Kevin Bacon: “After ‘Footloose’… I was sliding down the Hollywood mountain”

Over a 42-year career, you're bound to hit a little turbulence. The movies' greatest wingman on how he's weathered the storm

Well into a career that’s littered with hit movies like Mystic River, JFK and Apollo 13, Kevin Bacon could be forgiven a little complacency. But that’s not him. When he chats to NME via Zoom, the 62-year-old actor is as lively and interested as he’s ever been. Even after 94 roles, a Golden Globe and his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the fires still burn: “It’s really about the part, the filmmaker, and the script,” he says. “It’s about the opportunity to continue to do what it is that I’ve learned to do through the years.”

Kevin Bacon
Kevin Bacon in new haunted-house horror ‘You Should Have Left’. Credit: Universal

After dancing his way to fame in ‘80s teen classic Footloose, Bacon spent the next three decades crafting a reputation as one of film’s most reliable character actors. He’s still a movie star, but if you need someone to nail an unusual or eccentric support, Bacon’s your man. More recently, he’s been working in TV and short films – but his latest job signals a return to Hollywood and the major studio projects that made his name.

Reuniting Bacon with director David Koepp for the first time since 1999’s Stir of Echoes, You Should Have Left, out now on Digital, is a psychological horror tailor-made for the pandemic era. Bacon plays Theo Conroy, one half of a struggling married couple (Amanda Seyfried co-stars) who decide to vacation at a secluded home in the Welsh countryside. Instead of a zen-like environment, however, he finds a creepy house that is keen to play tricks on them. Doors open randomly, lights flicker, and strange messages appear in Theo’s notebook. As a big-screen comeback, it’s a reminder of Bacon’s impressive ability to balance emotion with physicality. “I really like horror because it often deals with life and death situations”, he says. “I find that interesting, both as an actor and a consumer.”

“I’ve done so many films that there’s a big anniversary every year!”

Of course, horror is nothing new to Bacon. One of his first ever roles was in Friday The 13th, all the way back in 1980. That became a slasher classic – and kickstarted a new wave of box office-busting scary movies; while Bacon has periodically piled on the terror with memorable pictures like Tremors, Hollow Man and Flatliners. Recently, he’s worked less in horror, but a fresh crop of filmmakers like Jordan Peele – who deservedly won the Best Screenplay Oscar for Get Out in 2017 – has brought him back into the fold.

“I’d love to work with Jordan,” Bacon says. “Get Out really upped the game. Besides being a massive hit, it was horror that existed on three different levels. One was scary. Second was funny. And the new, really groundbreaking part of it was the social commentary. And other movies like Hereditary, The Lighthouse and Midsommar… they’re elevating the genre too.”

Friday the 13th
Kevin Bacon made an early appearance in 1980 horror smash ‘Friday The 13th’. Credit: Alamy

Post-Friday The 13th, Bacon starred in musicals, political thrillers, legal dramas and sci-fi adventures. In fact, his filmography is so vast that he has trouble keeping track of what he’s actually acted in. “I can tell you that one of the odd things about having done as many films as I have, is that pretty much every year somebody says to me: ‘There’s two anniversaries this year!’” he laughs. “I can’t remember when they are, frankly.”

At this point, NME reminds Bacon that 2021 will mark the 30th birthday of JFK, Oliver Stone’s acclaimed 1991 drama about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was hugely pivotal in Bacon’s career, as it marked the beginning of his transformation from A-list pin-up to respected artist. “I was kind of spinning my wheels career-wise at that point, having been to the top of the mountain in Hollywood with Footloose,” he recalls. “But I was kind of sliding back down the other side. And that gave me an opportunity to redefine my career in a way that was really much more true to who I am.

“‘JFK’ gave me an opportunity to redefine my career”

“People said, ‘Wow, I never thought I’d see you do that!’” he adds. “Of course, for me and for the people that actually knew me it was not a surprise, because I’d been doing a lot of theatre. And I’ve been doing, you know, crazy offbeat characters for a really long time. But to the general Hollywood industry, that was a new thing.”

