In Cop Car, a b-movie thriller about two kids who steal a police vehicle for a joyride, Kevin Bacon plays Sherriff Kretzer, a bad cop short on dialogue but long on menace. It’s an intense role but one that once upon a time the Footloose star would have turned down.
“When I first started becoming an actor I would judge a role by how many lines I had,” he says. “Then, later on, by, ‘Where’s my big scene?’ As time has gone on I’ve really loved the idea of trying to use everything cinema has to offer in terms of helping you unfold the mystery of who somebody is. Sherriff Kretzer is one of those guys who, somehow, even though there is very little being said, I had an image for who he would be. Sometimes it just comes to me.”
Now into an almost four decade long career—his first professional acting gig came in 1978 on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow—he’s come to understand why less is often more on screen.
“Look at something like Diner,” he says. “I didn’t want that part because the guy didn’t say much. I didn’t know or trust that who he was would come through [in the scene where] I was just sitting there watching the college bowl. People talk about that as being the moment where they totally got the guy, but on the page I didn’t get that. I was too naïve to understand that. In the course of my career I have started to realize that the camera sees so much more than we see in real life. It’s not that it just shoots real life, it’s that it goes deeper. You shoot somebody’s eyes, do a close up on somebody’s eyes, and you see things that the human eye can’t see. It actually reaches down into that person’s soul so you’re exposed to something that is deeper and more beautiful.”
Bacon says he and director Jon Watts give audiences everything they need to “metaphorically jump in the car and come along” without over explaining the characters.
The result is a violent film that transcends its b-movie roots to become a story about loss of childhood innocence. “I think it is a surprisingly moving and emotional film,” he says. “I know my wife [actress Kyra Sedgwick] feels that way.”