Kevin Norwood Bacon (born July 8, 1958) is a Golden Globe- and Screen Actors Guild Award-nominated American film and theater actor whose notable roles include Footloose, Animal House, A Few Good Men, Stir of Echoes, Wild Things, JFK, Apollo 13, Mystic River, The Woodsman, and Tremors.
Bacon's decision to become an actor did not come without pressures. Describing his father to Mills as a "city-planning superstar", he set very high goals for himself because he "felt nothing less than stardom would be enough." However, his movie debut in the fraternity comedy Animal House in 1978 did not lead to the instant fame for which he had hoped, and Bacon returned to waiting tables and auditioning for small roles in theater. He refused a subsequent offer of a television series based on Animal House in order to stay on the New York stage. Some of that early work included Getting Out performed at New York's Phoenix Theater, and Flux which he did at Second Stage Theatre during their 1981–1982 season.
His motivation to remain in New York still has resonance for Bacon. "I think my decision had a lot to do with just being afraid," he explained to Chase in Cosmopolitan. "L.A. scared me. I call it the city of fear. I get scared when I land, and I live in fear there, and I think a lot of people do. I mean, I've had a hard time in New York City too, but aesthetically and spiritually, I'm an East Coast person." With the support of his wife, actress Kyra Sedgwick, Bacon believes that he has come to terms with his qualms about Los Angeles, thus strengthening his commitment to acting. "Our lives are still crazy, we still spend a ton of time out [in L.A.], and I've finally admitted that the movie business means a lot to me", he told Chase. "I used to say, it's okay, I can do it, but it isn't that important, and then I realized I was out of my mind; this is what I do for a living.".
Bolstered by the attention garnered by his performance in Diner, Bacon went on to star in the 1984 box-office smash Footloose. Directed by Herbert Ross and packed with energetic musical dance sequences, the film tells the story of Ren McCormick, a streetwise Chicago teenager (Bacon was actually 24 years old when filming began) who, after moving with his mother to a repressive small town in the Midwest, is determined to reverse the town minister's ban on rock-and-roll made years earlier. Richard Corliss of Time likened Footloose to the James Dean classic Rebel Without a Cause and the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musicals, commenting that the film includes "motifs on book burning, mid-life crisis, AWOL parents, fatal car crashes, drug enforcement, and Bible Belt vigilantism." Part of the conflict centers around the relationship between the minister, played by John Lithgow, and his wild teenage daughter, played by Lori Singer, who falls in love with Bacon's character and joins forces with him to put on a dance in a neighboring town. To prepare for the role, Bacon enrolled at a high school as a transfer student named "Ren McCormick" and studied teenagers before leaving in the middle of the day. Sporting a punk haircut for the role and a rebellious James Dean-type attitude somewhat different than that of the Fenwick character in Diner, Bacon earned strong reviews for Footloose, appearing on the cover of People magazine soon after its release. David Ansen of Newsweek noted that Footloose "works because Bacon [is] always a fine actor," while Corliss found his performance to be "smart and appealing". The film itself, wrote Ansen, "has a lively, sweet infectious spirit," providing a "jolt of disposable but pleasant energy that makes you want to roll back the rug and boogie."
In 1990, Bacon had two successful roles. He played a character who saved his town from under-the-earth "graboid" monsters in the comedy/horror film Tremors a role that People found him "far too accomplished" to play and portrayed an earnest medical student experimenting with death in Joel Schumacher's Flatliners.
Bacon's next project was to star, opposite Elizabeth Perkins, in the 1991 romantic comedy He Said, She Said, codirected by Ken Kwapis and Marisa Silver. As clashing newspaper reporters who are forced to write a column together, the two fall in love; the film's story was made more interesting by being told twice, first from the viewpoint of Bacon's character, which Kwapis directed, and then from the viewpoint of Perkins's character, directed by Silver. Despite lukewarm reviews and low audience turnout, He Said, She Said was illuminating for Bacon. Required to play a character with sexist attitudes, he admitted that the role was not that large a stretch for him. "Until he meets Elizabeth, he sees women as sex objects...not people to respect or share your life with," he told Mills. "But he changes when he falls in love with the strongest woman he could possibly find. In some ways, this character is like me. What he's going through is maybe something I was going through ten or twelve years ago." After completion of He Said, She Said, Perkins had nothing but praise for her costar both on and off screen. "When Kevin first came on the set, I thought he was one of those actors who just breezes in and doesn't need to prepare for a scene. After a couple weeks, I realized that he does his homework, is extremely [focused], and never misses a beat," she remarked in Cosmopolitan. "What you assume is not always the truth about Kevin. He can come off as suave, and people may mistake it for arrogance. But underneath, he's very compassionate and kindhearted."
