The Highs And Lows Of Mr Kevin Bacon
How Hollywood’s best-connected actor lost everything and won it all back.
Mr Kevin Bacon sits in a leather chair at Soho House New York, leaning so far back that he could be accused of slouching. At 58, scarcely a grey hair, and dressed in the typical New Yorker’s uniform of black on black – slim-fit denim, cotton, wool – he somehow still looks young enough that this might be mistaken for indifference. But he is engaged, his mind is working. It’s always working.
Mr Bacon is, famously, one of the most prolific actors of his generation – hence the movie buff’s game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, which MR PORTER asked him to play against himself here – although he rarely watches his own films. He works because he wants to. “I still love it,” he says with his signature half-smile, eyes twinkling through his careworn glasses that look like readers from a rack at a high-street pharmacy. “I find it challenging because I don’t think I’m as good as I could be. I think there’s room for improvement in the job that I do.”
He is anything but typecast and has never shied away from a challenge. He’s played a child abuser in The Woodsman, a gay fascist in JFK, a sadistic prison guard in Sleepers. He nearly went nuts while filming Murder In The First, shackled, naked and covered in bugs, rats and filth.
Mr Bacon enjoys putting the hard work in – “the 10,000 hours” – to get the right result out. “My kids always make fun of me,” he says. “They’re like, ‘I can’t get this thing working.’ I always say, ‘Did you go through the steps?’ There’s a tendency for people to want to skip steps to get to the result, especially in this day and age.”
But he also works because, to be frank, he has to. Ten years ago, Mr Bacon and his wife of 28 years, the actress Ms Kyra Sedgwick, lost their life savings at the hands of infamous Wall Street financier Mr Bernie Madoff. The Ponzi scheme swindler perpetrated the largest fraud in US history – estimated to be as much as $65bn – and is currently serving a 150-year sentence for his crimes.
Mr Bacon can’t or won’t put a figure on what he lost, but it was a great deal. “When you wake up and a significant amount of your wealth is gone, a lot of the problem was that you couldn’t really say how much. It just wasn’t there. It was like paper. It was just numbers written on a thing, but then it wasn’t there.” He holds out his empty hands.
The case has been turned into a forthcoming TV movie, The Wizard Of Lies, by HBO, with Mr Robert De Niro playing Mr Madoff. At one point, Mr Bacon was in the running to co-star, which would have been an interesting way to claw back some of his losses. Although it’s clearly not a subject he relishes discussing in detail, he is able to be philosophical about it now. “It’s a teachable moment, for sure, just in terms of being responsible with your money,” he says, sipping a pungent green juice. “Things that are easy are usually not worth it.”
Did the experience break him? He shakes his head. “We pieced it back together,” he says. He turned to his wife and their two children: Travis, 27, a musician who lives in New York; and Sosie, 24, an actress in LA. “You look around and you see your family, you see your kids, you hold each other, and then you get the fuck back to work. We looked at each other and we went, ‘We’re healthy. We’ll be fine. We’ll be all right.’ Of course it hurts, getting robbed. But we were lucky: we had work, we have work.”
His latest work is Amazon’s controversial forthcoming TV series called, intriguingly, I Love Dick. Created by Ms Jill Soloway (the Emmy Award winner behind Transparent) and due for release in May, it’s based on a memoir about a woman and her husband who develop an obsession for a teacher called Dick. “They only meet him once, but they kind of fall in love with him and that ignites their relationship in a sexual way,” says Mr Bacon, who plays the titular Dick. “It’s a very sexual show. People of pretty much every variety of sexuality are portrayed in the show. There are situations that I don’t think we’ve necessarily seen on television.”
More immediately we will see Mr Bacon in Patriots Day (no apostrophe, sadly), Mr Peter Berg’s movie depicting the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 and its violent aftermath in the ensuing manhunt for the culprits when the city was on lockdown. Mr Bacon portrays the lead FBI investigator.
He feels a special kinship with Boston. He met his wife in the city in 1987 while they were on the set of Lemon Sky together. He filmed The Departed there as well. And in Patriots Day, he sees a brutal connection between Boston and his home town of New York in the way both cities have had to face and recover from acts of terrorism in recent years.
“[After 9/11,] the thing that I remember the most was not the fear and the anger,” he says. “New Yorkers came together. There was this overwhelming feeling of: we’re going to take care of each other, we’re going to get through this. That was the feeling, I think, that the people of Boston had as well. The real heart of Patriots Day is this idea of love triumphing over hate. It plays very strongly in the film.”
The film, he says, stands more as an exploration of courage as much as a document of the damage wrought on a proud city. It’s a story of everyday heroism. “We’re taught and told, especially as men, that we’re not supposed to be afraid,” he says. “The truth is, there’s a lot of things that scare me. Inadequacy, failure, the state of the world…” He tails off. “Courage is what? Overcoming fear, overcoming the instinct for flight, keeping going.”
Well, he should know.
Patriots Day is out now (US); 23 February (UK)