Peacock Original Film They/Them, pronounced “They-slash-Them,” is a slasher horror film set at an LGBTQIA+ conversion camp, and it’s executive produced, written, and directed by John Logan (“Penny Dreadful”).
Whistler Camp takes its name after owner and director Owen Whistler, played by Kevin Bacon, a prolific actor unafraid to play antagonistic characters. And of course, an actor who has a history with summer camp slashers.
Ahead of They/Them‘s release on Peacock on Friday, August 5, Bloody Disgusting spoke with the actor about his deceptive character, playing villainous roles, and his enduring love of the horror genre at large.
Teased in the marketing, Bacon’s Owen Whistler kicks Logan’s slasher off with a rousing, charismatic speech to the incoming campers. It’s a lengthy monologue that impresses, catching both viewers and characters off guard. That’s by design; Owen is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Bacon says of this and his ability to portray antagonists: “I think that you put your finger on it, which is lurking underneath a façade because that to me is when a character becomes complicated and interesting. I don’t necessarily want to always play bad guys. Some people go, ‘Well, aren’t those the most fun?’ And they’re not necessarily. But what if they’re complicated, and if what you see on the surface is not maybe what’s going on underneath it, then that makes it interesting to me. This character is a very, very good example of that.“
Owen Whistler comes across as very atypical of what you might expect of a conversion camp director. When asked about developing Owen, Bacon answers, “John Logan and I talked a lot about making him anything but what you would expect in terms of who would be running this camp. He’s not going to have a crew cut, a long beard, to be Bible-thumping, or wearing a MAGA hat. He’s going to be soft around the edges, logical, gentle, and soothing. What would ultimately be a lot scarier than being a drill Sergeant in this situation? So that’s where we went. And we leaned into that in a lot of ways. I leaned into it in the backstory, some of which you don’t see. Leaned into it in the cadence, and the hair, and the makeup, and the wardrobe and everything about it.”
The actor continues, “But personally, there was also a moment that had nothing to do with the character that was actually very moving to me. That was when I first walked out. It was the very first scene that we shot in the movie. We specifically set it up so that would be the first thing that everybody would experience. I walked out, and I saw this group of all these young people, who are so often underrepresented in films with any kind of authenticity, that John had brought together and gone on a pretty massive search in terms of finding them who are authentic. Here’s a movie being made about them. I found it, personally, very moving that this had come together.“
The concept of Kevin Bacon in a summer camp slasher often calls Friday the 13th to mind, one of the actor’s earliest roles. The slasher and horror have evolved tremendously in the years since, and Bacon reflects on that. Bacon touches on the subversion of slasher tropes and maintains an unwavering adoration of horror.
He explains to BD, “It certainly has evolved. There are a lot of different genres of horror, as you know. There are monsters, slashers, psychological horror, religious-based horror, zombies, and all different kinds of things. But in the slasher mode that this movie is constructed in very specifically, a lot of the people that die are the people that somehow society had determined were immoral in some way. They’re other than, or dumb, or overweight, or gay. Or, in my case, I died because I had premarital sex and smoked a joint. And you knew that was going to happen.
“In this case, you’re taking that and flipping it, turning it on its ear, and at the same time, delivering it in a package that, as you know, because of where you work, continues to be accessible and interesting and fascinating to very, very large audiences. It’s a genre that I love, and I’m going to keep coming back to it forever. Both as a consumer and as an actor.“