RAILS & TIES directed by Alison Eastwood, written by Micky Levy, with Kevin Bacon, Marcia Gay Harden and Miles Heizer. A Warner Brothers release. 96 minutes. Opens Friday (October 26). Rating: NNN
He's best-known for dancing to a Kenny Loggins soundtrack. His career spans 60-plus films and spawned a pop phenom party game. He's been a category on Jeopardy. And his middle name is Norwood. Yet Kevin Bacon doesn't have much of a sense of humour.
He struts into the Toronto hotel room Travolta-style no surprise, given that he's been walking away with films for years and immediately gets down to business talking about his new movie, the indie drama Rails & Ties, directed by first-timer Alison Eastwood, daughter of his Mystic River pal, Clint.
Bacon plays a train engineer whose wife (Marcia Gay Harden) is dying of cancer. To make matters worse, a woman commits suicide by parking her car on the tracks in front of him, and the victim's young son (Miles Heizer) blames him for her death.
"I was very touched by the idea of these two very dysfunctional families: the little boy's family and his relationship with his mother, which is obviously a mess, and our marriage, which is kind of crumbling at this terrible time in our lives," Bacon says. "The guarded nature of the character was something I looked at as a challenge to pull off. You don't want to just write him off as a prick."
But just because he's made dozens of films and worked with her dad doesn't mean Eastwood's casting of Bacon was automatic. "I really had to lobby for it," he says. "In a funny kind of way, having grown up in the business, she doesn't get snowed easily or get railroaded into casting choices. She's much more savvy."
Slender and self-contained, with hardly a wasted motion (disappointingly, he never so much as taps his foot once during the interview), Bacon's delivery is measured and confident, and he gives off serious-actor vibes.
Serious actor is the reputation Bacon has struggled to cultivate since the Footloose and fancy-free days when he grinned his way through a slew of lightweight fare like She's Having A Baby and He Said, She Said.
Bacon's done that mostly by hiding out in the darker recesses of films like JFK, Sleepers and Murder In The First. When his fascist gay convict in JFK tells Kevin Costner, "You don't know shit cuz you've never been fucked up the ass," Hollywood started to see Bacon in a new light. Gone was the well-scrubbed B-grade Tom Cruise, a point he would make again and again as a sadistic reform school guard who asks a 12-year-old boy for a blow job in Sleepers, as the maniac who terrorizes Meryl Streep in The River Wild, as a pedophile on parole in The Woodsman, opposite his wife, Kyra Sedgwick.
"It was either that or wind up making He Said, She Said for the rest of my life," he says with just the faintest hint of sarcasm. Bacon's talent for villainy makes sense in retrospect. He was always a bit too intense-looking to play dashing leading men, his gaze too unsettling, his face too angular, his smile too ambiguous. Makes sense also that he almost wasn't cast in Footloose because the studio head a woman didn't think he was fuckable enough.
Sometimes even Bacon wonders about his penchant for tackling intense roles. This year alone he's made the revenge thriller Death Sentence, Rails & Ties and the upcoming HBO drama Taking Chance, in which he plays a soldier assigned to escort a fallen comrade's body home from Iraq. And he's about to start filming Frost/Nixon, based on the Broadway play and helmed by his Apollo 13 director, Ron Howard.
"These are all very intense parts, and I think, "Jeez, I gotta lighten it up.' You can't help but feel a little bit emotionally challenged and worn down by doing those things. But I'm glad I'm not thought of as a comedic actor who's desperately trying to do a serious film. That's a bit of an albatross, I would think. I don't think I would want to be in the position of saying, "Please, I can do some serious shit, too. '"
Surprisingly, Bacon says he has little trouble letting go of even the nastiest character once he's finished filming.
"When I'm shooting, I can go home, see my kids, my wife or go out with the crew, have a couple of drinks, laugh a little bit. But I know that on Monday morning I'm going to have to get back in that headspace, so the character's always kind of there with me until they say, "Wrap.' Then he's gone," he says.
