My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Nathaniel Bacon becomes the porn star who comes to dinner

"I'm just playing an open, aware, sexually liberated person with confidence and mystique," says Nathaniel Bacon of his role as the legendary porn star at the heart of My Dinner with Casey Donovan. Bacon at first asserts that author/director Sky Gilbert cast the role because, "I assume he thought I fit the part fairly well physically. I look quite a bit like him," before adding, "There's also a certain strange balance Casey has. On one hand he's a somewhat na├»ve, optimistic country boy. On the other hand, he's a suave, sexually liberated new yorker. I kind of have aspects of those opposing qualities, myself."

Researching Donovan's oeuvre has not been arduous, "I really only like the old, vintage stuff. Directors treated them as real films back then. They actually tried to do something interesting instead of just filming body parts. There was also a passion to them which rarely comes across now. It was so forbidden at the time that you could really feel the excitement in the performers."

Bacon, never one to shy from nakedness either physical or emotional, notes that, "I have no problem with porn whatsoever. But it's not something I would want to do. I think nudity is natural and beautiful. But I'm an artist. so I'm really only interested in it, if there's something thoughtful behind it."

Fortunately Gilbert is serving more than titillation at this dinner. "It's about stepping into the past 40 years ago, and looking in a mirror of sorts," says Bacon. "In terms of social and political change, the queer community has made incredible progress. However some things are exactly the same now as they were then. I don't want to give too much away but there are also interesting ties to the very current topic of bullying, and a sort of commentary on our modern glorification of celebrities. We view them as gods, when they are in fact, very real people, often with serious flaws."

Bacon has already played a god with his lead role in  Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  "I didn't do Hedwig to be pretty. I loved it because I got to melt down to a pile of liquid foundation, running mascara and plastic hair. It's my goal in life to one day become the gay male Jessica Lange." Not pretty works for Bacon as well as his usual strikingly handsome: presented him with their Best Leading Actor (Musical) award. Bacon feigns modesty, "How can you really judge art? It's all so subjective. If it weren't, I wouldn't throw my popcorn at the TV when I watch the Oscars. That being said, it's a nice thing to be acknowledged for a job well done. It's sort of the grown up version of getting a gold star on your homework. And who didn't love that?"

When reminded that Gilbert has a history of steering his actors towards Dora award fame, Bacon prefers to discuss the artistic fulfillment My Dinner with Casey Donovan is providing, "Sky is a Toronto theatre legend for a reason. He's brilliant and charming but completely without ego. I'm having a blast working with the whole team.  Elley-Ray Hennessy is one of my favorite actors. She's beyond talented. She has a powerful presence and an incredible ability to be absolutely present and genuine at all times. She's also very collaborative and one of the most fun people I know."

Queer Idol emotera decadent aesthetehistory's most notorious detective through to the singular Hedwig, Bacon has tackled a wide range of roles. But it was another Gilbert creation, St Francis of Millbrook, that helped bridge Bacon's sliding into the skin of a '70s porn star. "No matter what character you play, you're taking large leaps. They will be drastically different from you in some way. I didn't grow up in the city during this post-Glee era. I grew up without a computer, in the '90s, in a very rigid. religious community. It's clearly not the same thing, but I have a certain understanding about what it means to live in that shadow."

Bacon is now far from any shadows, as the provocative poster for My Dinner with Casey Donovan clearly illustrates. What would his career have been like in the time of Boys in the Sand? "I would be a totally different person. I live my life as openly and honestly as possible. You couldn't be out in that era and really make it big as an actor. Quite honestly, my life might have followed a similar path to Casey's. That's one of the reasons why this is such a compelling role for me. He was part of a catalyst for a major socio-cultural transformation. I'm not sure there will ever be another porn star with that kind of impact. I mean, he pre-dates Deep Throat."

Bacon does have a disingenuous way of using his looks and physique to get attention while relying on his talent and country boy innocence to undercut it. That particular style is very reminiscent of Donovan's public persona as an apparently casual advocate for sexual liberation. "This show focuses on Casey himself as a person. Him being a porn star is really incidental," says Bacon disingenuously. Is that exhibitionist streak a ploy or part of what makes him perfect to incarnate a porn god? "It's not a ploy," says Bacon.

My Dinner with Casey Donovan runs Thurs, March 12 to Sun, March 22 at Theatre Passe-Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave.