Kevin Bacon: Bacon Bounces Back
With JFK and now A Few Good Men, Kevin Bacon's self-imposed exile - starring in independent films dew people have seen - looks to be over at last. Here, over drinks, dinner and a game of miniature golf, the actor reviews his career moves.
It's a warm, damp night in SoHo, and I sit on the stoop of a dark and empty bar where Kevin Bacon is due to meet me for drinks any minute now. He'll be surprised to learn, as I was, that our meeting place is unexpectedly closed tonight for a private party. Their loss. Now, without the sudden presence of a star, their sordid soiree has no chance of a mention in tomorrow's columns.
When Kevin steps out of a cab 15 minutes later, dressed in jeans, a pinstriped white shirt and a black jacket, he's apologizing--and sweating--profusely. "Sorry I'm late. Sorry I'm wet," he says. "I was out running."
"Running? Dressed like that?"
"Well, no, I changed, but..." His hand waves through the air, then comes to a stop. It's apparently all too much to explain. His usually eccentric blond hair is lacquered flat and, if it weren't for his trademark nose, I wouldn't have recognized him.
"This is your worst nightmare," he says, smiling like the charming killer he played in Criminal Law. "But I'm very hungry and I have to eat." (Clearly, he knows I told his people that I didn't want to conduct the interview over dinner.) I shrug that this is okay by me--what are the options?
"I know you," Bacon says suddenly, peering at me intently.
"Do you remember where we met?"
"No. Studio 54?" he asks.
"At a party your sister Karin gave. Years ago. You had just been in Friday the 13th and I asked you how you got that arrow through your neck. And there was another time, too, more recently, when we were both staying at the Sunset Marquis in L.A. I had a noisy party in my villa and the night manager kept calling me and saying keep it down because Mr. and Mrs. Bacon, in an adjacent villa, are complaining. You weren't even married at the time."
He laughs, and we wander down the street in search of a cafe. "Somebody told me it was Elton John's party."
"One of my guests was playing the baby grand. I told the manager I thought it was supposed to be a rock'n'roll hotel."
"Yeah, it used to be," Kevin says. "You used to be able to drive cars into the pool! That place was a real home-away-from-home for me. I was able to sneak my dog into the villas."
We arrive at Spring and West Broadway, the heart of SoHo, and go into the first restaurant we see. Immediately, Kevin orders a shot of Cuervo and a Pilsner Urquell, and I love him for that.
"Do you like giving interviews?" I ask him while he's trying to read the menu.
"I don't do 'em for fun, I'll tell you that!" he says. He's not wearing glasses, and I know he needs them. "My take on interviews is that in some ways they're just another acting exercise. You give the impression that you're sharing some part of your inner being without actually doing it. Of course, once in a while I end up actually saying things that I believe very strongly.
"You know, I have a very hard time with these movie-business magazines," he says, putting his menu down. "I mean, I really can't read them because I always get completely depressed. They're such a reminder of the business. It's always who's doing well and who's hot and all that kind of shit. It can't help but bug you in some way or another--unless, of course, you happen to be the person they're saying is hot."
"Are you happy with your career so far?" I ask.
"I'm very happy," he says. "I mean, it's been a long career and the fact that I still work makes me happy; that I can still get a gig is pretty amazing to me. But I wish I was in a different place--I always do. The struggle changes once you get successful. It's been a different kind of struggle for me since Footloose."
"You think Footloose is the movie that made you a star?"
"No. Diner was, in a lot of ways, a small movie. It's a fantastic movie, don't get me wrong. But people thought of me as a character actor after Diner, and they wanted me to be the friend of the guy or the brother of the guy or the weird kid. Because of Footloose I was given the opportunity to have a leading-man career. And, looking back, I think I sabotaged it. I wasn't ready for or didn't feel comfortable with it. I made the wrong choices and I resisted playing into the whole thing. I've had to struggle back from years of bombs, one after the other. I'm not saying I was doing bad work; I don't hate the work I did all those years. I'm proud of it. I don't have regrets." Shifting in his chair, he says, "I finally went through a lot of big changes, got married and had kids, so I'm in a much better place in terms of myself, my career, and who I am as an actor--and all that kind of crap."
Little Kevin, happy at last?
I ask about his childhood. He says he's the youngest of six children born to Philadelphia city planner Edmund Bacon and his wife Ruth--all born, incidentally, in the same house where his father still lives.
"I was a very driven child," he says, "unusually independent. My earliest memories are of me thinking that I was gonna do something, that I didn't need anybody else." Doing something began with performing in church plays and enrolling in acting classes. After high school, he skipped college and headed directly for New York to become an Actor for Real. "I needed to do something I didn't have to read and write for," he says.
"You have to read scripts," I remind him.
"Okay, I have to read a little. But I don't have to add and subtract--that's what I should have said. I'm not an inherently academic person. I wanted to do something that would make me famous."
"I read somewhere that at a young age you dreamed of being looked at and admired."
"Oh yeah," he says, smiling. "Acting or rock'n'roll! My brother is a musician, and when I was a kid he was an aspiring rock star. Now he's a composer. He was so good, so musical, that I chose the other path: I wanted to be a teen idol. It was the time of David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman, the little Michael Jackson, Donny Osmond, Jack Wild, The Monkees--those were the guys. And that's what I aspired to. But when I came to New York and started really studying, all those aspirations went out the window. Then, what I wanted to be was a serious, well-respected stage actor like, in those days, Kevin Kline, Raul Julia, John Heard, William Hurt--those were the guys in the New York theater circles--but unfortunately, I became a big teen star, exactly what I didn't want!"
I'm on my second vodka and Kevin's on his second beer before we get around to ordering dinner. Then I ask him whether JFK is his favorite of his own films.
"I don't think I have one favorite. I can't say that JFK is my favorite one--I'm hardly in it."
"You're in it at least three times. And in drag, I might add." Kevin laughs. "Mmm, that was good" he says. "It's my favorite drag scene in a movie. And that was my first day of shooting, thank you. The script said we were to be dressed up, but it didn't say I was gonna be Marie Antoinette! But I was happy to put it on."
"Just to be in the film?"
"Well, no. I thought it was a fun scene."
"It's so brief in the movie. Did it actually take a long time?"
"All day. We got there and they showed us this bag of, you know... tools. S&M stuff. They had this '60s gay porn movie playing, so I decided to start jerking off. So I'm jerking off and Joe [Pesci] is whipping Tommy [Lee Jones]." He laughs fondly at the memory. "It was great! Fantastic! I love that kinda shit."
Okay, back to your favorite movie," I say. "Maybe if I put it this way: If only one of them could survive a fire..."