A couple of
cool-looking guys enter a hotel suite and sit down opposite each other.
They might be taken for swingers, except Kevin Bacon's hair is Shaggy
Rock Star and Colin Firth's is Shaggy 1970s. They are not drinking
highballs. They are not smoking cigarettes. They are not even hitting
on the pretty publicists in the room.
"It's called acting," Bacon says of their characters and their
relationship in Atom Egoyan's new film, "Where the Truth Lies." A
scathing look at showbiz corruption, it opens Friday.
Bacon, 47, and Firth, 45, play partners in a popular '50s lounge act—not unlike Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin—who are being profiled in retirement by
an enterprising reporter (Alison Lohman). The focus of her story is the
discovery of a young woman's body in their hotel suite years earlier.
Although they were absolved of any wrongdoing, her death seemed to have
broken up the act, which is glimpsed in bits and pieces throughout the
film. Bacon's character is the cutup, the clown. Firth is the straight
man, the guy who reels him in, though unlike Martin, he doesn't sing.
"I was gearing up for it," Firth says. "I took some singing lessons.
And I opened my mouth, and Atom promptly said, 'That's not going to
happen. We love your voice, but maybe we could use some of your English
wit.' He had doubts about it from way back. For starters, we weren't
going to be doing the Italian-American crooning thing."
Egoyan, who adapted Rupert Holmes' book, says he was trying not to
invoke Lewis and Martin because it would be "distracting." That was one
reason why he cast Bacon and Firth, who don't really suggest a lounge
act at all. After all, Bacon is a character actor best known for giving
tightly wound performances in such films as "Apollo 13," "Mystic River"
and "The Woodsman." Firth is a serious English actor and sometime
heartthrob ("Pride and Prejudice," "Bridget Jones's Diary") with a dry,
clipped delivery and a crisp manner.
"I wanted there to be a chemistry between how those two are perceived
in our culture and then transposing them to this other culture," Egoyan
says. "The pairing makes you cock your eyebrow and at the same time is
intriguing at some level."
The model for Firth was not Martin, but urbane English actors like
Peter Lawford and David Niven. Bacon's character might be antic in the
Lewis way, but unlike Lewis there's an edge to him—"untethered, in a sexual way," as Egoyan
puts it. "An erotic undercurrent."
Having established the characters, the filmmakers had to come up with
an act. Though Bacon plays with his brother in a band called the Bacon
Brothers and Firth joined a R&B group when he was a teenager,
comedy took precedence over music.
"Part of the day would be spent thinking about the act," Bacon says.
"Eventually we brought the band in and had rehearsal space. It was a
little frightening because I kept thinking, 'We need to get a
choreographer, a music director, a comedy writer.' And Atom kept going
back to wanting it to come from us. Ultimately, in a very short time,
we had something going for the little bits that are seen of [the duo
performing] in the film, just because we were forced to."
It helped that the two men liked each other. "We didn't know each other
[before the shoot]," Bacon says. "But I think we have pretty similar
sensibilities. Even though we live on opposite sides of the pond, we
live similar kinds of lifestyles." (For starters, both are married with
Egoyan, 45, also did his bit by creating environments—a club, a telethon studio—so believable that the performers
believed them. He even hired a professional laugher to react to their
"Something about being given that microphone and if you're dressed
right and the spotlights are on you, how can you not play that stuff?"
Some of what they did was improvised or scripted from improvisation,
including a scene in which Firth delivers a frenzied, Benzedrine-fueled
monologue onstage (after beating out a man's brains offstage because he
made an anti-Semitic remark about Bacon's character). This is one of
the longest glimpses of their act. The idea was to give the audience
just an idea of what they were about, since more would be another
distraction. But according to Bacon many such scenes were cut.
"There was quite a lot of your rear end that didn't make it either,"
Firth says, needling Bacon.
"There's enough of my rear end already," Bacon replies.
They are referring to the nude orgy scene they did with actress Rachel
Blanchard that earned the film an NC-17 rating, which Egoyan thinks had
as much to do with who was doing it (major actors) as it did with what
they were doing (a homosexual act). The movie will be released without
"It made me uncomfortable," Firth says of the scene, kidding Bacon some
more. "It was closer range than you'd want to get." Then he adds,
almost seriously, "You've got all of this technical stuff about hiding
parts. That's a feat in itself, depending on what your body parts are
At this, Bacon just smiles.