Kevin Bacon’s youthful swagger and self-assurance hides his 42 years. Still fit and tanned, the actor who became something of an icon with Footloose almost 20 years ago, has since turned evil into an art form. Take Hollow Man, for instance, Paul Verhoeven’s $100m-budgeted thriller, in which he plays a very bad Invisible Man.
For Bacon, the attraction of playing bad is obvious. “I want to play a part that has some depth of character, and sometimes the hero is just the hero, you know? Sometimes I think writers write their heroes assuming that the shoes will be filled by some movie star who will bring his persona to that part, then they think their work is finished, and they have fun with the villains.” Having said that, Bacon hastens t add that he doesn’t have “any special affinity or love for playing bad guys; I’m perfectly happy playing good guys, I just want to play all sorts of guys and do something different from the last thing I did. Diversity is the name of the game for the actor, who recalls his two recent roles in Stir of Echoes and the kids’ film My Dog Skip as prime examples, characters who allowed the actor to be different. He refers to his Hollow Man character, an egomaniacal scientist whose invisibility turns him into a monster. “He’s not just a bad guy; he really is a monster; that’s what the movie explores: The transformation from man into monster.”
While Bacon may not be able to relate to the monster within, which he explores in the film, invisibility is something else. Asked what he would do if had the power to become invisible, Bacon surly replies, that he would “invisible myself right out of this press junket.” Doing publicity has never been Bacon’s favourite pastime. “I understand that it’s what goes into promoting movies, but I guess sometimes I feel that I’m an actor and the amount of times that I actually get to ACT seems to be less and less. It’s not that I hate it, but it’s not something that I would choose to do.” In Hollow Man, however, Bacon plays a part that represents a fantasy of most of us, that brings to the surface our voyeuristic nature. While the character has fun peeking at naked women, this is not a fantasy that the actor would engage in. “When I was a kid, I used to fantasise about going into locker rooms and watching women take showers. But I’ve subsequently had the opportunity to SEE naked women taking showers, so it’s lost its import.”
That is unlike his Sebastian Caine character, a man with his own twisted voyeuristic tendencies, a man “who is definitely approaching the world from a sexual place. He’s also getting a bit confused with sexuality and power and those two things seem to be overlapping quite a bit,” Bacon explains. “Not only is he going in fondling a woman, looking at her in the bathroom, he’s also walking around naked through most of the movie, rubbing up against people, just existing. This is all part of this character; it’s not exhibitionism for the sake of it it’s really integral to who the guy is.” Bacon even started referring to the character on set as horny man’, he says laughingly.
While on screen, Bacon relishes being the horny, bad, invisible guy, his career, though sounds established at this point, took a while to take off. One can say, he himself knows what it is like to be invisible in Hollywood. Bacon was a mere 17 when he left his native Philadelphia to become an actor in New York. For three years, he studied, starred in off-Broadway plays and waited on tables. In 1978, he made his film debut in the all-time comedy classic Animal House, playing the young cadet who tries to tame wild man John Belushi. “I only ever wanted to be a serious stage actor. I only got into movies because I was broke,” Bacon recalls. He went on to star in such films as the original Friday the 13th and that seminal classic Diner, and continued to star on Broadway in such plays as Slab Boys and Loot.
But in 1984, Bacon became an immediate star when he starred in Footloose as the rebel who brings music and dancing to conservative, small town America. “I didn’t know how to handle the celebrity and success that Footloose brought me,” he says. “I had come to New York to be the next Al Pacino, Robert De Niro or Dustin Hoffman. Suddenly, I was the next David Cassidy or Bobby Sherman.” Instead of embracing the success and celebrity Footloose offered, Bacon tried to become the serious actor of his dreams. It did not work out the way he had planned. “I experienced 10 years of gradually disappearing in Hollywood by trying to carry films that were box-office flops. Then I tried doing independent films, hoping one of them would break out, but none of them did.”
Bacon’s life slowly turned around, with his marriage to actress Kyra Sedgwick and a rejuvenated career, with roles in films such as A Few Good Men and JFK. 37 films on, and Kevin Bacon is back in the game, as he calls it.
To play Caine, the arrogant scientist who finds a serum to make himself invisible, Bacon had to spend hours each day being covered in green makeup and donning green contact lenses with mere pinpricks to allow him to see. He also had to spend weeks prior to filming being scanned by machines to turn him into a three-dimensional digital image. “I ended up working twice as hard to be seen less than I have ever been in a film.”
Bacon was so dedicated to the project that he came to the set every day for the 20 weeks it took to film the movie, even when he wasn’t physically required. “I wanted to be there to deliver my dialogue, to help the other actors, and also in case something didn’t work, so it could be fixed immediately, and not the next time I was in the building.” Ironically, the only days Bacon was not on set were for Caine’s seduction of his fellow scientist and former lover, played by Elisabeth Shue. “That whole sex scene with Elisabeth was done with wires, and because there was no dialogue, there was no reason for me to be there.” Bacon would spend hours being covered with green paint and white paint, not to mention having his face encased in a special mask. “It was the toughest job I’ve ever done, but in many ways, the most rewarding.”
These days, Kevin is far from invisible, though he maintains that if given an opportunity to reprise the celebrity status he attained after Footloose, he would certainly do things differently. “I’d use the celebrity to get work with some of the top directors in Hollywood, instead of foolishly trying to vanish.”