Kevin Bacon is known mostly for his movie roles, but he said that he’s wanted to star in a TV series for quite some time. It took a while for him to find a show that he wanted to be in, and that show was suspenseful thriller “The Following,” which is televised in the U.S. on Fox. In “The Following,” Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent who is brought in as a consultant to investigate a serial killer named Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy), who has a cult of followers willing to do whatever he commands.
There are many twists and turns in “The Following,” which (though flashbacks) shows the main characters’ back stories and their complicated personalities. Viewers learn in the first episode that Joe has a particular personal vendetta against Ryan not only because Ryan was the law-enforcement officer who was instrumental in imprisoning Joe for several years, but also because Ryan had an affair with Joe’s ex-wife Claire Matthews (played by Natalie Zea). Bacon talked about “The Following” in a January 2013 telephone conference call with journalists.
“The Following” can get very dark. Is that easy to kind of get out of your system at the end of the day, or does it kind of stick with you a bit?
I find that over the years, as you know, I’ve dealt with a lot of dark material in the movies as well. I think you have to find ways to protect yourself from that, and when I’m on the set, I’m very, very focused. We have to stay focused on our job at hand, and when you dealing with things that are of a thrilling nature, tense, ticking clock-kind of vibe, you have to keep yourself in that head space. But I work real hard to try to turn it off on the weekends if I can and connect with things like my family, my kids, my dog, take a walk in the woods, those kinds of things; you have a good meal, they’re able to pull me out of that head space.
Why did you decide it was time to star in a TV show?
I had been looking for a television series for a long time and trying to get my head around it. My initial call, if you will, to my representatives was probably three or four years ago. But it just took some time to really find the right one.
I had seen [my wife] Kyra’s experience secondhand [on “The Closer”] and was also finding myself to be more and more of a television consumer. The quality of the shows and the writing just seemed to be getting better and better and better, and I just found myself really knocked out by so many shows and sitting down and spending a weekend watching every episode of “The Wire,” stuff like that. And then, this one had the qualities that I was drawn to.
You had mentioned you’d seen Kyra’s experience secondhand. Did she give you any advice going into this yourself? And is the reason you wanted to do TV, because you’re very family-oriented? Does the schedule of TV, the pace give you more leeway there?
No, it’s not a family decision. If anything, I think one of the most frightening things about it for me was the fact that I was going to be staying in one place. If it ends up that we go on for a few years, that’s not something that I’m used to doing. I’m used to going from here to there to there to there to there.
Even though we have a really, really strong kind of central family, we also are gypsies. We always have suitcases packed and we’re not used a steady gig. So that was a real adjustment for her on “The Closer” and I think will be for me as well.
One thing that we talked about was the fact that when she took the pilot for “The Closer,” I remember us having a conversation and kind of said, “Listen, you know. It’s kind of overwhelming to think that you’re going to sign up for something for six years, but that never happens. Rarely does a television series go that long and rarely do the pilots even get picked up and all that kind of stuff.” And then, seven years later, she’s still chugging away on that.
So you have to really think whether or not it’s a place that you want to stay in for a good amount of time. I felt like the continuing exploration of this guy and what is eating at him and what makes him tick was something that would be interesting to explore from a character standpoint.
Can we expect Kyra to guest on the show? You directed some episodes of “The Closer,” and you two have worked together before.
Yes, I don’t think so. I’ll tell you why. I feel like that seems to be risky. If you’ve noticed, I never acted on “The Closer” because I think that when you have a strong character and then you take someone who has a relationship outside of it that people are aware of, you can really run the risk of kind of jumping the shark. It kind of feels like stunt casting. I don’t think she would be interested in acting on the show. You know what? Never say never. Who knows?
How do you think cable TV has raised the bar on horror/ thriller shows? What can we expect to see on a network series?
Well, I don’t know if I would quite describe [“The Following”] as horror. I think that we are making a thriller. And it’s a tense, fast-paced, exciting thriller that has a lot of moments that are a real surprise. And that’s really what hit me when I was reading the script.
Nobody really prepared me. I really, honestly, wasn’t even looking for something on network, but they said, “I think maybe this should would one that you should take a look at.” So I found it to be such a page turner and I found it to have so many moments where I just went, “Oh my God. I really did not see that coming.”
You combine that with two other things: One is this kind of giant concept of the idea of this cult that Kevin Williamson has created and just kind of the creepiness of that idea. And then, to me, the most important thing is that it’s an exploration of these characters and the relationships, and the fact that we’re able to go back in flashback and get some insight into why they have become and who they have become. The fact that you meet this guy Ryan Hardy and know that something’s bothering him deeply, but not learn all the details of that in the first episode is kind of an exciting thing for an actor to be able to peel the layers back.
Is that what you mentioned when you were talking about the reason you took the role is because of the things that sort of make this guy tick?
Because of the investigation, Hardy and Carroll really seem to know each other in a very deep way and while Ryan’s not necessarily a disciple of Carroll, is he sort of a follower himself?
It’s interesting that you say that. I’ll tell you what — in one of the episodes, and again, I think this is just a really cool idea from Kevin Williamson, we go back and we meet Ryan when he first meets Joe” and before he knows that Joe is a suspect. He’s just interviewing him by happenstance on this college campus.
And what you see is that he gets strangely seduced by Joe, not in a sexual way, but just in a friendship kind of way. Joe sees into Ryan and is able to kind of play him like a violin and there are a lot of qualities of Joe that Ryan really admires.
I’m not, when I say “me,” I mean my character, is not an extremely well-read and well-educated man. He’s not a people person. He’s not a charmer. He’s a dynamic speaker, and he’s maybe not even somebody that you necessarily want to go and have a beer with.