His performance that year as gay prostitute Willie O'Keefe in Oliver Stone's JFK received tremendous critical acclaim, Premiere calling his work "flawless", while National Review described it as "stunning". Shining among an ensemble cast in a small but memorable role had its appeal for Bacon, whose career began to swing in a more positive direction. Encouraged by his JFK reviews, he went on to play another character role prosecuting attorney Jack Ross in the 1992 military courtroom drama A Few Good Men, starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. Michael Sragow of The New Yorker found Bacon's performance to be the strongest in the film: "Kevin Bacon, as the prosecutor, gives the most full-bodied performance. You find yourself believing he is a career serviceman not because of his flattop haircut but because he's marinated in Marine tradition. His boyish competitive streak emerges from a saltier place than Cruise's."
Bacon's newfound career momentum did not stop with these two films; that same year he returned to the theater to play, opposite Saundra Santiago, in Spike Heels, directed by Michael Greif. Time, which praised the play's "tart wit, feminist insight, and quirky detours of plot", also pronounced Bacon, who portrays a wealthy cad, its "standout" for his ability to blend "ribaldry, rudeness, rapscallion reprehensibility, and believable redemption."
It was not until his work on The River Wild in 1994, however, that Bacon began to feel more confident about the success of his professional comeback. He earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for his portrayal of a compulsive liar whose boyish charm turns diabolic when he overtakes the raft of a former river guide played by Meryl Streep and her family on a white-water rafting trip. As Wade, Bacon initially flirts with Streep's character and then befriends her young son until it becomes apparent that he only wants her knowledge of the river to secure freedom for himself and his cohorts who are on the lam after a violent robbery. Describing it to Chase in Cosmopolitan as a "grueling shoot," in which "every one of us fell out of the boat at one point or another and had to be saved," Bacon had the added stress of worrying about Sedgwick and their children, who had joined him on location. Like the actors and crew, they had to come up the river each day in a helicopter, which would land on a raft and allow them to trudge to shore. "I'd hear somebody say, 'The Bacons are in the chopper,' and I'd see them waving, and then they'd come down," Bacon recalled. "It was terrifying because everything I loved was in that whirlybird." Dispelling any lingering suggestions that Bacon might not be leading-man material, director Curtis Hanson told The New York Times: "Kevin in our movie is playing a movie-star part. In another era if we were making this movie in 1950 I would have wanted Robert Mitchum to play that part." Hanson, after reflecting on Bacon's earlier career, also ventured to make some predictions about his future. "Kevin was going through a period of his life, agewise, that is as fragile as being a child star....You can be hot for a year or two and then you can fade rapidly," he explained to Hanson. "Whereas what Kevin's doing now—-whether by design or by accident is he's building a very fruitful and long career...and he just keeps getting better."
