How Kevin Bacon Killed Off His Persona To Find Purpose

The longevity of Kevin Bacon’s career is probably due to him chasing re-invention and challenge in his roles, rather than just playing endless variations of a ‘Kevin Bacon’ persona. But it wasn’t always this way – he told RISING that he spent a decade chasing ‘all about me’ roles, before he found the secret to success lay in killing off the persona that had made him famous. Oh, and why his character in cult classic ‘graboid’ worm-horror flick Tremors is the only one he would ever want to revisit…

‘They were bombs, yeah they were – bomb, bomb, bomb’

RISING You made it big in Footloose, but then it took 10 years for your career to really get going – did you learn any lessons in that time?

KB ‘A mistake a lot of actors make, is judging and deciding based on the size of the role, the budget attached, the salary, and if you do that, your window is this big [holds thumb and index finger close together]. I made that mistake. Or at least the people guiding my decisions did. After Footloose, I had to be the lead in the next movie, I couldn’t take anything less. And a lot of these weren’t working, they weren’t taking off and I wasn’t getting what I wanted. They were bombs, yeah they were. Bomb, bomb, bomb. I had this pop star fame from Footloose that wasn’t working to my advantage. Getting the lead, that seems like the pinnacle and for many, it is. But those types of characters, with the compelling side story, who weren’t carrying the action, they are the character, rather than a varying embodiment of who the actor is, and who the actor chooses to play repeatedly because it works for them.’

‘All I’ve ever done is thrown shit at the wall, to see what sticks – that’s the gamble’

RISING Did you have to, in a sense, kill off the first ‘Kevin Bacon’ persona, in order to be a professional success?

KB ‘I wanted to become the character in front of me, not the persona of Kevin Bacon, star of Footloose. And JFK did that for me. For the first time, it clicked and even though there were only a few scenes, that was enough to redirect that trajectory and point me towards a place I actually wanted to go. That lead onto Murder in the First, Apollo 13, it put things back on track for me and trained my process now. I love working. I’d rather be working than not, that’s always my purpose, I want to work, I want to play different characters and challenge myself with new experiences. All I’ve ever done is thrown shit at the wall, constantly throwing shit at it to see what sticks. And I’ll never change. That’s the gamble. Some sticks, and a lot doesn’t, haha.’

RISING The Following was your first gamble on TV, was it a tough transition for you from movies?

KB ‘I came from a generation of actors where if you ended up on TV, that’s where you stayed. You were dead. There weren’t the stretches and crossed boundaries. Television was safe and uninspiring compared to film. And then you got shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, all these shows changed the landscape and now, it’s really gratifying to see how the industry has adapted and evolved for the better, where an actor who’s had a level of success in movies, can move into television without it being a reflection on their status. And creatively, what you get from doing television, I saw this first when Kyra was on The Closer, what you get from it creatively, what she got from it, was a full breakdown of the character, something you never witness in film. There isn’t time.’

‘I figured out what so many already knew – the best writing is on television, I was late to the party’

RISING What happened when you finally turned to TV?

KB ‘Well, when I finally relented, told my agent, alright, get me some television scripts – and Amazon, Netflix, none of that was around yet, Netflix was like these tokens you got in the mail – I said put me up for something on television. And within a few days, I got sent the best scripts I’d read in years. That’s when the ball dropped. That’s when I figured out what so many already knew – the best writing is on television. I was late to the party.’

RISING What piece of work do you most get recognised most for?

KBFootloose easily, but you get thrown curveballs all the time. Tremors happens a lot, that one has entered modern day folklore, which when we were making it, it didn’t have that feel so it’s interesting how these things materialise.’

RISING At the time it caused a bit of a wobble to your psyche, didn’t it?

KB ‘I stood on the street, had a full blown panic attack in Midtown, fell down on my knees and cried: “I can’t believe I’m in a movie about underground worms!”’

RISING Tremors is now a cult classic, of course – we were very excited to hear rumours of a new sequel?

KB There’s something happening. And honestly, that is the only character I’ve played, where I would like to go back again. I’m not someone for looking back, I don’t like it. When I’m done with a character, with a movie, I’m done. I never watch my movies. But Tremors, for some reason, it’s 25 years later and I want to see where he’s at, if his delusions of grandeur paid off. Who would he be now?’

WHAT NEXT? If you haven’t already, go and watch underground ‘graboid’ worms terrorising outpost America in the cult-classic B movie Tremors – it’s a veritable end-of-civilisation analogy for our times…