And Joe Carroll is all those things. And I think that I look up to him in a strange kind of way. It’s one of the dynamics of the show that is interesting, one that we continue to play with.
Will we see sort of a parallel come into play, that Carroll has his followers but now Ryan also has his followers, like Mike Weston, who have come to appreciate the book and what he did as an investigator?
I think that is definitely going to be there and certainly with the Weston character. I think the difference is that what you want to see on Ryan’s side is this ability, so here’s one of the big differences between the two guys. Joe has followers and believes that he can create more and more people that come around to his way of thinking and likes to be surrounded by people.
We’ll see his admirers and the people that are close to him grow and grow, and grow, and yet, except for maybe a few, he doesn’t seem to really deeply care about those people. They are kind of expendable, in a way. It’s one of the kind of sociopathic aspects of his personality.
I have nobody in my life and have pushed the people in my life away, and when Weston comes to me, I don’t want him to be close to me. I don’t want Agent Parker to come into my life. Even with Claire, I’ve walked away from her.
I’m very resistant of doing anything other than just being a man alone on an island. And yet, as the show evolves, I think I get more of an ability to let people in, to take help, advice, you’ll see more of that. And also, the difference between me and Joe is the people that I do let in, the people who are in my life, I care about very deeply, extremely deeply and that’s one of the contradicting elements of the two characters.
In the top 20 shows on the Nielsen ratings, about half of them were crime dramas. Do you see anything of a sort of contradictory nature in people saying, “Oh there’s too much violence, but we love violent shows”?
I think that this show is a thriller about a serial killer. That’s what it is and it’s not a comedy. As a consumer of films or television, if you’re telling me that something is a comedy, I’m going to be really disappointed if I go and I don’t laugh. If someone has pitched something to me as incredibly moving, I want real tears coming down my cheeks.
And if something is supposed to be a thriller, I want to be on the edge of my seat. I want to be scared. I want to have chills. I want to be grinding my teeth or turning my eyes or whatever. When we make films and television, we, I think, are doing it to try to tap into something emotional for people and this show is not an exception. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Why do you think people are so fascinated by serial killers?
I don’t know. It’s really interesting that you ask that because I’m really not sure. I was talking to somebody the other day and I’ve known the guy for a lot of years and he said, “Oh, by the way I read everything about serial killers. I’m just fascinated by it.” Gosh, I don’t know.
I think that when there’s a lot of darkness around, sometimes you want to just kind of confront it in a way that you know that it’s ultimately not real. It’s a TV show or it’s a movie. You know what I mean? I think there probably are more people watching films and television than there are watching documentaries about serial killers, but I don’t know. I really don’t have the answer to that.
Do you think Ryan feels guilty that he didn’t figure out Joe Carroll’s true nature until it was too late?
Ryan is nothing if he’s not a guilty person. He’s got a lot of baggage and a lot of that baggage is guilt. Because, as I say, I stopped him, but not before he killed a lot of people, and he has guilt about a lot of stuff even before Joe Carroll came into his life, things that, given the opportunity down the road, we may get a chance to explore. But Kevin Williamson said to me very early on in our conversations, and it was probably the most important piece that I needed to start to put this character together. He said to me, “This is a guy who has been surrounded by death and that’s continuing in his life.” I think that a part of him feels like maybe he has a piece of that, that he has some responsibility for that, and I think he feels tremendously guilty.
What makes you want to go to such a dark place and do this kind of character and basically be depressed all day long?
Well, doctor, I don’t know. [He laughs.] In the scope of a career, I certainly have explored things of a lighter nature. I’m the guy from “Footloose.” The biggest issue was whether or not the town was going to be allowed to dance or not.
Underground worms. This movie “R.I.P.D.,” that’s in the can. It was really a great thing to do because I’m playing a sort of, I don’t know how you would describe him, kind of like a zombie-type character, but it was really kind of a fun and light-hearted movie.
So I certainly like to mix it up. But when I was trying to choose a series, I wanted to be the hero. I wanted the character to be complex and flawed, because that’s the kind of heroes that I like to play and that’s the kind of hero that I like to see. That’s the stuff that performance is made of.
And I found as I was shifting and sifting through stories and pilots that I would really like something, but then I would think to myself, “I don’t know if the stakes are high enough.” I wanted to do something that was about life and death because when I was looking at things that I was kind of drawn to in a series, things like “Breaking Bad” and “The Killing” and “Homeland” and “The Wire” — even “Game of Thrones,” a lot of them are about life and death.
Does James Purefoy freak you out sometimes when you’re doing scenes with him?
No, he doesn’t freak me out. I love working with James. Our kind of working situation is one of those things that he came to us so quickly in a strange kind of way. It wasn’t something that needed to be nurtured and sort of built up over time.
We walked on the set, did our first rehearsal, and just had a great connection. I love the scenes that we get a chance to play, and he is incredibly well-prepared, and just great choices, and a great listener, and just a great actor. It’s a real gas to play with him.
How about those Edgar Allan Poe masks? Do they freak you out?
They’re kind of creepy, yes. It’s funny because when I saw them in the script, I was like the guy comes after me with a Poe mask. I said, “I don’t know, that seems a little — what is a Poe mask?” And, then I saw the actual realization of them and I thought they were really, really well -done.
Why would you recommend TV fans watch “The Following”?
It’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. It will shock you and surprise you, and hopefully you will get drawn into not only what’s going on plot-wise, but also what’s going on emotionally with these characters that you’ll want to come back the next week to see where things go.
For more info: "The Following" website
RELATED LINKS ON EXAMINER.COM: