Is Kevin Bacon the Center of the Universe?
If you play The Kevin Bacon Game on the Internet, you know that he is. Here, the actor who's connected to all other film people by four or fewer degrees of separation, talks about playing a sadist-pedophile in Sleepers, explains how proud he is of his wife's love scenes with John Travolta in Phenomenon, and, no kidding, sings.
A confession: when people ask it I'm online, I nod and say. "Of course," but the truth is that all I've ever done online is read the news. And I'm not too sure if I'm doing that right. So when I heard about The Kevin Bacon Game online. I didn't get annoyed that it took me a week just to find it. I didn't mind that my phone bill was going to be in the hundreds. I didn't mind that there seemed to be three different games but I could only manage to get into one of them. The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia (the "Virginia" is short for the University of Virginia, and this is the last you'll hear of it). I had too much fun playing it to care how hard it was to locate, or how expensive, or anything. The fact is, it's a hoot.
Here's how it works. Once you find the game on the Internet, all you have to do is type in the name of any actor, living or dead. (It's got to be someone who's been in at least one American movie--no fair choosing an actor who made one movie with Sergei Eisenstein and got exiled to Siberia the year after.) Within seconds, the computer will give you the path leading from the name you chose to Kevin Bacon. And get this: the creators claim it will never take more than four jumps to get to Kevin Bacon. Some people, like those who play The Kevin Bacon Game on the phone during work hours (the newest threat to Hollywood productivity), claim that the computer takes all the fun out of playing the game. But for me the joke was the same and I didn't have to tax my brain. I played for hours, and even when I didn't play fair, I couldn't stump the computer. Alfred Hitchcock? Not an actor, but let's just see:
Alfred Hitchcock was in Show Business at War with Orson Welles.
Orson Welles was in A Safe Place with Jack Nicholson.
Jack Nicholson was in A Few Good Men with Kevin Bacon. Thus, even Alfred Hitchcock has a Bacon number of three. The only actor I could stump the computer with was Lassie.
Kevin Bacon and I are supposed to meet in Millbrook, a quaint little town that's roughly equal distance from his house in Connecticut and mine in upstate New York. I've always liked his work, and we share the same birthday, so I hope that might make us kindred souls. But on the way down the parkway, I suddenly have a vision that Bacon is going to pull up to the restaurant in a Porsche, dressed in a white linen suit. Everybody is going to fawn over him. The food will be great, the portions will be small, and it'll cost a fortune, which I'll have to pay, because Bacon is a star and he probably never picks up checks. By the time I pull into Millbrook, I'm expecting the worst.
I follow the directions, turning into the alley past the drugstore, and find myself in a paved parking lot looking at a tiny concrete building that houses a Mexican take-out place. Right on time. Bacon pulls up in his Ford Explorer, which I notice is filled with all the detritus of children (he and his wife, actress Kyra Sedgwick, have two kids). Bacon is wearing worn, black high-tops with no socks, cutoff sweat pants, and a white T-shirt. A simple gold wedding band and three Band-Aids are the only decoration.
We order our burritos and take them out-side, where we sit at a picnic table out in the parking lot. We have to keep shifting our feet, because the rubber bottoms of our shoes feel like they're melting into the pavement. When I tell Bacon about my Porsche-and-attitude image of him, he laughs and says, "A white suit and a Porsche? I don't think so. And people fawning? Not on your life. I'm a New Yorker--I'm used to people either leaving me alone, or being rude. And I'm comfortable with that. I think there's an unwritten law in New York City that you can walk down the street and be unencumbered. People will leave you alone."
"Do people recognize you all the time?"
"Yes. absolutely. I honestly cannot remember an anonymous moment. Except for when I went to Africa to do The Air Up There. That was sort of cool. And where we live in Connecticut, we've lived there for so long and we know everybody and they know us, so I get the feeling of being, if not anonymous, then at least unobserved when I'm there.
"I'll tell you a funny story about getting recognized. I ran into Stanley Tucci on the street the other day. We're standing on the corner of Broadway and 60th Street, just catching up with each other, and someone walks by and they go, "Hey. Stanley, I liked your work on "Murder One.'" A girl comes by and says, 'Hey, Kevin, you were really good in Murder in the First.' Then another girl stops, looks at Stanley, and says, 'Loved you in Big Night.' This guy walks past and says. 'Kevin, thought you were great in Apollo 13.' I said to Stanley, 'What is this, the corner of Self-Esteem and Compliment? Maybe we should never leave here.'"
