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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 2)

With the often-conflicting demands that the schedules of two successful working actors create, Bacon always places his family first. Never spending more than two weeks apart is a family rule. The rigorous shooting schedule of a special effects?intensive film such as The Hollow Man created its own unique set of challenges for the family. "I left home in April, and the idea was that maybe I'm going to miss Halloween weekend but I'll be back right after that," Bacon recalls. "But in January, I was still shooting the movie. And I was just about to start a tour with the band--and that's a lot to ask from your wife and kids. They were all incredibly supportive. Because they know they come first. Yet I think that you also have to accept the fact that your career means something to you. If you pretend that it doesn't mean anything, then you are sort of living in denial." Bacon is clear on one point.

"My family is always, always number one. That's the reason for everything. I don't really need to prioritize; they are what I do everything for. And once they believe that, work is not a threat to them." For Bacon, pets are another part of the equation. "Jane I got from a pound in Martha's Vineyard. It was summer. Everybody wants a dog, and she was there and she was perfect. I took her out and walked her around in a circle and I was like, 'This is the dog.' She lived until she was at least 17, 18. She was in phenomenal health and she was an amazing dog with nine lives. Once she jumped into the Los Angeles Aqueduct and almost got swept away, but I ran after her and climbed down the side and pulled her out of the middle of the river. She was impaled by a stick. I pulled it out and she was just fine. She once went airborne. 15 feet. Fell off a cliff. Ran out into Lake Shore Drive [in Chicago] in the middle of rush-hour traffic. She was a great dog. Great with kids, amazing swimmer. She was a mutt. A Labrador Deceiver."

Paulie was part of a family plot. "I was out of town," explains Bacon, "and I started hearing murmurings from Kyra, who would let it slip that they went and looked at a puppy. But our vet is really the culprit. The [vet's office] called up and said, 'We really wouldn't call you but he was found in a box in a flea market. He is really special.' So [the family] went over and Kyra fell in love with him. And I'm thrilled to have him. I had a feeling they were going to wear me down, but they always do. They gang up on me about pets."

In The Hollow Man, Bacon plays a scientist who unlocks the secret of invisibility and descends into the abyss of evil. The production was not without its challenges, and the director is quick to give much of the credit to Bacon's unflappably good temperament. "Without him, this movie would have been impossible," Paul Verhoeven says. "You needed somebody who would be able to act when the circumstances were completely against them. It was full of physical suffering and unpleasantness. I felt after talking to him for half an hour that he would be able to tolerate the unpleasantness and keep acting. He was a pleasure to the crew and the other cast members throughout the shooting. He kept a spirit on the set that was absolutely sensational."

"The Hollow Man is the hardest movie I have ever done, it really is," Bacon says. "For about a third of the movie, I'm visible, and there's some acting there and it's fun. Then for the rest of the film, I'm either covered in green from head to toe--green contact lenses, green teeth, green paint, green body suit, green hair. Or the exact same thing in blue or black. So everything that I had to do is in these really uncomfortable, ridiculous get-ups. I looked like I had some kind of horrible 'Cirque du Soleil monster' thing happening and it was very, very hard to try and keep on top of the acting part of it. I just tried to keep as much concentration on it as possible. Come back to what the character is and what the performance should be and not get too wrapped up in the technical sides of it. I may really suck," Bacon says with a laugh, "so then you'll know that I didn't do it."

From the fast-talking disc jockey in Telling Lies in America to the emotionally distant father attempting to connect with his son in the recent My Dog Skip, what is most compelling to watch is Bacon's connection with the characters he creates on screen. From Stir of Echoes' working-class man who has his life upended after being contacted by the spirit of a murdered girl, to Digging to China's cerebral palsy?stricken Ricky, whose soul was wiser than the limitations of his disability, Bacon has created one of the most eclectic bodies of work in film today. "I like well-constructed characters, characters that the writer has spent some time thinking about. I want to feel like there's something there. Sometimes they'll barely describe the guy and you feel like you have to fill in every single blank of who the guy is. A sense of place is very important to me. You know, it's a big country. I've been through most of it and people are often like where they're from. You need to write a biography of your character. Parents, brothers, sisters, events that have shaped your life, your heroes, your abilities. Things that are not in the screenplay. Whether or not you ever see them, I think they need to be addressed. And sometimes they're just kept completely to yourself."

