Actor-director Kevin Bacon

The Emmy-nominated actor explains his decision to do television with his role in the Fox suspense series, The Following.

Since beginning his career on the New York stage, actor Kevin Bacon's critically acclaimed body of work includes an extensive range of supporting characters and starring roles. The Philadelphia native made his film debut in Animal House and shot to stardom with his turn as a rebel dancer in Footloose. Equally skilled at comedy and drama, Bacon alternates between acting on stage and the big and small screen and working behind the camera as an accomplished director. He also makes time to join his older brother in the successful country-folk rock band, The Bacon Brothers. He currently stars in the freshmen drama series, The Following.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: For years, Kevin Bacon told his agents not to pitch him for a TV series, that is until he saw how much fun his gorgeous wife, Kyra Sedgwick, was having during her seven years working on the hit series “The Closer.”

Now starring in his own series, “The Following,” Bacon plays a former FBI agent battling his own demons as he tracks down a brilliant serial killer. The series was just renewed for a second season, which I guess that means you’re coming back, and I guess that means you must be having fun. So let’s take a look at a clip from “The Following.”

[Clip]

Tavis: So I thought you didn’t want to do this.

Kevin Bacon: Sometimes things just fall into place at a time in your life when you don’t expect them to, and it’s working out.

Tavis: What about it is working for you that you thought might not, which is why you didn’t want to do it initially?

Bacon: Well, a lot of people talk about how hard it is, the amount of pages that you have to do in a day, and the hours. Now for me, that’s the really fun part, because I’m spending a big, big chunk of my life acting.

Tavis: Right.

Bacon: See, if you’re doing a movie, there’s so much more time spent waiting to get it, waiting for them to be set up, to be lit, to be promoting it, all that kind of stuff. I looked at my life and I said, “Well, maybe 10 percent of my life I’m actually spending actually playing a scene.” Now I’m just, I’m acting all the time and it’s great. I love it.

Tavis: This is different than what Kyra was doing in that you’re on network television as opposed to cable.

Bacon: Yeah, yeah.

Tavis: Does that make a difference, or am I wasting time even asking about it?

Bacon: I think that that’s kind of shifting a little bit. For instance, network traditionally would only do 22-episode seasons, and now ours is 15, there’s things like that.

I think that networks are willing more and more to push the envelope. I think that there isn’t necessarily the same kind of schedule that there used to be, where things only worked in the fall. Our show starts in January. A lot of stuff is kind of shifting and changing.

The whole industry is changing because so many people watch things on DVR and they watch things on other platforms, and I think everybody is kind of scratching their heads about how this is going to play out. But I don’t feel all that different being on a network show. Plus I’ve never been on a cable show, so I don’t know.

Tavis: Yeah. This is your first time doing network, really.

Bacon: Yes, except for my days in the soap operas.

Tavis: Yeah, unless you’re counting “Guiding Light” and what, “Search for Tomorrow?”

Bacon: “Search for Tomorrow,” yeah. (Laughter)

Tavis: Yeah. This is the first time you’ve done this kind of thing. So after season one, as we head toward this finale, what do you make of your character in this first season? You like this character?

Bacon: Yeah. I believe that you sort of have to – like, yeah, I understand him. I feel like I’m walking in his shoes. To the extent that we all like ourselves, I guess I like him.

He is as complex as I hoped he would be. I think it’s interesting when you take on a television series, because you really only have a chance, at least in our case, to read the pilot, and when I saw the pilot I kind of went wow, is that all I did? Is that my whole guy?

I realized that no, it’s not. Every week we get to peel back another layer, and we’ve seen more and more about his back story, we’ve seen more and more about the kind of darkness that’s in his life that is there, and it deserves some explaining, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.

Tavis: Speaking of some explaining, so I know it’s not the first time you’ve been asked this. I suspect it’s not the first time you’ve been asked about it. But to those critics who think that it’s a little too violent, a little too graphic, your thoughts?

Bacon: Well look, we’re making a thriller. If you make a comedy, if I’m sitting there, I’d better be laughing. If you’re going to make something that’s supposed to be (laughter) like moving, I want real tears coming down my -

Tavis: I hear you.