"That's not so surprising if you've ever gone online and seen your game," I say. "It claims you're the center of the universe."
"I've never been online, period. I'm a computer moron. I know that's bad to say, because everyone is so into it."
"Well, if you ever do get online, The Oracle of Bacon is pretty funny."
"I thought it was called Temple of the Pig. That's what somebody told me it was called."
"One of them is," I tell him, "but I couldn't figure out how to get it on my computer. I heard they refer to you in that game as 'The Pig.' I have to admit I don't gel that. Is it because they think you're a pig in your being, or is it a joke on your little turned-up nose, or what?"
Bacon's smile is slightly askew. Just as I suddenly realize that the nickname refers to the fact that Kevin's last name is a pig product (duh!), he replies, "Haven't a clue. But I know the game's been on-line for over a year. You're late on this story."
"Not if I've only just played it, and if you've never even been online, I'm not. I mean, I just learned how to navigate the thing, so I figure there are others out there in the same boat. It's like learning a new language."
"Boy," says Bacon. "I'll tell you, Sleepers has opened up a lot more game possibilities, what with Robert De Niro. Dustin Hoffman and Brad Pitt being in it. And also these kids--I think that's going to take the game to a whole new generation. Long after I'm dead ..." Bacon starts to laugh.
"Yes," I say. "Sleepers seems to star everyone who wasn't in JFK. So I guess it's absolutely true, Kevin. You are the center of the universe."
"You know what's funny? I never met De Niro or Hoffman. Not once. All my scenes were with the kids, so I never even got to see them."
''Sleepers is the second film you've made with Barry Levinson. The first time, in Diner, you were just a snot-nosed kid, right?"
"Sort of," he replies. "I haven't worked with Barry since Diner, and I never really thought I would work with him again. I kind of had this feeling that Diner was such a personal story for him, and that he somehow saw me as that guy, and didn't really see me as anything else."
"Did you see yourself as that guy?"
"Well, there were things that were similar, definitely. But I was never so self-destructive. And Barry's response to that was he wanted to go really far from Diner when he cast me again. He tracked me down in Canada when I was making Losing Chase [a Showtime film that Bacon directed], and sent me a note which said, I think you could put an interesting spin on this character.' For an actor, that's like the greatest thing you can hear From a director. There's a difference between saying that and saying. 'Hey, I've got this part, I think I can show you how to play it,' or 'Hey, I've got this part, you're just like this guy," whatever the fuck that means. But when a director says, 'I want to see what it is that you're going to bring to the table,' that's the best possible work environment. Barry creates an environment that makes you want to explore.
"When I took Sleepers, I thought to myself, this is going to be a really heavy, horrible experience, because I gotta do all this bad stuff to little boys. It's the story of four friends from Hell's Kitchen who get sent to a juvenile home, and I play the guy who tortures and abuses them. He's the head baddie. A sadist, a pedophile, an extremely bad person."
You've played bad before," I point out.
"Not this bad, though. I kind of pride myself on trying to discover some kind of humanity in the darkest of characters, and I think usually I'm pretty successful. I don't know if I was in this case. I mean, I didn't play him with drool coming down his chin; I tried to play him real, but he's pretty dark. The funny part was that I thought I'd have to stay away from the kids between takes, to stay in character and not relate to them in a very human way. That's not the way it turned out at all. It was one of the best times I ever had making a movie. It was a gas to be with these kids. We'd sit around and carry on, tell jokes and stories, and then the camera would roll and--boom!--I'd be beating them and doing all these things to them. Very strange.''
"Do you and Kyra read each other's scripts and talk things out, or just follow your own hearts?"
"Oh, we definitely take a look at what the other one is interested in. I don't really like to commit to any-thing she hasn't seen, because maybe she'll read it and go, 'God, this is a complete piece of shit, you're making a big mistake.'"
"How do you feel watching Kyra on-screen? I loved the romance between her and John Travolta in Phenomenon."
" I think it's always a testament to how good an actress she is if she makes it look like she is hot for someone else. At the premiere of Phenomenon, a reporter asked me how I felt about the attraction between Kyra and John onscreen, And I said something like, 'My wife is such a good actress that she made it look like she was in love with him when I know she's really in love with me.' Then I heard that the next day, they were making fun of that remark on the 'Today' show, saying how corny it was."
"Only in Hollywood do people make fun of you for admitting to loving your wife, or trusting her."
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