No One Knows The Real Kevin Bacon, But Everyone Has a Favorite Version of Him
I wish Kevin Bacon would look at me the way he looks at his goats.
Louis and Macon Bacon live on Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick’s farm in rural Connecticut, among their bovine brothers and sisters. They are the focus of Goat Songs—a TikTok series Bacon created during the pandemic. Be it in a field or in the barn, Bacon records himself serenading his pets with Radiohead’s “Creep” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way.”
To my untrained, hypnotized goat-loving eye, this is as authentic as Kevin Bacon gets. I’m sorry, but if a man is not at his purest singing beloved rock music to a goat, then purity doesn’t exist. In these moments, Bacon seems authentically himself. Just him and some goats, vibing, without the shadow of celebrity expectation lurking. In the videos, Bacon seems like the kind of guy you want to chill with while he changes the word ‘Go’ to ‘Goat.’
Of course, like most good things in life, this is a ruse. A devastating ruse. Bacon, a character actor, is always playing some type of role, even on social media. “I'm a performer, so maybe it's just a different level of trying to perform,” he says over a Zoom call in early May. “They really are performances—the goat songs performances and any kind of silly cooking.” That’s right. Goat Songs is just one in a series of programming. Check out Cook With Bacon, when you get a minute.
Not long after Footloose, he decided that delving into an arsenal of complex characters was better than trying to create a leading man persona. “Partly, it was out of necessity,” he jokes. “I'd done quite a few leads that just didn't perform.” Star vehicles like Quicksilver and The Big Picture flopped at the box office, but what Bacon noticed was that his strength was in something else. “Hollywood, in general, is pretty fickle,” he says, “and it doesn't stick around long if it hasn't been working with your name above the title.” Hollywood loved him as a male prostitute in JFK though. They were wild about him as a gritty detective in Mystic River. Wearing an open blue flannel shirt during our Zoom call in early May, Bacon gets into the particulars of his career sitting against a bookcase filled with VHS tapes—a relic of the 90s that’s still quite useful, so long as you know what to do with it.
The truth is, Kevin Bacon isn’t interested in sharing the personal details of his life. That’s part of the power of metamorphosis, right? To get all artsy about it, he’s a canvas first. Right now, when Bacon is not charming the internet with kitchen hacks, he plays Jackie Rohr on Showtime’s City on a Hill. Well, that and the goats, of course. But Jackie Rohr and Ren McCormack and Goat Kevin and even Interview Kevin are shades of someone unseen. That’s the trick: no one knows the real Kevin Bacon, but everyone has a favorite version of him.
The past year has changed Bacon’s perspective in a lot of ways. At one point, work schedules, compounded by Covid travel restrictions, kept him and Sedgwick apart for nearly four months. “When we got separated, that was the longest amount of time that we'd ever been separated in 32 years of marriage,” he says. “We just had this unwritten thing that we will get on planes, trains, or automobiles, and try to get to where each other are every two or three weeks.” Sharing meals is important to the both of them, but separated by distance, meal time went to shit. “I would be just sitting in front of the TV watching a football game, eating out of the pan,” Bacon says.
Following the pandemic-forced distance, the two were together more than ever before. Even after 32 years of marriage, you can’t know everything about the other person. The close quarters forced Bacon and Sedgwick, like a lot of couples, to see one another more closely than ever before. “Part of what we both felt worked about our relationship is the fact that we're both, at our core, are vagabonds,” he says. “People ask if we've learned a whole bunch of new things about each other. I don't think that's true, but I think we just learned how to get through that. I think part of it is.”
In the case of Bacon, isolation bears creative fruit. Over the pandemic, Bacon and Sedgwick shot a short film on an iPhone that will be released at the Brooklyn Film Festival. Bacon and his brother released a studio album. “If I'm not creating something, I don't really know what to do,” Bacon says before adding, “I also feel like with the whole Shakespeare writing during the plague, there's also plenty of times during this pandemic, which I always want to remember and highlight, where I would wake up and just stare at the wall… where I was just tapped.”
