by Chesley Turner
There are not many Hollywood types he hasn’t worked with nor characters types he hasn’t portrayed. From teenage Ren in Footloose thru Henri Young in Murder in the First and Sean Devine in Mystic River to a harrowing portrayal of Lt. Col. Michael Stroble in Taking Chance… It’s Kevin Bacon.
For Kevin Bacon, movies are a career, and the spotlight is not to be approached with the idealism of yesteryear. “I’ve learned so much since I started. You have to have the ability to navigate between the fact that this is a business and the fact that it is a form of creative expression.” Obviously that’s not the easiest of tasks, and it took some time for Kevin to find his creative/business equilibrium. It seems that even for our favorite actors, there’s a learning curve when it comes to life. “I think there are some decisions that I made where I should probably have been thinking more about the business side of it and less about my ideas of art for art’s sake. If you’re able to find commercial projects that people go to see, that opens up a lot of opportunities for you on the artsy side of things. You’ve got to keep those things balanced.”
Over 33 years of being on screen, Kevin Bacon has developed a business strategy. And yet despite his practical approach, it’s clear that career and calling go hand in hand. “When I became an actor, I knew that I was gonna be in it for the long-haul. This was not something I was trying out for a little while. My mentality was always: THIS IS MY LIFE.”
Moving to New York at age 17 seemed the best way to kick-start that life, and he hasn’t been disappointed. This is the city where he learned the true meaning of success. “I always believed that, yeah, you want money and fame and glory and all those kind of things, but I always knew that if I could stop waiting tables and support myself completely from acting, that would be a measure of success. I worked with seasoned actors who were going from town to town to town doing parts, and that was what they did. They taught me a great lesson about adjusting your expectations. We can’t all be superstars, but if you can do something that you really love doing, and you can support yourself, that’s huge.” Though career certainties are hard to come by in this day and age, Kevin takes stock in finding a path and sticking to it. “That’s the advice that I give to young people, and it’s true. When things don’t go well – and many times they don’t. I know it’s hard to believe, but the perception of someone’s career is different when you’re actually in it – but on the worst day, it’s not like, ‘Oh that’s it, i’m giving up.’ On the worst day, I know I’m still doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel extremely lucky to have that conviction.”
Fueled by this conviction, ever since Animal House, Kevin has been steadily amassing quite a list of roles. He’s had his turn as Ren McCormack, teen idol, saving Catch-22 from a fiery fate and flouting misguided authority (no irony there) to liberate minds and feet in small town America. He’s done military service as Jack Ross, US Marine Captain and prosecuting attorney and witness to the hard-to-handle truth. He’s portrayed Jack Brennan, Chief of Staff and confidant to America’s most controversial president. And in between, he’s cheated death, been a corrupt prison guard with sinister proclivities, gotten lost in space, killed giant maneating worms, and even spoofed his “biggest fan” on a recent Logitech commercial. “I’d like to do more comedy,” he says, “but it’s kind of like with anything else in Hollywood, you have to talk people into doing something. People have a very short memory when it comes to performances. I did a few years with a lot of very intense stuff.”
Although it’s hard to shake that repetitive role-casting, this year’s films show promising variety. Coming soon, we’ll see him as super-villain Sebastian Shaw in the new X-Men: First Class, a film which introduced Kevin to some new screen kings and queens, and reminded him about the challenges of acting in the age of technology. “Usually something ends up on your radar and you hear about a part in the works. Not this time. I got a call and my agent said, ‘Drive down to Fox, sit in this room, read this script, and if you want it, it’s yours.’” Eight months later, shooting began. “The film is chocoblock full of some of the best young actors that are working right now – James McAvoy, January Jones, so many others – so to get a chance to play with that generation was fantastic. But working in effects movies with a lot of green screen has its challenges. To be able to hold on to the reality of what you’re doing… I have a newfound appreciation for those actors who can deliver great performances in situations like that: Heath Ledger and Johnny Depp and Christian Bale and Robert Downey Jr. It’s very challenging.”
Kevin was also in Super, a recently released film with an entirely different take on superheroes. “It’s a fun, off-beat superhero movie with Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page and Liv Tyler. It’s a movie that’s cool; it’s extremely indie. It’s great to be able to bounce back and forth a little bit between something like X-Men and something like Super.” There’s also Crazy, Stupid, Love this summer. “That’s an awesome cast: Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Marisa Tomei, Emma Stone. It’s a romantic comedy about (pause)… people getting separated.” Noticing a trend? In three of his most recent projects, Kevin has worked with an impressive and extensive variety of both Hollywood’s elite and its freshest faces. Take a scroll through his filmography, and you see a similar story, all the way back to ‘77’s Animal House. So it’s no surprise that Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is an enduring pop culture craze. It seems like anyone can be linked to Mr. Bacon. At the same time, this is a strangely reassuring concept that makes this world a little smaller and draws its people a little closer.
It was only a matter of time until the concept of Six Degrees became less about a fame game and more about helping people. “It’s an idea that I believe very strongly in – if you take me out of it. The idea of the connectivity of human beings is, I think, one of the secrets to our future. I don’t believe that the answer to any of the problems in the world is to circle the wagons and look out for number one. What we do in this world is going to affect people down the street, down the block, whatever. That’s so evident right now, it’s just staggering.”
Inspired by this idea, Kevin launched SixDegrees.org, a philanthropic aggregate that pulls together more than 1.2 million charities, allowing site users research, access, and donate to whichever cause they choose. “I was kind of thinking about my philanthropic life. You’re asked to do a lot of stuff as an actor, and everything was spread out; there were a lot of things I was involved with. I thought, maybe there’s a way to focus it and make it into one thing.” At the same time Kevin was inspired by Paul Newman, who had translated his love of cooking into Foodline, effectively making a philanthropic effort out of a personal passion. “I thought, ‘What do I have?’ The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game wasn’t a thing, it was a concept. So I thought, ‘Well, maybe there’s something I can do around that idea.’” After purchasing SixDegrees.org and chatting with some people in the philanthropic world, he came across Network for Good, a group that was working with the same objective, and together they moved forward, connecting people and charities through a single site. “It’s social networking with a social conscience.”
Though it’s evident that he’s content, there’s still an element of restlessness to Kevin, a recognition of the ever present challenges that come with the acting territory. The constant moving, changing, pressing forward that is imperative for creative minds can also take it’s toll. “It’s what I call a vagabond lifestyle. Sometimes you complain about life, about living in a sea of suitcases. Next week my wife is heading to LA ‘til December, and in a few months I’m loading the dogs into the car and driving across the country. What happens after that is kind of a mystery. Sometimes I think I’m nuts; I think, ‘I’m too old for this shit.’ But that’s what keeps me young, the not knowing. And the moving. The ‘I gotta keep walking down the road, and walking down the road, and walking down the road.’”