No matter how grueling the shoot of The River Wild was, it could not compare to the hardships Bacon experienced preparing for his next film, where he won the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award in 1995, Murder in the First . Based on a true story that occurred during the Depression, the film recounts the drama of Henri Young, a petty thief imprisoned in Alcatraz, who, after spending three years in solitary confinement, kills the inmate whose betrayal of him led to the punishment. Though Christian Slater, as his public defender, received top billing for the film, Bacon's character was the dramatic core. To transform himself into Henri Young, Bacon lost 20 pounds, shaved his head, and wore contact lenses that completely concealed his eyes and had to be removed every hour. He spent some time in a jail cell to get the feeling of being imprisoned. "In every scene, the character suffers a different level of pain," he explained to Chase. "Because he spent three years in that dungeon trying to keep warm, I picked this extreme physicality for him when he comes out. I'm all hunched over, and I walk with a limp, and I had to pull myself into that twisted condition everyday." Helping Bacon through the physical and psychological wringer of the role was friend and fellow actor Gary Oldman, ironically playing a sadistic warden who routinely brutalizes Young. "You know, when somebody's thrown a bucket of cold water on you, and he's beating you with a blackjack, and the blood is flying, it helps if the person wielding the blackjack is someone you trust," Bacon told Cosmopolitan's Chase. "It lets you fly." For Bacon, the experience of being filmed naked for several weeks in a Los Angeles warehouse and encrusted with mud and live bugs was not one he will forget soon. Nor will director Marc Rocco, who told Premiere that working with Bacon was "the most rewarding experience I've ever had with an actor." The film did well at the box office, and Bacon was given good reviews for his performance.
Bacon reverted to his trademark dark role once again, as a brutal and sadistic reform school warden in Sleepers in 1996. Like Murder in the First, Sleepers presents a gripping yet horrifying reality, in stark contrast to Bacon's ensuing appearance in the lighthearted romantic comedy, Picture Perfect the following year. Bacon again resurrected his oddball mystique that year as a retarded houseguest in Digging to China, and as a disc jockey corrupted by payola in Telling Lies in America. As the executive producer of 1998's Wild Things, Bacon reserved a supporting role for himself, and went on to star in Stir of Echoes (directed by David Koepp) in 1999, and in Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man in 2000.
Bacon, Colin Firth and Rachel Blanchard depict a ménage à trois in their film, Where the Truth Lies. Bacon and director Atom Egoyan have condemned the MPAA ratings board decision to give the film their "NC-17" rating over the preferable "R". Bacon decried the decision, commenting: "I don't get it, when I see films (that) are extremely violent, extremely objectionable sometimes in terms of the roles that women play, slide by with an R, no problem, because the people happen to have more of their clothes on. Bacon was again acclaimed for a dark starring role playing an offending pedophile on parole in the 2004 film The Woodsman; he was nominated best actor receiving the Independent Spirit Award.
He will appear in the HBO film Taking Chance, a movie based on a story written by LtCol. Strobl, an American 'Desert Storm' war veteran.
Kevin was also introduced as one of the writers for The Colbert Report on the first show following the writer's strike.
Bacon has been married to actress Kyra Sedgwick since September 4, 1988; they met on the set of the PBS version of Lanford Wilson's play Lemon Sky. "The time I was hitting what I considered to be bottom was also the time I met my wife, our kids were born, good things were happening", he explained to Cosmopolitan's Chase. "And I was able to keep supporting myself; that always gave me strength."
Bacon and Sedgwick have starred together in Pyrates, Murder in the First, and The Woodsman. They have two children, Travis Bacon (born June 23, 1989 in Los Angeles, California) and Sosie Ruth Bacon (born March 15, 1992). The family reside on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Bacon and Sedgwick insist that neither work on separate projects at the same time. In 1994, while shooting The River Wild, Bacon was accompanied at the set by his family. Bacon prioritizes his relationship with his children, something his father never did for him, and does not want to risk his career coming between him and his wife. "No place, no business could break up my wife and me. I would never give the movie business so much credit", he stated in Cosmopolitan. "To me, marriage is about committing yourself to one person. In my opinion, I got the hottest babe there is; I would never do anything to jeopardize that."
Bacon is the subject of the trivia game titled Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, based on the idea that, due to his prolific screen career, any Hollywood actor can be "linked" to another in a handful of "steps" based on their associations with Bacon. Although it has since been proven that there are "better" centers in the Hollywood universe, such as Sean Connery, Christopher Lee, Rod Steiger, Gene Hackman or the prolific Michael Caine, Bacon's name remained the focus because he was the first one selected by the game's creators, and because the name "Kevin Bacon" rhymes with the last word of the phrase "six degrees of separation". A person's number of degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon is known as one's "Bacon Number".
Though he was initially dismayed by the game, the meme stuck, and Bacon eventually embraced it, forming the "charitable initiative" SixDegrees.org, a social networking site intended to link people to charities and each other.