Not afraid to play the villain, Bacon wants to share with the audience something other than mere caricature. "You have to find the humanity, especially within the monsters I've portrayed. So when the evil is there on the surface, it's up to me to find something else at the core. Whether it's charm or vulnerability, sadness or despair or anger. Conversely, when you have a character that is basically a good guy, I've got to find something that's darker inside--some demons that are there to point out." In 1996, Bacon made his directorial debut with the Showtime Original film, Losing Chase. This freshman outing starred Sedgwick, Helen Mirren and Beau Bridges. "I was thrilled to get that cast," Bacon says. "The part of directing that I was the most afraid of was actually talking to actors--and you'd think that would be the easiest for me. Having been on the other end of it and having seen how inept people are at communicating what they want to actors, I was afraid of being that guy [about] who the actors would go, 'What the hell is he talking about?' So I think what I tried to do was cast well, and then empower them because I knew that they were all great actors, and what actors need more than anything is the encouragement to fly. Then the sky is the limit." Even with his impressive body of work, Bacon felt there was still an element missing from his creative life, and it had to do with a different kind of risk-taking. With that in mind, he decided to turn his attention to music.

With his brother, musician Michael Bacon, he formed The Bacon Brothers in 1995. The band cut its first album, Forosoco, which stands for the influences on their music--folk, rock, soul and country--and went on tour. "I needed to put a little more danger back into my creative life," Bacon says. "I think that in some ways is what drove me into it. I went out and played the first time and I had butterflies. It was like, 'Man, I haven't had butterflies since back in the Off-Broadway days.' I mean if you're not taking risks, just roll over. "There's nothing scary to me about making movies. The people I respect and the people I admire are people that go out on a limb, and that is in some ways what the music is about for me. I think it's like, I wanted to be an actor as a career, but I wanted to play music as a dream."

He and his brother reentered the studio late last year to cut their latest album, Getting There, which was followed by a tour that started in January. Touring with Michael has provided another surprising element that was missing from the actor's life: male bonding. "We've always been close, but we have really different lives," Bacon says. "He's got his career, his kid. I've got mine. We live a few blocks from each other but we never saw each other as much [before] as when we started playing. That's when we got a chance to really hang out. It's one of the great bonuses of it. I was at a point in my life where I was going, 'I've been giving a lot back here. I don't have a bunch of guys that I go and play golf with and I don't have that Thursday night poker game and I don't go to strip clubs and I'm not in a 'men-beat-the-drums-in-the-woods group.' And I needed something like that. It's a bunch of guys, and you get together and you play rock-and-roll. There's nothing better for getting together with guys and having a good time."

The music is an outlet for creative expression that is clearly personal. "It evolved in a very organic way," Bacon says. "It's almost like we got a chance to kind of pay our dues, rather than have Sony come down and say, 'You're Kevin Bacon and we're going to package a record.' That would have been a disaster for us, and for me. We played one gig and then somebody said, 'You should call up this club and play up there,' and then we packed our stuff into Michael's station wagon and we did that for a couple of years all up and down the East Coast. Eventually, we made it to New York, opening for other bands." Always aware of the process, he adds, "I mean, one record is a novelty. Two is we're getting there. We're not there yet, but it's a journey, there is a map. We're somewhere along the way. The only thing that would stop us is if we really hated it or we hated each other. But we really do enjoy it." His brother Michael agrees. "My read on the band is that with the first record some people were saying, 'Oh my god, this is really good for an actor,'" Michael says. "And I think the next record has been, 'These guys are really good, period. But are they great?' And I think the next record we have to make great. I think we really can do that. We're growing as a band, we're getting better in the studio, we're going to be better players and I'm ready to make a record that would be very hard to ignore and will make it's own way."

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