stars as former FBI Agent Ryan Hardy in The Following (Mondays at 9 p.m. on FOX). In the new drama from executive producer Kevin Williamson (Scream, The Vampire Diaries), Hardy is called in to track serial killer Joe Carroll, a man he put away nearly a decade ago.
It’s the first TV series for Bacon since the 54-year-old had a role on Guiding Light in the early ‘80s. Paste recently caught up with the Footloose actor to talk about his new role, making the transition to TV and what it’s like to play such a world-weary guy.
: You have said you were interested in doing a TV series. Why?
Kevin Bacon: I was having this experience kind of secondhand because my wife [actress Kyra Sedgwick] was on a television show for seven years [the hit TNT series The Closer]. In the course of those seven years I got a chance to see the enjoyment she was getting out of it, had a chance to direct it, and, because she was in the TV business, all of the sudden I was much more in tap with TV shows. I started watching a lot more shows, started realizing me and my friends when we would get together, that is what we would talk about.
: What TV shows did you watch?
Bacon: I went back and watched every episode of The Wire, Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad, Brotherhood, Homeland, 24.
: But you haven’t done a TV series since The Guiding Light. Why?
Bacon: My agents and managers knew that they were not to ever even suggest television. This was at a time when you were either a TV actor or a movie actor. I think they felt that, you know, they mention TV, I would hit the roof or something. So the actual first call that I made probably three or four years ago was a difficult one because it was so ingrained in me that that’s not where I should be. And then I started reading TV pilots and they were just amazing, really just amazing writing. I realized how much great writing is out there.
: What has been different about filming a TV series versus all the movies you made?
Bacon: I think you have to get your head around not knowing what the future necessarily holds because I haven’t read a bible to this whole thing. While Kevin [Williamson] has ideas I’m sure about where the show is going, they’re also kind of fluid depending on what seems to be working and the characters that are working. He plays it fairly close to the vest in terms of what the future holds, but I kind of got my head around the idea that in a way I don’t really need to know that. What I need to know is what’s happened in the past and what’s happening right now.
: Have there been things that have come up in the script that have surprised you?
Bacon: There’s been plenty of things I didn’t see coming. Sometimes there’s things that come up in the backstory that I hadn’t really thought through. I keep telling Kevin [Williamson], “As long as we can keep peeling back some kind of a layer, wherever you’re going with this thing please keep giving me opportunities to show another aspect of who this guy is or who he was or who he could become.”
: Obviously you’re not an FBI agent who tracks serial killers. What are you connecting to when you play Ryan?
Bacon: I think I tap into the guilt that he has because I think he really believes that if he wasn’t around that Joe wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing and that he is somehow responsible. He has a great burden of responsibility in this whole thing.
: Ryan’s life is pretty horrific right now. Are you finding it hard to shake this character at the end of the work day?
Bacon: On TV because there’s no end in sight you have to be a little more cognizant of trying to shake it off at the end of the day. I’m pretty good at leaving my work at the office. I stay fairly serious when I’m on the set. I have to because I’m not someone who can really turn it on and off.
: The show spends quite a bit of time showing us Ryan’s past. How do you like going back and forth between the years?
Bacon: In some ways I think of myself as two characters. There’s the Ryan of the present and there’s the Ryan of the past. When I’m in the past, I feel lighter. I move lighter without even trying to look younger; I look younger. I find myself when we’re in the flashback scenes joking with the crew, having more fun.
: I’ve seen the first four episodes and poor Ryan doesn’t really get a break. Will things start to get a little better for him?
Bacon: There’s an episode that’s really kind of cool. It’s the sixth episode and you see another side of him because he realizes he has nothing to lose. It kind of emboldens him in a funny kind of way. He becomes more of a wiseass.
: You directed episodes of The Closer and your daughter Sosie Bacon appeared on The Closer. Any chance we will see your wife or your daughter on The Following?
Bacon: My wife, I don’t think it would be that good an idea because I think it would take people out of the show. We tread lightly on that because sometimes it can feel like some stunt casting. My daughter, I don’t know. We’ll see what comes up.
: You’ve been acting professionally since you were about 20 years old. What’s kept you in the business?
Bacon: I didn’t ever think it was just something I was trying for a while. It’s always been “I’m going in and I’m never turning back. This is what I’m going to do.” It’s not like “I’ll do this until something better comes along.”