After more than 60 movies in a career spanning 35 years, Kevin Bacon wanted to up the dramatic ante with his first starring role in a primetime series on Fox's "The Following."
"I'm the guy from 'Footloose.' The biggest issue was whether or not the town was going to be allowed to dance or not. You know, underground worms ['Tremors']. ... So I certainly like to mix it up," the 54-year-old told me Thursday during a conference call with reporters.
He turned down a lot of scripts because, he said, the stakes weren't high enough. "I wanted to do something that was about life and death because ... the things that I was kind of drawn to in a series, things like 'Breaking Bad' and 'The Killing' and 'Homeland' and 'he Wire,' even 'Games of Thrones,' a lot of them are about life and death."
"The Following," premiering Monday, is about life--and a lot of death. Bacon plays troubled former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who is pulled back into action after the prison escape of Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), whom Hardy captured after Carroll killed 14 women. Carroll has been keeping busy while in prison, managing to create via the internet a social network of cultish followers who help him lead Hardy and the FBI on a deadly cat-and-mouse chase as the bodies pile up.
Hardy, an alcoholic who must wear a pacemaker ever since Carroll stabbed him in the chest, has been tortured by the things he's seen, and his failure to catch the charismatic Carroll sooner than he did 10 years ago.
"He's got a lot of baggage and a lot of that baggage is guilt," Bacon said. "[Show creator] Kevin Williamson said to me very early on in our conversations, ... 'This is a guy who has been surrounded by death.' And that's continuing, you know, in his life. I think that part of him feels that maybe he has some piece of that, that he has some responsibility for that."
Bacon had been looking for about four years to follow his wife, former "The Closer" star Kyra Sedgwick, to TV. The damaged Hardy was exactly the kind of character he wanted to play.
"Uh-huh, I--, hmm, well, Doctor. I don't, man," he said with a chuckle when asked what makes him want to explore such a dark, unhappy person. "But when I was trying to choose a series I wanted to be the hero. I wanted the character to be complex and flawed because that's the kind of heroes that I like to play and that's the kind of heroes that I like to see. That's the stuff that performance is made of."
Bacon answered two other questions from me and those of others on the call.
Does James Purefoy freak you out when you're doing scenes with him?
[Laughs.] No. He doesn't freak me out; I love working with James. Our working situation is one of those things that came to us so quickly in a strange kind of way. It wasn't something that needed to be nurtured and sort of built up over time. We walked on the set and did our first rehearsal and had a great connection. I love the scenes that we get a chance to play. He is incredibly well-prepared and [he makes] just great choices. [He's] a great listener, a great actor. It's a real gas to play with him.
How about those Poe masks, do they freak you out?
They're kind of creepy, yeah. I'm not going to lie, those Poe masks... It's funny cuz when I saw them in the script, the guy comes after me with a Poe mask. I said, "I don't know that seems a little [silly]. What is a Poe mask?" Then I saw the actual realization of them and I thought they were really, really well done.
Bacon on ...
Choosing "The Following":
I think we're making a thriller and it's a tense, fast-paced, exciting thriller that has a lot of moments that are a real surprise, and that's really what hit me when I was reading the script.
Nobody really prepared me. I really honestly wasn't looking for something on network, but they said, "I think this might be something that you should really take a look at." I found it to be such a page-turner and had so many moments when I thought, "Oh, my God, I really did not see that coming."
You combine that with two other things--one is this giant concept of the idea of this cult that Kevin Williamson has created, and just the creepiness of that idea. To me the most important thing is that it's an exploration of these characters and their relationships. The fact that we're able to go back in flashback and get some insight into why they have become who they have become, the fact you can meet this guy Ryan Hardy and know that something's bothering him deeply, but not learn all the details of that in the first episode, is kind of an exciting thing for an actor to go and peel the layers back.
Wanting to do a TV series:
I had been looking for a television series for a long time and trying to get my head around it. My initial call, if you will, to my representatives was probably three or four years ago, but it just took some time to find the right one.
I had seen Kyra's experience secondhand and was also finding myself to be more and more of a television consumer as the quality of the shows and writing just seem to be getting better and better. I just found myself very knocked out by so many shows, sitting down and spending a weekend watching every episode of "The Wire." ["The Following"] had the qualities that I was drawn to.
Hardy and Carroll's early relationship:
We go back and we meet Ryan when he first meets Joe and before he knows that Joe is a suspect. He's just interviewing him by happenstance on this college campus. What you see is that he gets strangely seduced by Joe, not in a sexual way, just in a friendship kind of way. Joe sees into Ryan and is able to kind of play him like a violin. There's a lot of qualities of Joe that Ryan really admires. My character is not an extremely well-read and well-educated man. He's not a people person. He's not a charmer, he's not a dynamic speaker and he's maybe not even somebody that you necessarily want to go and have a beer with. Joe Carroll is all those things. I think Ryan looks up to him in a strange kind of way. It's one of the dynamics of the show that I think is interesting and one that we continue to play with.
Differences between Ryan Hardy and Joe Carroll:
Joe has followers and believes that he can create more and more people that come around to his way of thinking and likes to be surrounded by people. We'll see his admirers and the people that are close to him grow and grow and grow. Yet, except for maybe a few, he doesn't seem to really deeply care about those people. They're expendable in a way. It's one of the sociopathic episodes of his personality.
[Ryan] has nobody in his life. He pushes the people in his life away. When Weston comes to him, he doesn't want Weston to be close to him. He doesn't want Agent Parker to come into his life. Even with Claire, he's walked away from her. He's very resistant to doing anything than just being a man alone on an island. Yet, as the show evolves, I think he has more of an ability to let people in, to take help, advice--you'll see more of that.
The difference between Ryan and Joe is that the people Ryan does let in are the people he cares about very deeply. Extremely deeply.
Reasons to watch "The Following":
It'll keep you on the edge of your seat. It will shock you and surprise you. Hopefully, you will get drawn into not only what's going on plot-wise, but also what's going on emotionally with these characters that you'll want to come back the next week to see where things go.
*These are his answers to other callers' questions.
Want more? Discuss this article and others on Show Patrol's Facebook page.