15 Minutes with Kevin Bacon

The Hollywood icon talks to LAMag about his latest movie “Space Oddity,” working with the likes of Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood and his ambitions of directing

Kevin Bacon has been a permanent fixture on the big screen since the late 70s, starring in classics like Footloose, A Few Good Men, Apollo 13, Mystic River, and Hollow Man. The actor now stars in Space Oddity, the directorial debut of his wife, Kyra Sedgwick.

Space Oddity follows a young man, Alex (Kyle Allen), who decides to go on a one-way colonization mission to Mars. However, an unexpected romance forces him to choose between staying on Earth or leaving home forever.

LAMag: In Space Oddity, you’re directed by your wife, Kyra—what was it about this movie that made it a right fit for this?

Kevin Bacon: She’s a great director and I liked the script. As you can see from how my career has laid out, I’m somebody that enjoys going back and forth between larger roles and smaller roles and also larger movies and smaller movies. Years ago, I decided to take three things out of the decision-making process: One, the size of the role, two, the size of the film’s budget, and third, the size of my salary. Once I did that, the possibilities are endless in terms of the kinds of parts you can be asked to play.

I thought what was going on with this family—this man and his son and the way that they have covered up this family tragedy was an interesting dynamic to explore. He is an understated guy with simple needs and desires, which are to keep this small flower farm running and protect this corner of the Earth. Those are different sets of circumstances from the characters that I’ve played recently and I always like to explore new pieces of the human condition.

How do you find that transition from smaller budget movies to larger budget? Or does it not make a difference as an actor?

I don’t think it makes a difference—no, my process is still the same. I’m not going to do a cheaper performance because I’m not getting paid as much, I don’t really look at it that way. You have fewer luxuries, maybe the food’s not as good, the dressing room is not nonexistent. On Space Oddity there really was no dressing room. The page count is going to be heavier, you’re going to be doing maybe 10 pages a day because you’ve only got 20 to 23 days to shoot the film, as opposed to 23 weeks on something like X-Men or some big thing. But my own personal process is really similar. I do think that one of the things that I appreciate about doing smaller films is that when I get onto a bigger film… I’ve made a lot of movies and I can see that there’s a lot of wasted time and a lot of wasted money and a lot of things are just not necessary, in terms of how films can be made. Sometimes it’s good to get back to the kind of streamlined working situation.

In Space Oddity, you play a father, and your son is flying the nest. Were you able to tap into some of your own anxieties as a parent from when your kids were younger and that they’d eventually be leaving the nest too?

My wife has a great quote: “Being a parent is the only job that you can take on knowing that some day, if everything works out well, you’ll be fired.” Is it bittersweet? Yes. On the other hand, I would never want a situation where my kids didn’t have the ability to spread their wings and fly. Stepping away from your parents is part of becoming an adult and living your life and getting out of their shadow. With the empty nest, there are all sorts of bittersweet moments. I remember with my son, the first time we walked down the street and he didn’t want to hold my hand, so we are talking the age of 4…that had its own empty nest feeling where it kind of hurts but he’s got to learn things for himself.

The other thing that I’ll say is that, when they go away, I think oftentimes what people are most afraid of when it comes to the empty nest is who’s left in the nest. I think often they will have this moment where they look at each other and they go “Gosh, it’s just me and you now.” My wife and I got pregnant on our honeymoon and so we had a very, very short amount of time that we were together. Frankly, I was looking forward to that. I was like, “This is gonna be awesome, it can just be me and you now.” So I think that we were kind of lucky in that way that it was something that we were looking forward to. I think that a lot of people in marriage are afraid of not having the distraction of the children around.

You’ll also be going on tour soon with your band, The Bacon Brothers. What’s it like to hit the road?

