Jackie Rohr is a verbal volcano. Words spill out – sometimes clever, often caustic and conniving.
He’s racist, misogynist and nasty; he’s also an FBI agent in 1993 Boston. As played by Kevin Bacon (shown here with Aldis Hodge) in “City on a Hill” – which starts its second season at 10 p.m. Sunday (March 28) on Showtime – he’s one of TV’s most memorable characters.
And yes, there are viewers who admire the fact that he gets things done.
“These are not things I personally feel about the man,” Bacon told the Television Critics Association. “He’s not really a person (I would) like or respect or want to spend time with. He’s a (feces), really.”
The role reminds us of the range required in some acting careers.
It’s helpful, certainly, when an actor can play someone fairly close to himself, working on the subtleties. Tom Hanks has been doing that skillfully for decades.
But then there are the glorious opposites. Carroll O’Connor played a bigot, Warren Beatty played a guy who was impotent; Glenn Close was so opposite her flashy/toxic “Fatal Attraction” character that she drastically changed her hairstyle as soon as filming ended.
Now Bacon fits into that. “There is no Jackie in Kevin,” said Aldis Hodge – who plays his antagonist in “City on a Hill” – says flatly.
Bacon grew up in an upper-crust Philadelphia family, the son of an Ivy League-educated architect and city planner who was on the cover of Time. He also had a boyish face, ideal for good-guy roles.
“Hollywood does not want you to do more than one thing,” he said. In the theater, he was able to try anything, but a camera’s intimacy can push typecasting. “After ‘Footloose’ (1984) came out, it was, ‘We want to do another thing where a kid comes to a small town and … makes people dance.’”
The typecasting wasn’t his idea. “I’m not scared to do anything,” Bacon said. “I’ve actually played not one, but two pedophiles.” He did “a lot of stuff that was edgy or darker or diffierent,” but it went “under the radar, either off- or on-Broadway or a film that nobody saw.”
The break came in 1991, when Oliver Stone cast him as a low-life witness in “JFK.” Three years later, he was menacing Meryl Streep in “River Wild.” Since then, he’s done lots of things … but none with the non-stop intensity of Jackie Rohr.
The idea is based on Boston’s history, which saw crime and corruption peak in the 1980s and early ‘90s, leading to reform. Each season, the show tries “to find a story that really happened in Boston in this period and then fictionalize it, so we can incorporate our regular characters,” said producer Tom Fontana, who has molded some of TV’s top shows, from “St. Elsewhere” to “Homicide” and “Oz.”
The first season started with a robbery ring; the second moves to a Black housing project, where one woman tries to smooth lives. Pernell Walker, who plays her, said she recalled “the women in my life who would know all of the families in the building (and) helped out with the after-school program.”
On various sides are the cops, the criminals (including her son), the uncaring officials and the reformers.That includes an assistant district attorney who is “working around all of this 24/7, trying to see how to use the system,” said Hodge, who plays him.
And there is Rohr, From the first, messy moments of the new season, he digs himself deeper into trouble, while spewing out those volcanic words.
That’s a lot to memorize – especially when Bacon also directed the season-opener – but he said that went er;;. “I have found the dialog shockingly easy to learn, just because it’s so good.”
That’s good in a bad/nasty/1993 kind of way.