Cutting Loose in the 80s-Set Finale to a Cinema-Adoring Slasher Trilogy: Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Debicki Chat 'MaXXXine'

Following 'X' and 'Pearl', Ti West and Mia Goth's stardom-obsessed horror saga wraps up with help from a big-name cast.
Sarah Ward
Published on July 09, 2024

There's never a bad time to bust out the lyrics to 'Footloose', the Kenny Loggins-sung, Oscar-nominated theme to the film of the same name that helped Kevin Bacon dance to fame four decades back. Still, although the track doesn't get a spin in X, Pearl or MaXXXine, its opening line feels particularly relevant to the trilogy, which Bacon has now joined. Since coming up with the idea for three horror movies inspired by pornographic film classifications in the US in 2019, writer/director Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, The Sacrament) has been working so hard to bring a unique slasher saga to the big screen. Working so hard to chase a dream and do more than punch a card has also throbbed within every instalment.

Before it had Bacon (Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F) as a sleazy private detective and Australia's own Elizabeth Debicki (The Crown) as a film director, the franchise first had X initially mark the spot in 2022, with the New Zealand-shot feature kicking it back to 1979, to a Texas farmhouse where a porn production featuring an aspiring adult-film actor turns bloody. The talent: Maxine Minx, a force of nature in the movie played by Mia Goth, the X series' own force of nature. Fresh from stealing scenes in Emma, and with standout roles in Nymphomaniac: Vol II, A Cure for Wellness, Suspiria and High Life also on her resume, Goth cemented herself as the consummate horror star in two X roles. She captured Maxine's lust for a life worthy of her ambitions and desires, shooting her shot in the X-rated game, and for survival. She also made the elderly Pearl, one of the remote property's owners, an unforgettable adversary.

When X reached audiences, splashing around gore like it truly was a 70s horror flick — and styled playfully to look the part, as if it'd just been unearthed in a dusty barn or basement — good news already beckoned when the film hit the spot with viewers. West and Goth had shot a sequel immediately after the first film, stepping back to 1918 when Pearl was a young woman with her own hopes for the future that spanned far beyond rural life. This time, as the movie's eponymous figure covets chorus-girl gigs and also gracing the pictures, West also took cues 50s-era musicals and melodramas. He didn't hold back in getting bloody, though, and nor did Goth for even a second.

Again, viewers lapping up Pearl knew that more was coming. MaXXXine brings the trilogy to a close by once more exploring the pursuit of a Hollywood-tinted dream, also paying tribute to everything that gives movies that I-want-to-be-in-them sheen and equally championing a woman who isn't going to settle for anything less than her fantasies by choice. It's now 1985, Maxine has made it in porn, but she wants to move out of skin flicks and go legit, winning a role in — what else? — a horror sequel. The timing steeps the picture in the backlash against supposedly inappropriate pop-culture wares, while also setting it against the Night Stalker killings, all as someone begins taking a literal stab at Tinseltown's starlets and others in Maxine's orbit.

Stewart Cook/Getty Images for A24

West and Goth's three films haven't ever lacked name power. West has been a genre favourite ever since 2009's The House of the Devil, which also gave a slasher a satanic panic spin. Goth's stature was rising already in 2022, and fast. Jenna Ortega (Scream VI) and Scott Mescudi (Silent Night) were among X's other actors, while Pearl precedes the next Superman — playing the Man of Steel, too — on David Corenswet's (We Own This City) resume. But it's the 80s in MaXXXine, so everything is bigger, including the film's array of familiar faces. Cue not just Bacon and Debicki cutting loose in the franchise, but also Giancarlo Esposito (The Boys), Lily Collins (Emily in Paris), Bobby Cannavale (Bupkis), Michelle Monaghan (The Family Plan) and Halsey (Americana).

With Bacon, who visibly relishes getting shady as questionable detective John Labat, MaXXXine's love of the 80s and its cinema couldn't be paired with a better icon from the period. With The Night Manager, Widows and Tenet's Debicki as Elizabeth Bender, the female filmmaker helming The Puritan 2 — Maxine's hopeful big Hollywood break — the movie earns another opportunity to explore the expectations enforced upon women and the battle to buck them. Ahead of MaXXXine reaching cinemas Down Under on Thursday, July 11, 2024, we chatted with Bacon and Debicki about joining the trilogy, covering Debicki's admiration for Goth, the full-circle feel for Bacon and another way that the feature wears its love for cinema on its frames: multiple scenes set on the Universal backlot on the Bates Motel set from Psycho.


On Sliding Into a Franchise with Such Commanding Performances by Mia Goth at Its Centre

Maxine Minx will not accept a life that she does not deserve in MaXXXine. That isn't just an observation — it's a mantra. If it was revealed that Goth had been uttering the same words IRL but about starring roles, in fact, it wouldn't come as a surprise. In the saga's latest chapter, nothing is going to get in Maxine's way, not a serial killer, not a private detective rifling through her past, not the weight of expectation when it comes to her first chance in Hollywood. How does acting against a performance like that help Goth's co-stars? Debicki, who also shares Everest on her filmography with Goth, has nothing but praise.

