Life, Death & Being Seduced by Joe Carroll: Kevin Bacon Talks “The Following”
Kevin Bacon admits he had been looking for a worthy television series for quite some time before settling for Kevin Williamson’s The Following.
“I had been looking for a television series for a long time and trying to get my head around it,” Bacon told ScreenSpy and assembled press in a recent teleconference call.
“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. 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.”
The Following, which premiered on FOX on Monday January 21st, to solid ratings and favorable reviews, has been making waves not only because of its violent content, largely unseen on a commercial broadcast network to date, but also because the project marks Bacon’s return to the world of television.
However Bacon’s high standards go beyond the show’s writing, and as he explains, finding a character with ‘hero’ quality was equally important.
“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. I mean 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.”
“I really, honestly, wasn’t even looking for something on network, but they said, ‘I think maybe this show would be 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.”
At the core of the show is Bacon’s character Ryan Hardy and his unique relationship with serial killer Joe Carroll. Carroll, played by James Purefoy, has a unique ability to charm and manipulate people which extends to Hardy himself, as Bacon explains.
“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.”
“[Ryan] 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,” he says.
On the subject of the show’s visceral violence, and the escalating level of violence on TV generally, Bacon is happy to address what he sees as a necessary and fundamental component of the show’s basic premise.
“I think that this show is a thriller about a serial killer,” he points out. “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.”
As necessary as he feels the violence is to the show’s premise, Bacon admits that he does also feel the need to protect himself from the material by finding ‘head space’ with his family at weekends.
“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.”
Catch The Following Mondays (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.