Eventually, when the creative juices were flowing again, Bacon turned to social media. In late summer, Bacon started getting more active on TikTok and Instagram, posting a series of musical interludes and food hacks—both of which fall in the category of internet love languages. There’s one video where Bacon teaches followers how to slice a banana with a needle and thread without peeling it. It honestly looks like witchcraft.
“You got to try it!” he insists. “It's not that hard!” I tell him that I’ll leave that to him.
Bacon’s first TikTok post promoted his charitable organization SixDegrees.org and its work to help frontline workers, but as the internet goes, his first post to truly go viral was one where he shared a mango recipe on TikTok while an instrumental version of Maroon 5’s “Memories” played in the background. It was so average and ordinary that it was hard to believe that ‘80s heartthrob Kevin Bacon was the one posting it. From there, the floodgates opened: goat songs, food hacks, cute relationship moments shared between him and Sedgwick.
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“I'm just basically throwing the shit against the wall to see what sticks,” he says. “It's kind of weird because on one end, I've always felt like I really wasn't interested in sharing myself. I was really more interested in just sharing my work. I've never really wanted to be judged in any way on what I do personally.” But I explain to him that, as it turns out, people love what he does in his personal time! And that sharing it online has paid off!
“Listen, I am one TikTok video away from being slammed,” he says, stone faced. “Trust me, there's no way of escaping that. I let somebody else read comments. I just can't do it because… my skin is not thick enough.” And speaking of impending cancelation and creating content during the pandemic, I’d be remiss if we didn’t chat about the now-infamous “Imagine” singalong led by Gal Gadot. What is it about Bacon cutting a banana with a needle and thread that works versus other celebrities singing about survival from their mansions? “I think that was a good hearted attempt… it just didn't,” he pauses. “It didn't work.” Even though he’s found a passionate fanbase on social media, Bacon admits that the idolatry of celebrity status isn’t one he endorses.
“It makes it very uncomfortable when people say, ‘We hold your relationship up on such a pedestal’ because I just feel like... forget that,” he says. “Don't look at my relationship, look at my last movie. You know what I mean?” It’s also, as Bacon adds, the only thing you see. The complicated notion of knowing someone online is that you never know them. You just know what they reveal. It’s an art, albeit an exhaustive one, that Bacon has been perfecting for 40 years.
Since his early days on Guiding Light in 1980, Bacon’s done hundreds of photo shoots and interviews. The line between celebrity figure and actor isn’t one he particularly enjoys. “To have to go on about yourself... it's a lot of work, and I've been doing it for a really long time,” he explains. “People will literally ask me in a photo session, ‘Do you like having your picture taken?’ I'm like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’” he says, laughing.
The public-facing stuff is a part of the job. Social media is at least a choice. But the stuff he’s most passionate about—his artistic legacy, if you will—is the character acting. “I can sit here and talk to you and, to a certain extent, be myself. But when I become a character, I want to feel like I am that character.”
Right now, the persona occupying his mind most is City on a Hill’s Jackie, a once-revered FBI agent steeped in sleaze with a dash of existential dread. Jackie begins the season by dumping his side fling (an assistant U.S. attorney, mind you) at a hospital after she has a stroke following a cocaine overdose. Real asshole, this guy. As the season progresses, Jackie struggles to hold onto his flailing career, support the family he has at home, and most prominently, navigate the antagonistic relationship he has with Decourcy Ward, an A.D.A with the moral compass Jackie lacks. “I almost get the impression that it's keeping me alive a little bit,” Bacon says of Jackie’s relationship with Ward. “He's younger, he's stronger, he's more vibrant. So maybe just the idea that I still can go toe to toe with him is something that's feeding my ego.”