I’ve been doing this for so many years, there is something kind of old hat about it. We put the band together in 95 and at that point, I had already lived a lot of my life on the road as an actor but not as a musician. It’s a very different thing. When you’re an actor, you don’t go from town to town to town, you stay in one place. You may stay in Bulgaria for a couple of months but you’re not going from city to city across the country like we do. There was a time when there was a certain kind of romance about the road to me but that has certainly faded. We’re all in our 50s. What I like is the show, everything else is the work part, the getting there, the soundcheck, hotel rooms. All the rest of it doesn’t hold any appeal for me anymore but the show is fun and that’s why we keep doing it.

What’s it like performing in places like L.A. and California?

L.A. is not my favorite place to play. Only because…well let’s put it this way, we haven’t had great shows in L.A. It’s such an industry town and in a funny kind of way I don’t think that people want to see me as a musician in L.A.—it shows a kind of disloyalty to my industry. We always joke that people come to L.A. and people come to the show and come backstage because they want to give you a script. But I love playing in other parts of California, like San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento and Bakersfield. There are tons and tons of places outside of L.A. that are great.

You have such a vast and wide-ranging filmography but do you have one particular movie that you look back on with the most fondness?

One that I really enjoyed and really sticks out was Mystic River. It was [Clint] Eastwood directing from a great script from a great book by Dennis Lehane. We were in Boston and it was an ensemble of guys and we were all at a place in our lives, Sean [Penn], Tim [Robbins], Fish [Laurence Fishburne], and I, where it was just a good time for us to come together to make that movie. We were all really knocked out by Eastwood and his very no-bullshit process. We were all staying in the same hotel and we had a great time making that.

It must have been quite surreal to have been directed by Eastwood, I presume you would have grown up watching his cowboy and Dirty Harry movies?

He is an icon and a legend and he is not disappointing. They say don’t meet your heroes because they’re going to disappoint you but he definitely wasn’t disappointing. He was very humble and really fun to work with and hang out with. We all came to work on that movie with our game jerseys on, we really wanted to bring it for him. People don’t often talk about this but he is a guy that has directed 30-some movies and there are not a lot of directors that have directed that many movies—it takes a long time to direct movies. But there are definitely no actor-directors that have done that, he is singular in that way. He started as a young man when he didn’t have to direct, a giant movie star he could have just kept making one movie after another, just being a star. But he looked at it and wanted to run the show and that was a very unusual path that he had taken and that he continues to take. I mean it’s kind of remarkable.

Would you like to direct feature films yourself?

Yeah, I would. It’s one of those things where I keep getting these great parts. It’s not something I want to complain about but I’m often looking at stuff to direct and then I just get so busy with acting gigs. Directing is the type of thing where you’ve got to say, “Okay, this is the year that I’m devoting to this particular piece of work.” It’s very consumptive. I try to keep my head in the game every once in a while. The last TV show I was on, I directed, and it keeps my chops busted off to get behind the camera every once in a while. But that’s always part of what I’m thinking, “Boy, it would be fun to be directing more.”

You also worked with Jack Nicholson on A Few Good Men—what was that experience like?

That was fantastic! He was incredibly professional and riveting to watch him do his stuff. It was again, a great cast, a great Aaron Sorkin script, great director with Rob Reiner. It had Tom [Cruise] and me and Jack, Kiefer [Sutherland], Kevin Pollak, and on and on. It was just a fabulous gig and of course, everybody is so excited when he [Nicholson] turns up.

I moved to New York in 1976 and he was doing such amazing stuff. The thing about him that I was always struck with as a young man was that he was an actor who didn’t seem to give a shit at all if people found his characters sympathetic or not. I think the whole ethos of film acting up until that point was that you were either someone that played the big guy or a bad guy. But if you were a flawed hero you had to always keep trying your best to make your flawed hero somehow sympathetic, whatever that means. It comes out in Five Easy Pieces and The Last Detail and in these kinds of movies, he just had an attitude about his characters. By being so anti-movie star, he was such an amazing movie star. He was one of the people that I would look at and think if I could somehow, not try to act like him, but try to have a career that somehow fits into that pocket- Chinatown, The Shining, and the list goes on and on. Y

Yeah, it was fantastic.

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.