"I think she's phenomenal and she's quite mesmerising. She's really a unique creature. She occupies a very interesting energy field. And I felt that when I watched the two films. I've been a fan of hers for a long time because I think what she's been doing in this genre is really kind of radical — she's amazing to watch on screen," Debicki explains.

"So it was really just delightful for me, because the first thing I shot was the golf cart monologue and I spent maybe eight hours talking. We were just going round and round in a golf cart, and I was just chewing her ear off, and she was a very good sport about it."

"But she exudes Maxine energy. There's no other way to put it. And so because she's the centre of the film and we all come in and out and shoot however many days, she's the vibration — in a way — that you meet, and each character meets and reflects off. I don't know how else to put it. She's the thing we all orbit around. So she really has to hold that space, and she does it amazingly well."

Debicki knows Bender's perspective on Maxine, too, as any actor playing a part should of their on-screen alter ego. "I found her kind of maddening, as in the character. She's so on another stratosphere that as Liz Bender, I want rip her down to earth and get her to react the way I want her to. But also, you know that Liz Bender knows her value is that she's kind of on another planet."

Seeing MaXXXine's finished product only cemented Debicki's appreciation, however. "I just think she's amazing in this film. And I felt that watching it too — a mesmeric performance that really holds you for the whole thing. I'm a big fan."


On Throwing It Back to Footloose-Style Pop-Culture Backlashes, Getting a Start in Horror and All Things 80s

From the instant that X started flickering, West's commitment to revelling in the film's period setting was as clear as the determination in Goth's eyes that she, like Maxine, wasn't going to let anything that she wanted pass her by. The years changed, but that era-appropriate dedication didn't fade in Pearl. MaXXXine makes it three for three, while expanding the movies beyond the farm that was so pivotal to the initial two instalments. That sense of immersion isn't just about aesthetics, either.

It must've felt that way on paper, and it definitely plays like it on-screen: casting Bacon is a stroke of genius, especially in a feature arriving 40 years on from Footloose that places him in another picture where music and entertainment is considered evil by some. He's also in an 80s-set slasher film after the OG Friday the 13th, an 80s slasher film, was one of his early on-screen credits. Ask Bacon if being in MaXXXine feels a bit like a full-circle moment and of course he sees it, too.

"You know, it really does. It's also 40 years since Beverly Hills Cop, and I'm in the new Beverly Hills Cop. And MaXXXine takes place in 85, which is a year hence from when both of those movies came out," he tells Concrete Playground.

"I think it really hit me — there's a scene out on Hollywood Boulevard at night. And I walked up there and I saw all the period cars, and I saw that the sets were dressed and the stores, things that were all super, super authentic, and the way that people were dressed. And I went 'wow, this is really like time traveling'."


On the Layers of Mythology, Horror Love and Film History That Come with Shooting on the Bates Motel Set

Still on blasts from the past, MaXXXine nods back further than the 80s (or even the 70s, when mentions of X's events pop up). Not once but twice while she's on the Universal lot making The Puritan 2, including with Bender and then Labat for company, Maxine walks in the footsteps of Marion Crane. As immortalised by Janet Leigh — mother of Jamie Lee Curtis, for more horror ties — the character's mid-shower fate in one of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpieces gave cinema the definitive slasher sequence. West doesn't dare attempt to recreate the scene, even if the 1998 remake with Anne Heche (All Rise) did, but love for Psycho is splattered on welcomely and gloriously thick.

Accordingly, MaXXXine is well-aware of film history, and strengthens its homage to filmmaking at every possible point, with working in the set to one of the earliest slasher flicks while making a slasher flick one such tactic. Yes, that adds another layer to the picture's cinema worship — and swirls in more meta hijinks for Bacon, more eeriness for Debicki and more fun for both.

"I think that the two times that we shot on the lot, for me, were very meta in a way. Not even just the Bates Motel horror movie part, but just the whole making of films and running through the flats, and going in and out of these fake buildings — it was great. That was some of the most fun I've had making a movie in a really long time," Bacon advises.

"And certainly to end up with that chase scene at the Bates Motel, to walk up those steps and, you know, knock on that door — great, great moment for me."

"The same for me," Debicki adds. "There's a very specific — I'm very esoteric today — but there's a very specific energy off that set. I think it's what you bring. It's a pretty creepy place. Would you agree, Kevin? Like it's got a super creepy, it's a creepy vibe."

"It does," Bacon concurs.

"So you feel it," continues Debicki. "It's something about how it's sort of exactly how you remember in the film, but really kind of dilapidated. Some of the crew were going in and out of the actual rooms in the motel, and someone was like 'come and look at this'. And I was like 'I am not'. Because actually it feels super weird to me."

"So I loved it. It really helped me, again, to have that scene where we drive up and we land in this place that's steeped in this mythology. It's just really fun, actually, to have that. And it really helped me. If we'd been shooting off a mockup of that set, it wouldn't be the same performance, I don't think, from either of us."


MaXXXine opens in cinemas Down Under on Thursday, July 11, 2024. Read our review.

Published on July 09, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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