Kevin Bacon on ‘The Following’

The star of  Fox’s new dark drama series  tells us how he gets into such an intense character.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Kevin Bacon has been one of my favorite actors to watch in a diverse series of roles. No matter the genre, he really brings it. Whether it’s playing basketball with Africans, running from Graboids,  portraying true stories like Murder in the First, dark dramas like The Woodsman or even action movies like Death Sentence, Bacon always gives a rich, intense performance.

So Bacon is perfect to play the conflicted hero in Fox’s upcoming drama, “The Following.” Bacon portrays  former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, the expert on legendary serial killer Joe Carroll. And now Ryan has to work with Carroll to find Carroll’s cult of murdering groupies.

Earlier today, we spoke with Bacon after the Television Critics Association panel session for “The Following.”

CraveOnline: How do you approach Ryan in the flashbacks versus Ryan today?

Kevin Bacon: I think that it’s interesting because if it was a movie, you could really change the hair and change the makeup and really go for a different sort of look, but because we’ll do a flashback scene and then go to a present scene and then go to another flashback scene in the course of a day, it’s almost impossible for us really to do anything. So I thought to myself, I have to make him lighter and more alive in some sort of a way.

It’s really kind of an internal thing, but when I see it, I see a different kind of guy because one of the sad things about this character is that he was the most alive when he was on the trail of Joe. That was the time in his life that he was just the most alive and he’s been like the walking dead for the last few years. So I’m trying to, with the flashbacks, just give him the lightness. Stand up more and just feel stronger and healthier in a way than the guy that you see in the rest of the show.

CraveOnline: A lot of your movies have becomes classics. Do you expect this show to become an integral part of your filmography?

Kevin Bacon: I think the shows, I’ve seen six of the shows and I think they’re really cool. I can honestly say that I feel good about the work that we’ve done and everybody up here has done. One thing I’ve learned is that the rest of it is out of your hands. All you can do is just throw the sh*t against the wall and see what sticks.

CraveOnline: My favorite Kevin Bacon movie is The Air Up There and we never really saw your costar Charles Gitonga Maina again. Did you keep in touch with him?

Kevin Bacon: I did for a little while, yeah. He came over to the States and was going to college here and was starting to play ball and stuff.

CraveOnline: I love the story you tell on the Footloose DVD commentary that you have to tell any wedding DJ not to play the song, because everyone will expect you to dance. Is that still the case and did you see the remake?

Kevin Bacon: It’s still the case, and I saw the remake and thought it was really good.

CraveOnline: Can you believe the life the Tremors series has had? They’ve done four now.

Kevin Bacon: I know. Have they done four? That’s amazing.

CraveOnline: What kind of character do you get to play in R.I.P.D.?

Kevin Bacon: It’s going to be a fun movie. I’m playing a Boston cop and Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds are the main guys and I’m Ryan’s partner who, I don’t want to spoil it, but he turns out to be not everything that you think he is.

CraveOnline: Given the premise, he could be dead.

Kevin Bacon: Exactly.

CraveOnline: Did you do that before or after “The Following?”

Kevin Bacon: I did it before.

CraveOnline: The show is so dark, how do you keep things light on set? Is someone the jokester?

Kevin Bacon: I think everybody really likes to work. We’ve got a cast, an amazing cast and an amazing crew of people that like to come and play. I wouldn’t say that it’s like a nonstop joke fest. I know for myself, I have to keep my head kind of in it a little bit.

I notice that because when we do do a scene that’s lighter, me and Claire in the kitchen kissing and stuff and it’s not this kind of intensity, all of a sudden I’m playing around, I’m joking with people, I’m like the normal person that I would be off of the set but I’m not someone that can turn it off like a tap.

CraveOnline: Do you carry it home with you?

Kevin Bacon: I would say that I’ve been doing this a long time. There are certain things that you protect yourself from. It’s important for me always to connect with the people that I love, my kids and my wife, my friends and to find ways to turn it off.

CraveOnline: What is it like shooting those intense scenes with James Purefoy?

Kevin Bacon: I love working with him. He’s fantastic. From the time we got together the first day, he walked in and it just was like a dance that was just ready to happen.

CraveOnline: Would you want to direct an episode in the second season?

Kevin Bacon: You know, the thing is that what’s really hard about that is you really need time to prepare. To prep an episode, you need four or five days in prep. The prepping director is prepping while the episode’s being shot, so it’s almost physically impossible to be able to do that. Nobody’s talked to me about it or offered it to me. It’s not on the top of my list of things I want to do, but maybe.

CraveOnline: Do you know who some of the followers are?

Kevin Bacon: We have conversations about it, me and Kev[in Williamson], but it’s not like I’ve ever seen an entire bible for the series or for the whole year. I think it’s also, I know that he has real specific ideas about where it’s going but it’s also fluid. You start to write things and you don’t really know that episode to episode that they’re going to change, and they do change. So to a certain extent, when I get a new episode and I start reading it, I’m surprised. I’m as surprised as anybody else is.

CraveOnline: In the course of your research for the role, did you become more intrigued by the procedural law enforcement element or the actual real life stories of detectives?

Kevin Bacon: The thing that appeals to me always is who the person is on the inside. What was my relationship with my parents like? How did I grow up? Why am I drinking so much? How did I end up in bed with his wife? Why am I so enamored with him? Why did I go to the FBI? Why did the FBI kick me out? What have I been doing for the 10 years in between when I put him in jail and now?

