His calculus includes 37 movies, two albums and one film diary. But the star of Hollow Man is more than just the sum of his parts.
August 7, 2000
By Phoebe Hoban
Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark
Photo Editor Kathryn McCraver
233S-008-017 Visible Man: “He could have very easily just become a haircut,” says director Jay Russell of Bacon, photographed in May. “But he’s the real thing.”
Kevin Bacon is ready to rock. He saunters onto the stage at the John Harms Center for the Arts in Englewood, New Jersey, on a hot July night, in a white T‑shirt and tight black pants. He's come to play with his brother, Michael, and the rest of the Bacon Brothers Band, and the place is packed. Bacon swings his guitar, throws his hips, tosses his hair out of his face and leans into the mike: "It's Saturday night, man, in Englewood!"
The crowd roars, and somewhere out there well‑informed Bacon fans start shouting back "Happy birthday! Happy birthday!"
That's right: At 42, Kevin Bacon's got friends in the house, but as any musician can tell you, that's no reason to quit your day job. Bacon's day job, of course, is acting. His career now spans two decades ‑ a total of 37 movies. But that's not all; he's the epicenter of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the Internet trivia game linking him to virtually every other actor ever onscreen. (Bacon is just two degrees away from Laurence Olivier, for instance, courtesy of Marathon Man and Dustin Hoffman, who later showed up with Bacon in Sleepers.) The game made him famous for being almost famous ‑ an irony not lost on the actor himself, whose choices of roles have led him finally to a major disappearing act as an invisible scientist in Paul Verhoeven's big‑budget thriller, Hollow Man, opening on August 4. It's as if everything Bacon does plays into a game based on the premise that he is at once the most‑ and the least‑connected person in the world.
But right now all he wants to play is his music, and the Bacon Brothers Band wails on for two hours and two encores, closing with a high‑speed charge through "Footloose." For the hard‑core fans lining up for autographs, the concert has raised Bacon's cool factor by at least several more degrees.
A few days later, eyes hidden behind aviator sunglasses, hair fashionably messy, black shirt unbuttoned to expose a buff, tan torso, Kevin Bacon the movie star shows up for breakfast at a favorite neighborhood cafe on Manhattan's Upper West Side. There's just one disturbing detail: He's dangling a fat plastic bag full of live crickets. "For the bearded dragon, Spiko," he says, stashing the bugs. This is Bacon in his favorite role, devoted family man just back from the local pet store. He and 34‑year‑old actress Kyra Sedgwick, who have been married for 12 years, have two children, Travis, 11, and Sosie, 8. The family (including pet lizard Spiko) divides its time between a New York apartment and a farmhouse (complete with horses) in western Connecticut.
Bacon is back in town after a three-month cross‑country tour with the band. He talks excitedly about the thrill he gets from making music and about how "to stand in front of people and play songs you wrote about feelings is a very, very naked and frightening thing to do." It is Bacon's idea that this is good for him because maybe movies were getting too comfortable and "what I needed was a little bit of danger in my creative life."
Bacon made his film debut at age 20 in 1978's National Lampoon's Animal House, playing Chip, the hapless young ROTC cadet who tries to clean up John Belushi's act. Then came the baby‑boomer classic Diner, in which he was part of an impressive ensemble cast that included Paul Reiser, Ellen Barkin and Mickey Rourke. But it was in 1984's Footloose that Bacon broke out ‑ as the sexy young outsider with the fabulous punk haircut who brings dancing back to a town run by a buttoned‑down preacher. Says Herb Ross, who directed Bacon in the film over Paramount's objections, "They said he wasn't 'f—able’ so we gave him the world's most expensive haircut and he did a screen test, kicking and screaming all the way, and they bit the bullet."
During his prolific career, Bacon has appeared in such diverse films as The River
Wild, for which he won a 1994 Golden Globe nomination; box‑office hits including JFK, Apollo 13 and A Few Good Men; and such well‑received but not widely seen movies as Stir of Echoes and Murder in the First, for which he was nominated for several awards for his performance as a severely abused prisoner. Says Diner director Barry Levinson, "He's an actor who has been brave enough to play all different types of roles, from leading men to character roles." Adds longtime friend Jay Russell, who directed Bacon in My Dog Skip, "I've known Kevin through many hairdos. He could have very easily just become a haircut. But he's the real thing."
"It's an odd career," says Bacon. "What I really wanted to be was a serious stage actor. I got into movies because I needed the money and I was barely getting by doing off‑Broadway. Then Footloose came along and I had my 15 minutes of pop stardom. It scared me and it turned me off. I was young and I was stupid. You know, I'd love to have Footloose again. I struggled for 10 or 12 years after that. I was trying to do independent films and they weren't breaking out. The role I'm most proud of is Murder in the First. But it's also very par for the course ‑ the movie that I'm most proud of, nobody saw. It was a moronic release ‑ they put it out after all the fun Christmas movies. That's my nuts in a lifeshell."
