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Kevin Bacon: Following His Instincts

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Kevin Bacon is a superstar. I know this because his publicist put the call through to me for our phone interview. I haven't had a celebrity's publicist put a call through to me since David Letterman's publicist did it circa 1988. I think the touch-tone dialing system was new then, and the little beeps that the numbers made as you hit each one must have scared Dave.

But here's the difference. While it took Dave about an hour and a half to come to the phone, it took Kevin about one-tenth of a second. The Footloose actor was much, much, much... much easier to interview. And he was everything I thought he would be: polite, kind, nice, humble, patient, honest, a true gentleman -- and a good sport!

Bacon was happy to speak with The Huffington Post about his Fox TV show -- The Following -- six degrees of himself, his beautiful wife -- actress Kyra Sedgwick (the two are celebrating 25 years of marriage this year), what he's afraid of, his music and his basic instincts.

You've done some incredible films over the years. When your career first started and you were making your way through one film after another, when did you know you had made it as an actor?

I'm still waiting.

No, you've made it, buddy!

I say that facetiously, but there is a part of being an actor... I mean, you've heard it before, you're kind of always waiting for the other shoe to drop. You always kind of feel like you're about to be found out. Or that somehow something's going to happen and you won't be able to get a gig. There wasn't really one moment. I was a waiter for a lot of years. When I was able to finally stop waiting tables, that was kind of nice.

Do you remember what film you had made that allowed you to stop waiting tables?

It was probably around when I started doing soaps. I started doing The Guiding Light. After a year on The Guiding Light, I got Diner. Diner was a great film. I was so happy to be in it, and it was completely embraced by critics so that was really super cool. But it wasn't a big commercial hit, it was more like a cult piece.

There's been times when probably people looked at my situation and would say, "Well, he's made in the shade." [But] if you were a fly on the wall in my house, that's not the way I felt. You would be hearing conversations between me and my wife where I'm talking about how I can't believe I can't get a break. Being an actor, you're out of work. People will say it's kind of great because you get all this time off. But the truth is, when you're out of work, you're still working. You're working to get more work. All you can think of is: Gee, I hope something comes through.

How did your wife help you during those tough times?

I'm like a super provider type so I put a lot of pressure on myself. That's one of the most amazing things about when Kyra was on The Closer for seven years. She was paying the bills. It was amazing (laughs), but it wasn't something that I was use to. I was absolutely thrilled. I think, in a funny kind of way, I was at a point in my life where that was cool.

You are both actors, so I would guess you had to support each other emotionally when one career was doing well and the other wasn't?

That would be right. We support each other emotionally from a career standpoint, but it's pretty much everything. I mean, that's kind of what a marriage is, right? That's what you've got to do.

Have you ever followed your instincts in your career that made a difference

Career is all instincts. I follow them every day. Both in business choices and in acting choices. I was offered the Animal House TV series. It meant moving to L.A. Doing TV. More money than I had ever made. At the same time I was offered a three-line part in a workshop of an off Broadway play called Getting Out. I did the play. It ran for six months or longer. And changed my life. All instinct.

I read a quote from your wife where she said that you have a way of making her feel like she's the most beautiful woman in the room -- and the only girl in the room. So sweet! How do you do that?

It's not something that I'm doing, it's just the way I feel.

You once said, "The time I was hitting what I considered to be the bottom was also the time I met my wife..." What was going on in your life then?

I had this tremendous success with Footloose and then it really wasn't panning out. The parts that I was taking were kind of ill-advised. I was afraid, I think, of the level of stardom that I had, and I wasn't really embracing it in the same way that I should have. People would say things to me like: "Well you're going to get three bombs and that will be it." And I had one, two, three...four (laughs), and so I was kind struggling professionally. And a lot of stuff happens in a really short amount of times in our lives. We met, got pregnant, got married, my mother was diagnosed with cancer, there was just a lot of stuff happening really quickly. And things were not happening for me from a career standpoint in a way that I found [acceptable]. It didn't feel like anything was lining up the way I thought it was going to. It felt like my career was kind of tenuous. As difficult as it was, it was also a beautiful and exciting time. I think that maybe in retrospect if we had met and everything was kind of great, maybe it wouldn't have bonded us in a way to the same extent.

When you two argue, who's the one most likely to say "I'm sorry" first?

(Pause) Probably her. I'm stubborn. What I say to her a lot of times is: "I'm really sorry that you are wrong." (Big laugh)

I guess that goes over well, huh?

No, that doesn't go over well. (Laughs)

When you first decided to become a serious actor, were your early goals to be a good actor or did you just want to become famous?

