resigned to the idea that he may miss out again.
"I've been an actor for a long time, and there have been a lot of years when I've walked by the party and not been invited in," Bacon said. "And so, if it doesn't happen, of course I'll be disappointed, but if it was all I wanted in life, if it was the thing that I always dream about, I would have jumped out a window a long time ago.
"If somebody stops me on the street or the subway, whatever, and says, 'Hey, I liked that movie,' or 'That performance meant something to me,' or even if it's, 'You know, I knew a guy that was just like you in that movie,' that's great. I love that. I would put that on my mantelpiece if I could."