Bacon: If it’s something that’s supposed to be scary and your heart’s supposed to be in your throat, that’s what we try to deliver week after week. I guess the whole issue of violence in the media, should it be part of the discussion? Absolutely it should be part of the discussion.

But let’s talk about the works of William Shakespeare, if you really want to go back and talk about things of popular culture that involved violence. It’s been going on for a long time, and I think that it’s – I don’t think the media’s 100 percent to blame.

Tavis: Is there something about this particular character that you revel in, or I’m trying to find the right word – revel in, celebrate, applaud with regard to the work that he’s doing beyond your just being able to play him as an actor. Does that make sense?

Is there something that you think that we can appreciate beyond the character beyond the fact that he’s just another job for Kevin Bacon?

Bacon: Well here’s the thing. The guy is flawed, there’s no doubt about it, but he is heroic, he is trying to do the right thing. He is willing to risk his life. He often feels as though he has very little to lose, and that’s something that I think is interesting to play.

It’s not me, do you know what I mean? I think about a cop who tackles a guy who is wearing an explosive vest. That’s not me. But to put somebody like that up on the screen is challenging because you want to make it as real as possible, but it’s also interesting, and it’s definitely the place where I wanted to go with this guy.

Tavis: How would you have processed – I’m glad this is not the case, and I’m sure you’re even more glad this is not the case, but how would you have processed this if you had made the decision to come to network television and after a season, or in the midst of the season, since TV is very unforgiving these days, TV executives are very unforgiving -

Bacon: Sure.

Tavis: – you don’t hit the first three or four weeks, they’ll pull the plug on it.

Bacon: Yup.

Tavis: How would you have felt about your decision to do this if it had not been so successful and picked up for a second season?

Bacon: I think that I would have been disappointed, because I can tell you that some people will say, well, it’s just the process and you have to wash your hands of it and it’s all out of your control.

When I go to work at something, I kind of feel the opposite, like I want everything to work and I want people to see it and I want the marketing to be good and I want the music to be good and the cast to be good. I get very, very, like, obsessed with the whole thing really working.

At the same time, I’ve done, like, I don’t know how many movies, and only a handful of them were hits. (Laughter) So I’ve gotten pretty good at saying, “Well, okay.” (Makes noise)

Tavis: More than a handful, but I take your point.

Bacon: We’ll flush that one, we’ll flush another one, we’ll flush another one you know what I mean? (Laughter) That’s not new to me. The other thing is that we shot the pilot, and I went, “Wow, that’s good, man.”

We did a good job, and I feel like we’ve continued to do good work, and I’m proud of the work, so that’s something that I can kind of rely on.

Tavis: Over the years of doing this, 10 seasons now, I’ve talked to a lot of actors who obviously have a different – every thespian has a different way of processing how he or she approaches their work, how they let go of the work, how they hold on to the work.

Some review their work; some never want to see themselves on film. I get all the differences and distinctions.

Bacon: Right.

Tavis: But to your point, Kevin, since you put so much of yourself in it and you want everything to be right, and you want the marketing and the music, all the stuff you just laid out, when something doesn’t work for you – you were being funny about it, but seriously, when something doesn’t work for you, be it obviously mostly, in your case, film, when it doesn’t work, how do you process that?

Bacon: Well, I think that there’s two things. One is that you have to have something in your life that’s more important than the work. People don’t really like to admit that. They say, “Oh, my work is my most important thing.”

I think that you have to find something else. I don’t know what it is. Is it yoga or God or politics? For me it’s just family, so if I have my family to go to and my close friends, you can kind of get past any low point.

The other thing is that you’ve got to say I’m in it for the long haul, and so yeah, this one didn’t happen, this one didn’t happen, this one didn’t – oh, that was pretty good. Well, we’ll see what happens next year. But I’m not going anywhere, and that’s really what makes you kind of survive the slings and arrows.

Tavis: When did you make the decision for yourself that you were in it for the long haul, that come what may, I’m going to stick with this? When did you make that decision?

Bacon: I don’t know, when I was 13, something like that.

Tavis: Thirteen, yeah, pretty early on.

Bacon: Yeah, yeah, I did. There was no, once I put my eye on the prize, there was no turning back. I was very, very, very driven.