Over the past decade, you’d have been more likely to find Bacon on the small screen, starring in cult shows like cop thriller The Following or Golden Globe-nominated comedy I Love Dick. Right now, you can catch him playing a corrupt FBI veteran in the Boston-set City on a Hill. While early on in his career he starred in the odd television film and guested on sitcoms like Frasier and Will & Grace, there was still a stigma attached to the box. It was watching his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, living it up on mid-noughties crime procedural The Closer which finally changed his mind.

Kevin Bacon
Recently, Kevin Bacon has been working in TV, like comedy ‘I Love Dick’. Credit: Alamy

“Up to that point I was so anti-television,” he says. “Then I saw how creatively-rewarding Kyra’s experience was and I started to open the door. I picked up the phone, called my reps and said, ‘All right, time to start considering television.’”

Bacon’s about-face highlights how much the industry has changed since he started out. During the late ‘70s, films were still made in an “analogue way”, he says, but the digital revolution has allowed anyone to pick up a camera and become the director. “It means that there’s going to be a lot of bad films made,” Bacon notes. “But it also means that you can learn by doing. And I think that’s a very big difference.”

“I was so anti-television”

Technology has always dictated which stories we tell onscreen – and while Bacon still thinks new film You Should Have Left is best seen in cinemas, he concedes that’s more difficult at the moment. It’s also not lost on him that a film in which the characters are unable to leave their house feels “horribly serendipitous”.

“Before the pandemic hit we started to discuss the idea of [it] being a VOD [Video On Demand] film, because we felt like there was something kind of interesting about watching it at home”, he says. “When [lockdown started], we realised that this was a really good time to put it out. People were stuck in their houses and needed content to watch.” Not just a talented actor, Bacon is a savvy businessman too.

You Should Have Left
‘You Should Have Left’ is streaming now. Credit: Universal

Looking to the future, Bacon, like a lot of actors right now, has little in the pipeline. With many productions shut down due to COVID-19, and cinemas temporarily closing worldwide, he’s forced to sit at home and reevaluate what’s next. Needless to say, he has big plans.

“I haven’t had many chances to work in the Marvel universe or even the comic book world,” he says, when we ask about a potential follow-up to his sole superhero outing X-Men: First Class. In 2011, that spandex-clad blockbuster debuted under the Fox umbrella. But now that Disney has bought the rights, could Bacon join Iron Man’s MCU instead? “I love that franchise,” he responds. “And would love to be a part of it.”

“I would love to be a part of the MCU”

Bacon was famously name-checked in 2014’s Marvel instalment Guardians of the Galaxy. As it turns out, Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord is a big fan of Footloose, and at one point he regales Gamora (Zoe Saldana) with a tale of how a “great hero named Kevin Bacon” taught an entire city that dancing was great (reader, he was not lying). While Bacon didn’t know it would happen, he appreciated the shout-out: “First up, I adore those Guardians movies,” he says. “I had no idea that [director] James Gunn was gonna do that. James and I had worked on a movie called Super years before. And when you look at something like The Boys or even Kick Ass, you know, Super was sort of ahead of its time, just in terms of a concept.

“So I was surprised and touched. Somebody told me about it and said ‘have you seen Guardians of the Galaxy?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m not planning on going.’ They said, ‘Okay, you should go.’ I didn’t know why they were mentioning that specifically. And I sat in the theatre all alone on a Tuesday afternoon. And there it was, and it was really kind of shocking.”

Clearly, Bacon isn’t your average grumpy, ageing movie star. Far from it – and he certainly isn’t above asking for work either. So when his eyes light up at the mention of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’ upcoming reboot, starring Will Smith and Kevin Hart, we’re not surprised. Bacon’s dialogue-free cameo in the 1987 original – in which he beats out Steve Martin in a race to a New York cab – is one of the film’s many highlights. “They haven’t called me, but I’m gonna call them!” he says. “To me, that is the greatest idea. I’m not really in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I don’t think of it as my movie at all. But yeah, I would love to be in that.”

Now that he’s back in the movies game, you can expect plenty more Bacon (he likes his “crispy”) to go with your popcorn. His career has been going strong for four decades. Why stop now?

‘You Should Have Left’ is out now on Digital – and Blu-ray & DVD from October 12