Kevin Bacon, starring in Showtime’s ‘City on a Hill,’ just turned 61 but isn’t slowing down. Instead he’s playing a Really Bad Guy.
Brace yourselves, folks. Kevin Bacon, the star of “Footloose,” just turned 61.
Of course, anyone familiar with Bacon knows that his résumé extends far beyond that 1984 dance classic. In the last few decades, Bacon has evolved into one of Hollywood’s most prolific and respected actors, appearing in big-budget features such as “Apollo 13" and “A Few Good Men,” beloved comedies such as “Diner” and “Crazy Stupid Love,” and smaller independent projects.
In addition to moving into producing and directing, he also has starred in TV shows such as “The Following” and “I Love Dick.” And, of course, Bacon became a pop culture touchstone with the parlor game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, in which movie buffs tried to find the shortest link between him and any other actor.
But at an age when most performers might consider slowing down, Bacon is putting the pedal to the metal. He’s starring in a new Showtime drama, “City on a Hill,” and is about to embark on a summer tour with his band The Bacon Brothers, which also is fronted by his brother Michael. He also has other projects on the horizon, though the long-awaited reboot of his 1990 giant-underground-creature feature “Tremors” has yet to surface.
“There’s no part of me that is pumping the brakes,” Bacon says while taking a sip of water in a conference room inside an El Segundo high-rise. Except for a few lines around his face and neck, the lean actor, who is married to Kyra Sedgwick (“The Closer”), looks as youthful and cheerful as he did in “Footloose.”
“You could analyze it and say, ‘Are you afraid to slow down?’ Maybe there’s a part of me that is afraid,” says Bacon. “But there’s a lot more I want to do. I also feel that if the opportunities are there, I need to take them. I’m just not ready to go sailing or fish or play golf or croquet. I’m really happy with staying busy.”
In “City on a Hill,” which is set in Boston during the early 1990s, Bacon plays Jackie Rohr, a cocky and pushy FBI investigator who teams up with ambitious assistant district attorney Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge) to take down a gang of armored truck robbers. Even in Bacon’s extensive gallery of Really Bad Guys, Rohr, with his stylish overcoat, cigar and brash Boston accent, is a standout. Although he’s technically on the right side of the law, he’s also corrupt, snorts coke, cheats on his wife and is not shy about spewing racial epithets.
Bacon, in a wide-ranging interview, discusses the new role, his music, his desire to keep busy and the continuing impact of that little dance movie.
How did you spend your birthday?
My daughter lives in Los Angeles now, and my son and wife had been traveling cross-country with a truck full of his stuff. So on that afternoon I was on a talk show. I got home and everyone was there and we ordered pizza and it was just the four of us. It was magical. My type of birthday, with the three people I love the most.
You said you’ve driven across the country two or three times alone. What do you like about driving cross-country?
There’s a whole other world, a whole other country outside of New York and Los Angeles. Just the immensity of this country gives you an appreciation of the varying landscapes, different kinds of people. I’ve done a lot of traveling on a bus with a band. But when you’re alone behind a wheel, you get into a focus that is very different than the way we usually approach time.
Things happen in very quick ways with our multitasking, attachment to our devices. When you’re driving a long stretch, there’s a different kind of focus that is in its way a healthy thing to experience. Sometimes I wind up driving way longer than I thought I would. You get into a zone. The sound of music, the sound of people’s voices. All of that can be strange and life-altering. My wife said it’s changed her life.
How would you define your career at this point?
First of all, I’m incredibly grateful to have a career. When I think of some of the acting careers that I’ve seen come and go since I’ve been an actor, it’s a tough world to hang on to. A lot of things can go wrong. I like to say there’s been a lot of roadkill. I’ve realized that I was never a leading man. I’m a character actor, and that in itself is a very difficult thing to shoot for. If someone is thinking of me for a part, it will be all over the map. That’s all I really want.
There was this little theater around the corner from us in Philly that would have second-run movies for a dollar. I was about 14 when they had “Midnight Cowboy” and “The Graduate.” I saw “Midnight Cowboy” first — it had been reduced from an X to an R, so I snuck in. I said, “Wow, they found a real homeless guy and put him in this movie.” Then I saw “The Graduate,” and I said, “Holy crap, that preppy guy is the same guy as the homeless guy.” That’s what I want to do.
You bounce a lot between playing heroes and bad guys.
There are people who get worried that their image as a person outside their work will be judged if they do bad stuff as a character. That’s never really scared me. If you lined up all the horrible stuff I’ve done to other human beings and women and children in terms of my characters, it’s the worst thing you can possible imagine, But I found them to be interesting shoes to step into. And if a character is well rounded and doing something heroic, I love that. I’ll live my own life outside of the industry and wake up in the morning and hope I can look at myself and be proud of what I did in terms of the people I love and the world. The work is a separate kind of compartment.
In “City on a Hill,” we’re seeing a Kevin Bacon we’ve never seen before. Almost every horrible thing that can be done, Jackie does in the first episode. Is the shocking nature of the character what attracted you to the project?
No. It was the totality of the man I found somehow compelling and interesting. You’re right, I’ve never played anyone like that. I’ve done different versions of that character, but never in the way that Jackie operates. Also there was a musicality to the writing that I immediately heard. When I read the first speech, I saw him, I heard him. I knew what I would do with the hair and wardrobe and voice and accent. It was all right there. That’s a testament to good writing. [Executive producer and creator] Chuck MacLean has a great ear for this guy.
But you also tap into his humanity. He’s not a cartoon.
I believe that’s always my job. When you turn on the news and someone says, “This person has done something horrible, he’s a monster,” I say, “Well wouldn’t it be fortunate for us if he were a monster? Unfortunately, folks, he’s one of us. He’s down the block.” That to me is more frightening to me than the casual racism this character exhibits.
And that accent.
I try to think of accents as the voice of the character. Boston is a tough one. People from Boston don’t like people doing Boston accents. They don’t even like people from Boston doing Boston accents.
Is there an aspect of his character that shocked even you?
Yeah, there are some things that hit later in the season. Even knowing how far Jackie will go and what kinds of things he will say, there are moments that are shocking.
The Bacon Brothers are going back on the road.
We leave Saturday. We just dropped a new single. We’ve had a bit of a writing bloom. We’ve got a lot of new stuff and will start putting it on demos.
So I have to admit. “Footloose” was on over the weekend. Are there certain films you’re tired of having people ask about?
“Footloose” is probably the top film that I’m identified with. and then sometimes, shockingly, it’s other stuff. Do I get tired? Sometimes. Someone will say, “I loved you in ‘Footloose’” and I’ll want to say, “Have you been to the movies in the last 40 years? There have been a couple more.” But listen, you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. That was a good film for me. I’m certainly happy to have done it.