Tavis: You mentioned music. You want the marketing to be right, the music to be right. So how into, if at all – I know you’re focused on doing the acting thing, but since you are a music man, do you pay attention to the music on the show?

Bacon: I do. Mostly what I say is, “Can you take some of the music out?” I love the music, I think the music’s great (unintelligible).

Tavis: Wait, wait, wait, hold on. (Laughter) You’re telling them – you’re a music guy and you’re telling them to take the music out?

Bacon: Well, I feel like sometimes we rely a little too much on – I’m not talking about us, people in general.

Tavis: Sure, sure, sure.

Bacon: Certainly network television in general relies a little bit too much on keeping people focused and emotional and scared and pushing the envelope by building wall-to-wall music. So I think -

Tavis: But Kevin, but what’s “Jaws” without (makes noise)>

Bacon: True, but if you look at “Jaws” you’ll see plenty of moments in “Jaws” where there is nothing, which makes that cue even more powerful. That’s my point, is that when you have empty space, when the music comes in it’s really going to make it work.

If it’s nonstop, if it’s wall-to-wall, you just kind of become numb to it, and I think sometimes that’s often one of the differences between network and cable. One of the things that we do sometimes on the – we; I have very little to do with it – but that I’m happy with on the show is that instead of actual cues, which, as I said, are great when they’re there, it’s sound design.

So it’s noises that happen to be in the atmosphere that we’re working in, but you build them almost as a piece of score that is making you feel that tension. But it’s things like (makes noise). Stuff like that is natural sound that’s actually building the same kind of feeling.

Tavis: See, I’m not expert at this, and this feels like, once again, like “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” but I’ll go there because I’m curious about this. It seems to me, though -

Bacon: I’d so much rather be with you than with – I just – (laughter).

Tavis: I appreciate that.

Bacon: Can I just say that?

Tavis: I appreciate that. But it seems to me, not being an expert, again, that if you pull the music out, if Tavis and the rest of us as consumers and as viewers, if we’re used to, if we’ve come to rely on, if we’ve gotten lazy about needing to have the sound score, needing to have the music in every scene to make us feel a certain thing, when you pull that music out, the acting had better be pretty good.

Bacon: I agree with you. I agree with you, and that’s often why I don’t want it there. Because I say, “Look, I’m doing it.” Or me and my cast, we’re there, we’re making it work. Just give us a chance to put across what people are feeling without telling people this is a sad moment, this is a scary moment, this is a happy moment.

I think that it does, it requires it to be good, but it also challenges people. As you said, if people are used to seeing something again and again and again and you sort of get numb to it, if you switch it up a little bit, you’ll go oh, well, that’ll wake you up, and you’ll say well, this is a little bit different than what I’m used to.

Tavis: Yeah, so let me completely flip it, then. Since you are a music man and you’ve had the band for a while, the Bacon Brothers, and you guys travel and tour and all that, what, then, in the reverse, or conversely, what do you think, for you at least – for all of us – is the value of -

Bacon: Music?

Tavis: – the music.

Bacon: Music is a soundtrack for your life. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard some tune and you just get swept right back to that point in your life.

Tavis: All the time.

Bacon: Or that girl, or whatever it is.

Tavis: Whether I want to go back or not. (Laughter)

Bacon: Yeah, whether you want to go back or not, exactly. Exactly.

Tavis: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Bacon: Exactly. To be able to play it and share it with people, with our band, is, like, an absolute honor. It’s so great for me. I have to go into such a dark place as the character, and following Ryan Hardy, and it’s like always murder and mayhem and someone’s dying or about to die, or I’m fighting or I’m shooting somebody.

To go and play music, which is just kind of freeing, it just feels good, and it makes people feel good. That’s one of the great joys of having it.

Tavis: Playing this character and the following, to your statement now, how do you not let that get on you? It’s got to get in you to be able to play it, but how does it get in you but not get on you when you leave?

Bacon: It does get on me.

Tavis: It does.

Bacon: Yeah, yeah.

Tavis: So Kyra’s got to deal with this when you get home?