It depends on how early. If you're talking when I'm 11 or 12, it was money, fame and girls. I didn't know about acting. I knew people were in movies or on TV, but I didn't know about it as a craft. And, pretty quickly, I started to study. I started to apprentice. I met this kid who had this crazy appreciation for Marlon Brando, James Dean and Montgomery Clift. He was a rich kid. His dad had a video tape player. He had these movies. We started to watch them. This was in the 70s so we're talking about movies that were from the 50s. Then eventually I saw Midnight Cowboy, and I saw what Dustin (Hoffman) and Jon Voight did in that movie... and it just blew me away that those guys weren't actually the real people. Dustin wasn't actually a homeless guy, Jon wasn't actually a cowboy. I certainly still wanted the girls and I wanted the money, but I then wanted to be a "serious actor."

Did you ever audition for a part early in your career that you wanted so badly but it went to another actor?

Only about 10,000 times.

What part did you want that broke your heart that you didn't get?

I have a very strict rule about not discussing that for a number of reasons. I feel like it has always really been important to me to try to look ahead, to try to look forward, to try to say: There's an amazing part out there. It's not the one I didn't get, it's the one that I haven't gotten yet.

When you were sent the script for The Following, did you have a gut feeling that it would be a success?

The Following is my first [prime time] TV thing, but boy have I read a lot of scripts. No, I didn't know. I liked the pilot, and I liked the people involved with it. When we shot it, I could tell we were shooting something cool. But you never know how people are going to respond. That's just a crap shoot. You just don't know.

Your character, Ryan Hardy, seems fearless, but in real life everyone is afraid of something. What are you afraid of? And you can't say mice or snakes.

(Long pause) Wow. I guess the thing that hits you the most is when you become a parent. Everything is about making sure that your children are happy and safe. You kind of think that at a certain point that [fear] is going to go away when they're not toddlers anymore, when they're not teenagers, but that never really goes away. If I think about the things that scare me the most, it's if something happened to the people I love... You're really only as happy as your least happy child.

Cult leader Joe Carroll, played by James Purefoy, is a bad ass. Killing to him is like breathing. Does it bother you in any way that the content of the show is not appropriate for children?

You have to keep in mind, these days, the idea that many people have access to cable so obviously that means that there's a lot of [inappropriate] content on television, on the Internet, etc. I think people have to practice good parenting.

What's James Purefoy like in real life? Are you two friends?

I love James. Love working with him. He's funny, witty, politically savvy and generous. It's been great to see him enjoying New York with his family.

Warren Kole who plays Sheriff Roderick looks like he could be the love child of Richard Thomas (a.k.a John Boy on The Waltons). Any relation to the actor.

I don't know, but he is an actor that everyone should keep an eye on. He's got the goods.

I read that you retweeted out a plot twist to The Following and spoiled it for some people. What happened?

I watched the show in L.A. and I knew that it has already aired in New York. Somebody made a comment about the show that night and it was basically a compliment. Someone complimented the fact that there was this plot twist that they hadn't seen coming and talked about how cool that was. I retweeted it without thinking about the fact that there was DVR and Europe. And people got very angry so I had to apologize.

There have been some surprising twists and turns in this show. I don't guess you want to tell me what's going to be in the finale on April 29?

Uh... no. I can tell you that it's going to be incredible though. The show has been everything that I expected it would be in that it's been shocking to people and controversial. On our finale, it goes places that I didn't even see coming.

I have to ask you about Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Are you tired of that?

I started a charitable Web site years ago called sixdegrees.org. It raises a lot of money for a lot of good causes. We'll have something up there soon for people to reach out to help the victims of the Boston bombings. It was a way to take the six degrees goofy game thing and turn it into something that I can feel good about.

So Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon applies to just actors or does it also apply to anyone?

In terms of the actual game, no. The game is supposed to be played with actors. In terms of the actual concept, if you take me out of it, it's a great concept and a beautiful one. We are all connected. Connections happen all the time. Things that people do in their neighborhoods affect people down the block and around the world. We have to remember that we are all riding on this same planet together. I've always felt like if people focused a little bit less on the differences and more on the connections, there would be less war and there would be more responsibility taken for our planet in general.

You and your brother Michael travel with your band, The Bacon Brothers. How long have you two been playing music, and did you ever want to be a rock star instead of an actor?

I started writing songs before I ever took an acting class. I was really into music when I was a kid. All my heroes were guys with guitars. That was a big part of my life growing up in Philadelphia. My brother was already off to the races with a music career. As a result, I kind of felt like I needed to do something different. That different thing was to be an actor. But we would always get together and write and sing and harmonize. Eventually we had a demo tape of songs that we were trying to pitch to other artists and a buddy of mine heard the demo and said, "Why don't you guys come and do a Bacon Brothers Show?" We hadn't really even thought about ourselves as The Bacon Brothers until he came up with the idea.

Did you ever want to be Elvis?

Of course, who wouldn't want to be Elvis?

Is it hard to do both -- acting and playing with your band?

Yes, it's hard to find the time. Doing The Following is a very dark place for me to go. You can't really underestimate what kind of toll that that takes -- as much as I love it -- to go to a place of murder and mayhem, chasing a killer, killing somebody or being shot at. So to get up and play a little rock and roll music is a nice break from that.