But City on a Hill’s second season most poignantly follows two brothers, Anton and Kelvin, caught in the midst of a drug gang war. Their mother, Grace, is a community activist. By the end of the season, one is incarcerated. The other, shot dead by an officer who unnecessarily took a shot. “It's not good and bad,” Bacon explains. “That’s too simple. It's too simple a concept.” The series stopped production after two episodes last March due to Covid-19. When the show resumed, the world and social climate was largely different. The plot was reworked due in part to the trauma of the past year. “This kind of surge of social justice and [recognition of] racial inequality brought about by the murder of George Floyd really had a big impact on the people that were making the show,” Bacon adds. “There was some sitting down and taking stock of what we had to say for the rest of the season.” Set in the early 90s, the season does not end on some big social justice triumph; instead, it’s reflective of an era that, despite being three decades gone, looks painfully similar to our own.
And it’s all further complicated by Jackie, who stands in stark contrast; he’s a guy who can’t seem to do enough wrong to ever get caught. And yet part of the fun of playing him is the tease that he could ever be better than he is. “This comes up a lot in life and with families and stuff,” Bacon says, shifting around in his kitchen chair. “A family member's been a certain kind of way for 50, 60 years, and you wonder if there's ever going to be any kind of change. But then you see something new, they've taken a basket weaver and then you never thought they would do that.” Television has allowed him to remain with Jackie and see him start to evolve. It’s a development he hasn’t considered much on the film side of things.
When I ask him if there are any roles he’d be interested in going back to revisit, Bacon says that he likes to leave the past in the past. But then he doubles back to correct himself: Tremors, baby. “It was one film of mine that I wanted to revisit that character. I don't look back at all. In fact, Tremors is the only movie of mine that I have rewatched since it's come out.”
The cult classic co-starring Bacon, Fred Ward, and Reba McEntire (“Reba was fantastic. It was kind of a stroke of genius to put her in that part.”) was a critical flop and a box office nightmare. And then oddly, thanks to the growing popularity of VHS, it became a fan favorite. Universal reached out to Bacon to see if he’d want to do a sequel. “I was like, ‘Well, why are you making a sequel of a movie that I was in that bombed?’” Universal wanted a straight-to-video series, which was at the time the kiss of death for an actor. He passed and Universal made six increasingly bad straight-to-video sequels that did not star Bacon.
But Bacon had the itch to see what Valentine McKee was up to out there among the worm monsters. “We were around the 25 year anniversary. I went to Blumhouse, and they were totally into the idea,” Bacon says. “Universal didn't want to remake it as a feature and also maybe because it didn't work as a feature the first time. So we put it aside. Then they came back to me and said, ‘What would you think about doing it as a series?’” The series was shopped around, eventually landed at SyFy, and then died before making it to air. “I would still love to do it, believe me. Maybe it needs to be the 30th anniversary or the 35th. We'll keep going.”
While no role of his completely sums him up as a person, there’s definitely one that took him most by surprise. In fact, it was a role of his that didn’t even require him to be there. “When I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, I went to see it having no idea that I was discussed,” he says with a laugh. In the film, Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord references Bacon’s role in Footloose. Bacon’s legacy continues to be an ongoing reference in the franchise. “It was an afternoon in New York, I was on 67th Street and went by myself, as I often do.. I was like, ‘Holy shit. They're talking about me. Are you guys getting this?’"
Bacon has worked with Guardians director, James Gunn, in the past, while filming the superhero flick Super. “What I had heard was that my part was supposed to be played by Jean-Claude van Damme. So I'm like, ‘Am I going to take Jean-Claude van Damme’s sloppy seconds? Hell, yeah.’” As for whether he’d be down to reunite with Gunn and make a cameo in the upcoming Guardians film, Bacon doesn’t hesitate. “Listen, I love the idea. I would love to be part of that.”
For now, as City on a Hill closes its second season, the most high-profile role you can find Bacon in is still on social media. One day he might be singing Joni Mitchell in a tree. The next, he’s showing off his signature ‘Bacon’ Air Max 90s (Bacon is a secret sneakerhead, after all). But as for the guy that exists off camera, be it the kind on a Hollywood set or the one that is in the palm of his hand, don’t plan on meeting him anytime soon.
The truth is, Kevin Bacon isn’t interested in sharing the personal details of his life. And the harder truth is that those details aren’t our business anyway. They belong to him and Kyra and his children. Oh, and Macon Bacon of course.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.