Bacon: (Laughter) Well, she’s very understanding and I’m pretty good about making sure that I don’t come home and start kicking the dog and stuff like that. But it does start to just come into your life, especially with the amount of hours in the day, as I said, that I’m walking in these shoes, and the type of stuff that we’re dealing with.

But I think that my daughter called my wife, my wife was working down in Nashville when I wrapped the show, and my daughter called my wife and said, “You’re not going to believe, Dad is in such a good mood. Oh my God, he’s like a different person walking around the house,” and I realized that that’s just the place that I kind of got, Daddy’s got to go there, and that’s what we do.

Tavis: Does that trouble you, does that bother you? Because the acting is the acting, but this is real life. Does it trouble you when you hear your daughter on the phone telling your wife daddy’s actually in a good mood, and you know that that has to do with the stuff that you brought home with you from the office?

Bacon: I guess yeah, it does trouble me, but I also know that I’m pretty good at making sure that I don’t take it too far and that I’m able to connect with my wife and connect with my children and step outside of it. Also, you have to understand that my kids and my wife grew up with actors.

They know that’s the deal. That’s been their life from the beginning. They also know that when it’s over, it’s over, and – I did this movie, “Murder in the First,” and I was really skinny and I was being beaten all the time and locked in a cell and I was covered with dirt, and I was in a really dark, dark place.

The day we wrapped we went to Hawaii, and there’s a picture that I have, and my head’s shaved and I’m like emaciated. I’m holding my little girl and I’ve got this big smile on my face, and you could see that I had – it was over and I had let the guy go.

Tavis: Right.

Bacon: So they know that when it’s done, I can say goodbye to him, and that’s why – or right now we’re on hiatus, so I’m not thinking about him too much.

Tavis: Right now you’re being nice.

Bacon: Yeah, this is nice me. (Laughter)

Tavis: I’m glad I caught you, though, right now. This might be a tougher interview if I caught you a few weeks ago. But does it give you – and I’ll tell you why I’m asking this. I wonder, though, if it gives you a greater appreciation for people who actually do this every day.

You’re playing this on television. I ask that – I was just watching, for the umpteenth time, “Heat” on cable. I love the movie “Heat,” De Niro and Pacino.

Bacon: Yeah, it’s great.

Tavis: There’s a great scene where Pacino comes home and he’s talking to his wife at the dinner table, and he didn’t get home for dinner that night. In that Pacino scream that he does, he starts trying to explain to her what he’s seen that day, the death and the destruction that he’s had to deal with that day, and I’m sorry I didn’t get home tonight for the meatloaf.

But you can see he’s bringing that home, and that’s my way of asking whether or not it now gives you a different kind of appreciation for the folk who do do this every day and can’t necessarily leave it at the office.

Bacon: I have an amazing appreciation for those people that put themselves, in so many places, in harm’s way and have to deal with danger and threats to their lives and to other peoples’ lives. I cannot imagine it.

I’ve often said I couldn’t – people get this kind of impression that actors, that we can, could do this kind of stuff, and I always say, like, I could never do, I couldn’t do what you do. I couldn’t go to work every day and feel like my life was in danger or that I was going to have to deal with death and tragedy. It’s incredible that people can do this, and I don’t know how they do it.

Tavis: Does this stuff ever – some of the stuff on this show is pretty sick. Does this stuff ever scare you or make you feel sick?

Bacon: Yeah. Yeah, there’s times when I watch an episode and I’m kind of like ooh, yeah. So certainly it does, and I think that – see, the thing about scary stuff, I think the different things affect people in different ways.

Some people are scared by the idea of don’t open the closet because there’s a guy in there with a knife. Some people, that’s a thing that really scares them. Some people are more affected by kind of a creepy undertone, but if somebody jumps out of the closet, they couldn’t care less. Some people are more affected by the idea of a cult of serial killers, or by the ticking clock. That’s the thing that gets them on edge. Oh, you’ve got to get there in time.

I think everybody reacts to entertainment with a different kind of visceral way, probably mostly based on their own personal experiences. So yeah, there’s times when I get a little bit creeped out, for sure.

Tavis: So does this series “The Following” and the fact that it’s coming back for season two mean that it’s going to be a while now before we see you back on the big screen?

