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Far Beyond Footloose

Kevin Bacon is making it outside Hollywood.
Alysse Minkoff
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00

(continued from page 1)

The transformation began with what might have been a forgettable role in the hands of another actor. After a number of starring roles, Bacon surprised many by choosing a small role as a gay hustler in Oliver Stone's 1991 film, JFK. "JFK was a big, big turning point for me, because after Footloose I kept trying to fit square pegs in round holes," he says. "When JFK came along, I got a chance to go back to what I had been working on Off-Broadway, which was playing character parts. It surprised the industry in a way that was very, very helpful to me. [The role] directly led to The River Wild and Murder in the First and A Few Good Men. Sometimes four days of work will go a long way."

But the experience did not start out on an altogether pleasant note. "It was a great part. But I was afraid of whether or not Oliver and I were gonna connect on it. I didn't audition. We had a table read and I hadn't really put the pieces together yet. He said, 'I want you really to be transformational with this.' I took that very seriously. I really wanted to do something with it. Figure out who the guy was. And when we got to the table read I just didn't have a hook on it yet. There was a lot of stuff that I hadn't gotten a chance to do the work. And it felt wrong. Kevin Costner had met this character that my part in JFK was loosely based on, this guy named Perry Russo, and when we got to this table read there was the whole cast of JFK, you can imagine that, and Oliver goes, 'Yeah, Perry Russo. Kevin's met him. Kevin, read Bacon's lines like Perry Russo.' It was one of the most bizarre and insulting things that I had ever heard of. I was floored. I called up my agent, who was also Oliver's agent, and I said, 'I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I can work with this guy.' She told me to hang in there. So when we got to the set to actually play the scenes, a lot of what is there is me out there sort of kicking ass."

He followed JFK with a standout performance in A Few Good Men opposite Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. In 1995, Bacon was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his work in Curtis Hanson's The River Wild with Meryl Streep and David Strathairn.

Ron Howard's Apollo 13 teamed Bacon with Tom Hanks and Bill Paxton. For his gripping performance as a physically and emotionally abused Alcatraz convict on trial for murder in the 1995 film Murder In The First, Bacon was voted Best Actor by the Broadcast Film Critics Association and received Best Supporting Actor nominations from both the Screen Actors Guild and the London Film Critics Circle.

"As a moviegoer," says River Wild director Curtis Hanson, "I think of Kevin as an actor who I not only have liked since first seeing him in Diner, but who also, on a number of occasions, has surprised me with his choices and his performances. As a director [I see that] Kevin comes to work. He's serious about what he does, even though he's fun to be with." Regardless of what role Bacon chooses, his path toward a particular project is intuitive. "There's no kind of movie that I want to make, there's no role," he says. "I just feel like I'll know it when I see it. That's really what it is. I read the high-end stuff. Sometimes you read things that are just kind of crappy, but the part's pretty good. Or the part's not so good, but the director's great and it would be good to work with them. Or the star would really be fun to work with. But if you read something that just really kills, it's very hard when it doesn't work out."

Even with an impressive array of characters in a diverse group of films on his reel, Bacon still fights against whatever the prevailing wisdom du jour is in the mercurial world of filmmaking. "A lot of directors I think are much more comfortable casting someone that they've seen do the thing that they want them to do. They don't really take risks in the casting process. They're not used to it. And studios feel the same way. So if you want to be a character actor, you have to constantly be fighting against that and you have to be willing to fall on your face time and time again. You have to be willing to take risks and make mistakes. Otherwise, you're going to end up doing the same thing again and again and again." But it is the actor's family that remains in the forefront of his consciousness. Bacon has a bottom-line approach to the vagaries of Hollywood.

"Yeah, I sweat it. Damn right. I have to. Unfortunately, it has to do with the shoes on my kids' feet. I have a very, very basic Protestant work ethic. I have a responsibility to my family to provide for them. All this other stuff--the fact that I happen to do it in kind of oddball ways or in ways that are very public--is a choice." What is evident throughout his conversation is his love for his wife, actress Kyra Sedgwick, and their son and daughter--10-year-old Travis and 8-year-old Sosie. Bacon calls them "The Three Reasons."

Bacon met Sedgwick on the set of the American Playhouse production of Lemon Sky. Sedgwick was unimpressed at first. "I was coming out of a relationship and she was coming out of a relationship, and I just looked at her with all that big, blond hair and I got a gigantic crush on her," Bacon recalls. "She saw me with Jane [his late Labrador mutt], and I was a movie actor and she thought that I was too cool for school. She thought I was kind of a jerk. So I started trying to wine and dine her. It was a lot of work because I was really out of practice. I used to really have my moves down, I used to be strong, but I sort of lost my technique. And I kept taking her out to dinner and she kept thinking the whole cast was coming to dinner. Or I'd say I'd see her at the gym or something and she wouldn't show up. She didn't really get what was going on."

The two were married in 1988. For Bacon, his family and the joy that comes from parenthood provide perspective. "I think you've got to find something else other than your art, because then you'll survive. If you look at some of the casualties scattered along the roadside....I mean, every Friday somebody's hot and every Monday somebody's not. And there are a lot of casualties from success as well. I've often said that when you're in the middle of making a movie and your first child is going to be born, you've got to think about the fact that in 10 years that child will be a 10-year-old little boy or little girl. In 10 years, the movie is going to be sitting on the video shelf someplace gathering dust, and who cares?"

Bacon softens visibly as he describes the encouragement and emotional ballast Sedgwick provided him during the difficult period in his career. "When we met, it was at one of the lowest points in my life and career. Relationship-wise I was kind of in shambles, my career felt like it was going nowhere, I was getting rid of agents that I'd had for 12 years, reevaluating whether I'd been just f---ing up all this time. My mother was diagnosed with cancer. I mean, it's hard for people to imagine because it was after Footloose, but in some ways, [Kyra] met me at the bottom of the barrel. So she was there for me. And that's why when things started to get better, I think she can take a lot of credit for that, and she should. When JFK came out and we started to sense that things were starting to turn around a little bit, she had this great attitude which was kind of like, 'Don't turn around and tell us now that you are so surprised that he can act! Where were you the last 10 years? Now you're saying you can't believe how good he is?' It was great. She's got a lot of balls for a chick."

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