Kevin Bacon was born the youngest child of six in Philadelphia in 1958.
His father, Edmund Bacon, 90, is a renowned urban planner credited with saving many of Philadelphia's landmark. His mother, Ruth Bacon, who died in 1990, was a noted educator specializing in early development. His sister Karen, the Bacons' oldest child, is 18 years Kevin's senior ‑then came Eleanor, Hilda, Michael, who is nine years older, and Kyra. "My parents, already having five kids, weren't what you call doting parents," Bacon says. "They were really just" ‑he searches for the right word "busy. And some of my earliest memories were of doing it on my own. I was very, very independent."
The Bacon household was well‑known in bohemian circles; Ira Einhorn, the charismatic Philadelphia guru who was indicted for killing his cheerleader girlfriend, was a good friend of the family's. "Creativity was the only thing that was encouraged," says Bacon. "I barely made it through high school, but the arts were put on a pedestal." According to brother Michael, their parents "related to that hippie stuff, and hippies related to them." Michael also recalls that as a small child, Kevin used to dress up in costumes and put on shows at his father's business parties. "I had a very strong desire to be the center of attention," admits Bacon. "I can remember always wanting to be looked at when I walked into a room."
Bacon took his first acting class at 13 and "fell in love with it. I was very career-oriented. I wanted to make money and take nothing from my parents. It was either acting or rock & roll, and I figured Michael was already doing that." Bacon appeared in a number of long‑running off‑ Broadway plays. He worked as a waiter at the Allstate Cafe, on the Upper West Side, and fell into the club‑hopping scene of the early l980s. "I used to go to Studio 54," he says. "I figured out how to get in there ‑it was all about the shoes. I used to go by myself and dance all night alone."
In 1987, Bacon, who had recently ended a long‑term relationship with actress Tracy Pollan, met Sedgwick. They were both acting in a PBS Masterpiece Playhouse production of Lanford Wilson's Lemon Sky. (Sedgwick later told him that she had actually met him when she was 12, after seeing him in a play.) "The first thing I wanted to do was have sex with her," says Bacon, "and then I really fell in love with her. She was not into me, though; it took me a while to wear her down." The couple married in 1988. "Their wedding song was 'Try a Little Tenderness,'" recalls the Bacon Brothers' manager, William Durrell. "Hollywood couples breakup all the time. But Kyra and Kevin are just meant for each other."
Indeed, two of Bacon's best songs are about his marriage: "There but for the Grace of You," an ode to Kyra, and "Ten Years in Mexico," about celebrating their tenth anniversary. "They are a great team," says Michael. "I don't think anybody does it better than they do. And my brother is militant about the amount of time he spends with the kids."
Bacon says he wasn't thinking about settling down, it was simply something he knew he was ready to do when Kyra came into his life. "When I met her, I think she was 21, we got married when she was 22, and she had a baby when she was 23," says Bacon. "Part of our foundation might be that when we met, I was really struggling and she helped me through it and she wanted me even when I wasn't the hottest thing around." Bacon is quiet for a moment, then smiles broadly. "In terms of commitment, you start with a houseplant and then you move to an animal and then you move to a wife," he jokes. "You really get to step away from your own ego when you have children. You just do everything for them. The thing about kids is, they really force you to grow up. I get an intense kind of joy from them."
Bacon and Sedgwick have a rule that neither parent is away from the family for more than two weeks at a time. Which made the 20‑week shoot of Hollow Man ‑ which involved painstaking special effects that required Bacon's presence on the set for long hours- particularly grueling.
Sebastian, the invisible character played by Bacon, was created by recording and rerecording Bacon's motions from multiple angles so that the actor himself is replicated as a sort of digital clone. "Kevin is the first actor that is really expressed in a digital way completely throughout most of his scenes," says Verhoeven. "We scanned him into the computer in three dimensions, and then registered every part of his movement and every expression of his face and then we animated the 3‑D model we had constructed of him."
Bacon says it's the hardest thing he's ever done: "They have a digital man in their hard drive that is me." Bacon was so frustrated by the long hours he spent in a latex mask and the increasing degree to which he was being "painted" out of the film and replaced by his digital counterpart ‑ appearing at different times as Kevin‑shaped rain, blood and smoke ‑ that he kept a diary of the experience.
"I started to feel like a puppet," he says, so he wrote about it, like the time he "was so upset that I kicked the hinges off the special effects trailer door."
In the end, though, Bacon realized it was worth all the effort. "They couldn't have done it without all the pain in the ass, and when I would see the result I was glad I was there."
Verhoeven calls Bacon a Renaissance man. "I thought Kevin was a great choice for this role because it's a character who combines a charming attitude and arrogance and evil at the same time," he says. "If you think about it, Kevin Bacon is the most invisible actor in the world, because he's such a chameleon. Isn't it perfect that he's actually going to play an invisible man?"