Bacon: No, I have a movie coming out this summer called “R.I.P.D.”

Tavis: Oh, cool.

Bacon: Yeah, a great movie that we shot in Boston, and it’s coming out with Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds the stars.

Tavis: Wow.

Bacon: And Mary Louise Parker, and it’s great. Tonally, I guess I would say it’s a little bit like “Men in Black” or “Ghostbusters,” it’s got that kind of vibe because it’s kind of action and supernatural kind of comic book, but also is funny. It’s cool.

Tavis: Yeah. Shot in Boston. This Boston story has been crazy of late.

Bacon: Yes, it has.

Tavis: Yeah.

Bacon: Yes, it has. We did, I worked, I met my wife in, I’ve got a lot of feelings about Boston. We met; I fell in love with my wife in Boston. I remember it being February and freezing, trying to convince her to give it up (laughter) on the banks of the Charles River. That’s my -

Tavis: That’s your story, huh?

Bacon: That’s my story, yeah. Then “Mystic River” we did there, and “R.I.P.D.” I love that town, and it’s been quite something to watch it since it’s all unfolded.

Tavis: Yeah. So now that we’re in hiatus mode for you, so how much music are you going to get in over the summer?

Bacon: We’ve got a bunch of dates coming up. We’re playing Town Hall in New York in a week or so. Then we’re doing some West Coast, some East Coast, and some Midwest, and -

Tavis: I didn’t realize you guys were up to six – I had to go back and do – I saw this and I said, “Is that right?” Went back and did the research. You guys are up to six CDs now?

Bacon: Six CDs, yeah. We’re working on the seventh, yeah, doing some – the hardest thing for me right now is that I’m a songwriter. That’s something that has been really driving the six CDs, and I’m in a little bit of a writing slump, which is the first time it’s really ever happened to me since I started wrongs.

So that’s been kind of an interesting thing to deal with because you kind of look, I look at my guitar, I have my guitar over there, and I look at the stand and I go, “Come on, buddy.” (Laughter) Come on, give me something. Give me something.

But you never know. I kind of go through phases where they all start coming. But my brother’s been doing a lot more writing, so that’s good.

Tavis: I’m about to ask a dumb question because maybe if you knew, you wouldn’t be there; maybe not. Did you have any idea why you’re in this slump now? It’s happened for the first time.

Bacon: Yeah.

Tavis: Is there -

Bacon: I don’t know.

Tavis: You don’t know why? Yeah.

Bacon: I wish I knew. If I knew, I’d do something.

Tavis: That’s what I’m figuring; you might be out of it, right. (Laughter)

Bacon: Yeah, get myself to get out of it. But that’s a great, that’s the amazing thing about songwriting, is it’s very elusive. Some people write in a different kind of way, where they sit down every day and they try to come up with titles, and then they – but this has never really happened like that for me. It’s always been kind of like you kind of wake up and there it is.

You pick up the instrument and the changes are there and the words start coming. But it’s not like I have stopped writing, but it just, they haven’t been popping out like they were.

Tavis: Before I let you go, since this is number seven, is there a theme to this one? Is there frame that (unintelligible)?

Bacon: The only theme is that I think we’re going to call it “36 Cents.” My brother has a song called “36 Cents,” which is about what you’d find in a musician’s pocket after he dies. (Laughter) Flat picks and 36 cents.

Then I have a song called “493 Miles,” which is kind of like an empty nest tune. So I guess numbers are the theme.

Tavis: So we’ve got cents and miles, so it’s coming together.

Bacon: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Tavis: I always enjoy having Kevin Bacon on the program. His show is called “The Following,” as you well know, on Fox, and season two will be under way in the not-too-distant future. So I hope to see you again soon.

Bacon: Love to come back.

Tavis: Yup. Good to see you, my man. That’s our show for tonight. Until next time, good night from L.A., thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.

[Clip of live performance by The Bacon Brothers]

“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.

“Wade Hunt:” There’s a saying that Dr. King had, and he said, “There’s always a right time to do the right thing.” I just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. We know that we’re only about halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. And Walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the U.S. As we work together, we can stamp hunger out.

“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: April 27, 2013 at 12:10 pm