Since 1984's smash hit Footloose, there have only been a handful of years without a Kevin Bacon movie release. In fact, Bacon typically hits the big screen in multiple films every year, but one place he hasn't appeared much is in television—until now.
Currently, Bacon is starring in the much buzzed about Fox program The Following, in which he plays Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent who captured a notorious serial killer, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). The show centers around Hardy as he tries to make sense of Carroll's cult following (hence the series' name)—who are starting to carry out their own murders. It's gruesome and dark, and Bacon is perfect in it.
Details caught up with the 54-year-old actor about The Following, why he had to get away from his first big TV gig on The Guiding Light, and his abiding love of a good T-shirt and a pair of jeans.
DETAILS: When The Following picks up, your character Ryan Hardy has some health problems and drinking problems, stemming from what initially seems to be the capture of this serial killer. How do you channel an out-of-work, reluctant drunk?
KEVIN BACON: Like any other character or any other human being, to say his drinking is a result of whatever happened with Joe Carroll is, in a way, too simplistic. What I like to do is go back a little bit further. I start to think about who he might have been before the case. What makes somebody want to spend their life in law enforcement and have those risks in their life?
I thought a lot about where he comes from, and where your guy comes from is a really fundamental part of your research as an actor. One of the challenges of television that I'm learning...and as time goes on, I'm getting used to, is that you have to be very willing to go on instinct and think on your feet.
We move at a breakneck pace in terms of the amount of material that we shoot and also how little time you have to prepare, to sit with the script. If I do a movie, I have months to sit there and think about it. On the show it's very much last minute. When that's the case, it's important to have a strong sense of who your guy is. Then you can plug that character into whatever situations get thrown at you.
DETAILS: It's been noted how gruesome The Following is. What are some of the films you've done that are on this level?
KEVIN BACON: I was in the first Friday the 13th. I did a movie called Stir of Echoes, which was another horror-genre movie. I did a revenge, death-wish kind of movie called Death Sentence, which was pretty hardcore. My feeling about it is, to me, it's a thriller, and there are going to be parts of a thriller that are going to be frightening. Our job as people who are trying to create content for entertainment is to deliver on the promise of however that piece of entertainment is positioned. So if it's a comedy, it better be funny—you know what I mean? It better make me laugh. If it's supposed to be the most moving film of the year, then I wanna cry. If it's scary, which is what we're setting up, it's gotta be scary.
DETAILS: The show presents the idea that serial killers gather cult followings, which does happen in real life. Why is this?
KEVIN BACON: Look, I'm like a lot of people in the past who have watched a documentary or picked up a book about a specific serial killer. I suppose that there's a part of us that wants to try and make sense of something that seems so completely senseless. Try to just process that. Most people would never in a million years dream of taking another person's life. So when someone's gone to such an extreme with that, we then have the desire to find out how that could be possible.
DETAILS: Recently, there have been debates about Hollywood influencing or creating violent people. What are your thoughts on that?
KEVIN BACON: If people want to make it part of the discussion, I think everything should be discussed. When you have horrible, unspeakable tragedies happen, we're all going to start looking for answers. To say that the beginning and end of the problem is Hollywood would be simplistic at best.
DETAILS: Your wife, Kyra Sedgwick, worked on The Closer, which was another show that dealt with killers and rapists. You also directed a few episodes. This seems like a potentially depressing thing for a family to think about all the time.
KEVIN BACON: Yeah, Kyra used to talk about it—how every day in her world there was a murder. I guess I'm dealing with the same thing now. When I was trying to decide what kind of show I wanted to be in, I knew that I wanted the stakes to be high—and that's life or death. I like things like Girls and Modern Family and stuff like that, but I'm usually drawn to stuff where there's a lot at stake. You have to honor the fact that you're throwing yourself into that. It's not always the easiest thing. I've explored a lot of dark stuff in my life, and I probably will again.
DETAILS: It looks like your longest TV gig before The Following was in the early '80s on The Guiding Light. What do you remember about that experience?
KEVIN BACON: I was Tim the Teenage Alcoholic. Oh, there you go, there's a connection! I didn't think about that. I was really into doing theater. I wanted to stay in New York and be a theater actor, and it afforded me that opportunity. The money I was making off Broadway and off-off Broadway was barely enough to live on. It was $175 bucks a week or something like that, so I got this soap opera gig. I think I did a couple of shows that year, so that was good, but when it was over I couldn't wait to leave. I just felt like if I stuck around too long I would find myself unable to break away. You get used to the money and go out and get yourself a mortgage or a lifestyle or an apartment that's bigger than the one you have. I needed to get away from that.
DETAILS: Let's talk a bit about fashion. Would you say your sense of style has evolved over the last 10 years?
KEVIN BACON: I wouldn't say that. I find myself getting less and less experimental. It really just comes down to jeans and T-shirts and boots. Truth is, that's what my wife likes. She'll buy me a shirt every once in a while that's not a T-shirt, and she'll say, "That's great. I love it when you wear a shirt." But basically, she likes the status quo.
DETAILS: Are you shooting anything else this year after The Following?
KEVIN BACON: No I'm not. I have some shows with my band, so I'll do a little bit of touring but I'm not signed up for anything. I'd like to do something in the hiatus...well, I call it a hiatus, assuming we get asked back. We don't know yet. If we were asked back, I certainly would be thrilled to keep making the show, and I'd like to try to keep doing movies. I like making movies.
DETAILS: Are you going to the Oscars?
KEVIN BACON: No.
DETAILS: Do you have any thoughts on what might win?
KEVIN BACON: Not really. I called the other day and requested a paper ballot because I did the nominating on the online ballot and I just found it difficult to navigate.
DETAILS: You went old school with the paper.
KEVIN BACON: I want to hold it in my hand. But do I know who's going to win? No. Honestly, I think it's fun every year. The best part of it to me is you get a chance to enjoy the movies. That's more fun than the horse race.
Watch The Following, Mondays at 9 P.M. on Fox.
Mike Ayers is a New York City–based arts and entertainment writer.
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