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‘Death Sentence’ Stars Kevin Bacon and James Wan Talk Revenge

It’s not easy playing someone hell bent on revenge. Just ask Kevin Bacon. He stars in the very tense crime drama Death Sentence, playing a man whose vengeance over the death of his son creates a cycle of violence of which he can’t escape. We chatted with Bacon and director James Wan (Saw) about the experience of making this brutal but deeply felt movie.

Hollywood.com: As this is taken from the same author who wrote Death Wish, the two stories seem to have some similarities.
Kevin Bacon:
They are from the same author but Death Sentence] is very different from Death Wish and is in no way a remake. I don’t know if you’ve seen Death Wish, but after Charles Bronson’s family is attacked, he goes after all of Manhattan, singlehandedly. [Death Wish] is much more a vigilante sort of film. Death Sentence is similar that my family is attacked, but it’s a more emotional movie, less vigilante and more revenge. It’s an unfortunate cycle of violence that my character makes the mistake of perpetuating. It has terrible consequences for him and his family. It’s definitely not a film glorifying vigilantism.

James Wan: Well, I guess on the surface, it’s a revenge movie. But I see it more as a tragedy. It’s a story that concerns a father who comes in contact with a tight group of gang members and these two worlds collide with tragic consequences—for both sides of the families. Violence sets it off and it just spirals out of control, until the very end. There’s no way out.

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HW: How did you get into the mind set of your character, Kevin?
I liked that within this genre, thriller, action, there was this great character, great depth of character. A lot of times with a genre film, he’ll just be the “guy,” you know? That there wouldn’t be that much interesting or challenging about him. But this just wasn’t the case with [Death Sentence]. I thought it had a very well-developed character who goes through a tremendous transformation, not only emotionally but also physically. He goes from a sort of nerdy, suburban, pencil-pushing guy. There’s nothing extraordinary about him at all. And then find himself in this extraordinary situation and molds into a killer.

HW: What was the most difficult part about making the movie?
I have about five minutes of screen time when I’m happy. For every other moment, I’m flipping out and that’s exhausting. I mean, stress does not begin to describe the feelings this guy goes through. And I take this stuff very seriously and can’t just, boom! Turn it on and turn it off. It’s a place you sort of have to put yourself and live in. That being said, I’ve done a lot of films with dark situations, dark characters and it’s a lot fun. I like those action situations. And [Death Sentence] has virtually no special effects, so everything you see from the action stand point is very real and very gritty, hardcore. So physically, it was a challenge but a good one! And one I enjoyed. James was happy to have me do as much as I could. I think the film has a very real feel.

HW: The film has such a strong cast. James, what were you looking for when it came down to casting the movie?
I felt I had a script that I could take to people I’ve always admired and wanted to work with. Like Kevin said, it’s such a character driven script that I only needed people who really fitted the film. I needed someone like Kevin who has the ability to play light and dark with equal measures, with that same kind of intensity as well as be a family man. We’ve got Garrett Hedlund as well. People are going to be surprised with him in this film. I think are used to seeing him as the pretty boy that they are going to shocked to see him here.

KB: He’s a real badass in this.

JW: Extremely badass. And I’m always shocked on how young he really is. Kelly Preston is really great, too. I needed actors who you really liked as a family, from the kids, the wife, the father. The family needed to be likable and real so the audience could relate to them. I guess the only stunt casting I had in this film was the character that John Goodman plays. John was someone I’ve admired for a long time, big fan of his work. I remember when I first mention him for this really mean character, a lot of people were saying, “Are you sure John Goodman? He’s so cuddly and likable!” But of course, he played a serial killer in Barton Fink and even on Roseanne, I thought he had a dark streak. And he had the physique to be intimidating. So I got it a shot; he read the script and came onboard and I was so happy about that. Overall, this is one of the best cast I’ve had the opportunity to work with.

HW: How do you feel about the violence in movies, such as Death Sentence?
: Making a revenge film can be very tricky, especially in this day and age. But one of the things that attracted me to the project, besides the great characters, was I wanted to portray the violence in a real way. I didn’t want the violence to look cool. It’s not slick like some of your summer action blockbusters. To me, violence is really ugly and I didn’t want to glorify it at all. The main character uses violence to express his anger but eventually pays for it.

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KB: My responsibility as a parent is to teach my children non-violence, compassion, honesty and to teach them qualities I feel are important in a human being. And my responsibility as an actor is to act and not to try to lay out some kind of hopeless, moralistic tale in the films that I do and choices I make.

HW: James, what’s your take on this new movement in horror films, which you sort of started with the first Saw?
I’m very appreciative what Saw did for me. It was a low-budget film that no one was suppose to see. So I’m very thankful for it. But with a lot of these films that followed after it, including the Saw sequels, I think people may have missed the point with the first Saw movie. It was really more psychological than it was gory. I’ve always loved psychological thrillers, and that is what I was set up to do [with Saw]. Leigh [Whannell, Saw co-writer and star] and I spent two years crafting that story, we really dug deep to find things that would scare us and hopefully other people. But I think with the subsequent follow-ups, they only saw the blood and guts and thought that’s why they were successful. But really there was something deeper to [Saw] than just what was on the surface.

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