I am not the writer. I’m the guy that thinks about Ryan Hardy and who he is and who he could be. I’m like anybody else, I like things that are exciting and scary and I think some of the ideas plotwise that come out of his mind are really fascinating, but it’s not my day to day focus.


CraveOnline: Given you have to do that prep and carry this character around, will you have a voice in his evolution?

Kevin Bacon: We talk about it. Yeah, we talk about it and we’ve talked a lot about his past as well. One of the first things that I do for any character is to build my own backstory. I’ll start with whatever’s given to me in the script and then I’ll start with whatever the writer wants to share with me about what his ideas were in terms of the backstory. I wrote a thing and sent it to him.

He didn’t say no, just in terms of my ideas about where he was from and all kinds of things that you can answer about religion. Even mundane stuff, what kind of food do you like? What kind of music? I made playlists of music and all that kind of stuff. So we do talk about things but do I know exactly where things are going to go? No, not specifically.

CraveOnline: What did your wife “The Closer” star Kyra Sedgwick  think of the script when you brought it home?

Kevin Bacon: She was like wow, this is a real page turner.

CraveOnline: Was she turned off by the violence?

Kevin Bacon: No. No. As you know, I’ve gone a lot of dark places in my professional work and I feel very strongly that I’m not afraid of that. I’ve never been afraid of that as an actor in terms of the kinds of movies I’ve been in, the kinds of parts that I’ve taken on. I feel like my responsibility as an actor is to make characters as compelling and believable as possible.

My responsibility as a human being is to do the right thing by my fellow man, to take care of my children, to raise honest and gentle and compassionate human beings and to create your own ideas about what you feel is the difference between right and wrong. But in terms of my work, I’ll go anyplace. It’s not like I look for a Disney movie. People say to me, “You have kids, you must want to do a Disney movie.” I’m like no, that’s just not the way. My kids don’t watch my movies. What I want to do is go home and hug my kids, talk to them and engage with them.

CraveOnline: Did you ever consider the Joe Carroll role?

Kevin Bacon: No. I’ll tell you why, because I felt really strongly that when I was trying to find something to do on TV, I knew that I wanted to be the hero. Whatever kind of hero that was, I wanted him to be complex, to be damaged, to be just a complicated character but I did want to be the hero.

And I knew that when I looked at television, the things that I was drawn to as a viewer were really stories about life and death. It became clear to me, I would read great, funny half hour things or I’d read things that were a little bit more sort of soapy and I liked them, there was some great writing, but I started to realize that I really needed to find something that was about life and death and that I could be the hero.

CraveOnline: In a show like this, is it important that the hero to be flawed?

Kevin Bacon: Definitely. I think you have to have a hero and I think that what I try for and what we’ve talked about a lot is that given the fact that he is a hero, he’s got to also mess up. He’s not perfect. He makes mistakes and when you look at, a perfect example would be Claire Danes’ character on “Homeland.” It’s a great heroine, but she makes mistakes. As an audience member, you look at that and you go, “Oh, please don’t do the wrong thing” because you really are pulling for her. You’re pulling for her. That, to me, I think she’s pretty good at keeping that alive.

CraveOnline: Is there anything that was daunting about TV that you’ve seen Kyra deal with?

Kevin Bacon: Yeah, six years. That’s daunting. We’ll see. Who knows, but yeah, because when you sign on, you’ve got to know that that’s going to be the deal. If you’re so lucky that you get something like “The Closer,” you’re in it for the long haul. Shooting the pilot, we were living in New York and I was like, “Oh, I’ll do the pilot and it’s never going to get picked up. What’s the worst that could happen?” You’ve got to be ready for that.

CraveOnline: Did you have to relocate to LA?

Kevin Bacon: No, we live in New York. We live in New York and we shoot in New York. It’s ideal. Honestly, I have been making movies for a long time. I think I can count on one hand the amount of jobs I’ve done in New York. I never sleep in my own bed and it’s really nice.

CraveOnline: With such long days, how much do you actually sleep?

Kevin Bacon: Oh, I get some sleep. When I compare it to Kyra, the truth is that she was in almost every scene and she talked so much. The more she talked, the more they wrote, so in some ways it’s easier for me. My thing’s a little bit more physical but I do get a couple days off when they go to the cult house. When the bad guys work, a lot of times I’m not there.

CraveOnline: A lot of fans remember you on “Guiding Light.” What did that meant to you as a young actor because those kinds of shows don’t exist anymore in NY.

Kevin Bacon: No, they don’t.

CraveOnline: How did that prepare you for the rigors of television?

Kevin Bacon: I think that it certainly prepared me for just the professionalism of having to be at work on time and know your stuff and come ready to go. It also was really, I was doing a lot of theater in New York. A lot of the times the theater I was doing was off Broadway or off off Broadway. To actually survive on what that contract was, about $150 a week, I was still working as a waiter. So when I got onto “The Guiding Light,” I was actually able to stop waiting tables.

CraveOnline: You played a great teen alcoholic. Do you remember the head writer Douglas Marland?

Kevin Bacon: Yeah, I do. I met Doug Marland, they kept us away from them. He said, “What are you interested in playing?” I said, “How about if I have an affair with an older woman?” And he said, “Uh, I’m not sure.” I say, “Well, how about a teenage alcoholic?” He said, “Okay, done.”