"When I did Murder In The First, it was really hard. I lost a whole bunch of weight, I was in shackles and there were, like, bugs crawling on me. But I've got a picture of myself on a beach in Hawaii holding my daughter I'm emaciated and my head is shaved, but you can see in my face that the guy is gone. And this was maybe two days after we finished filming."
To Bacon's chagrin, there's one character that fans won't let him say goodbye to no matter what he does: Footloose's Ren McCormack.
"In some ways variety is one of the most difficult things to get in a career. Hollywood is shortsighted. They want you to do the same thing and do the thing you did well or the thing that made money, and you have to fight against that."
So I wonder whether he'd have preferred a success like Footloose to come along a bit later in his career. Or not at all. "I don't"," Bacon stops himself, shifts in his seat. "I feel things worked out the way they worked out for a reason. There are some things I've done that worked out and some that didn't, and I try not to look back in anger."
Like everyone else, I'm not quite ready to let Footloose go. There's a remake in the works starring Hairspray's Zac Efron as the rebellious teen who incites an uptight town to kick off its Sunday shoes. I wonder what Bacon thinks of the project and whether he could be lured into playing a part the town preacher role played originally by John Lithgow, perhaps if they threw a truckload of money at him.
"What I think they're making is a movie of the stage musical of Footloose that came out, kind of like what they did with Hairspray. So it sort of feels like it's one degree of separation removed, if you will," he says, unintentionally referencing the famous game that bears his name. "And except for a couple of times when I really couldn't pay my rent, I tend not to make choices based on money. I have plenty of money. My wife makes more money than I do; I can just live off her."
At this he allows himself to smile. After all, Sedgwick is the star of highly successful crime series The Closer, which has inspired a whole genre of hardnosed female cop shows. Of course, Bacon has made peace with his Footloose fame. He and brother Michael have a rock band, the Bacon Brothers, and they often perform the title song during their encore.
"I wish I could be smarter about my choices, but I don't think I ever will be. I don't have the crystal ball to look at something and go, "This is going to be something the critics will love or this is something audiences will love,' and make a lot of money. If I could do that, believe me, I wouldn't be in movies that nobody sees or critics don't like."
BACK BACON Two of Bacon's earliest films found him flat on his back. As dorky Omega pledge Chip Diller in National Lampoon's Animal House , he was trampled into the sidewalk during the homecoming parade. And Mama Voorhees jabbed an arrow through his throat as he lay in his bunk in the original Friday The 13th
BACON AND EGGS Bacon knocks up new bride Elizabeth McGovern in She's Having A Baby . The comedy about the labours of love marked a downturn in the careers of all involved, including writer-director John Hughes.
BACON SANDWICH Bacon engages in a threesome with Colin Firth and Rachel Blanchard in the Atom Egoyan-directed Where The Truth Lies .
BACON STRIPS Getting nekked -- emotionally or physically -- has never been a problem for Bacon, and he's never exposed himself more than as Murder In The First 's Alcatraz inmate. He's never exposed himself less than as the fleshless Hollow Man (unless you count the voice of Balto).
CHEESE AND BACON Between Jack Nicholson's bellowing and Tom Cruise's self-righteous smirk, all that was left of Bacon's performance in A Few Good Men was his regulation flat-top.
TURKEY BACON For every homer ( Diner , The Big Picture , The Woodsman ), he's hit more than a few foul balls -- make that fowl balls, as in turkeys like Death Sentence , The Air Up There and Picture Perfect .
BURNT BACON Tremors is a stoner movie that doesn't realize it's a stoner movie -- it's about giant sand worms, for crying out loud, and the hippy dad from Family Ties is a gun nut! But it's Bacon's desert-baked bug killer who steals the show.
CANADIAN BACON Okay, this Brat Packish thriller about med students who do afterlife experiments is hardly Canadian, but Flatliners did star Canuck Kiefer Sutherland.
RAILS & TIES Rails & Ties(Alison Eastwood) Rating: NNN
Kevin Bacon can make all the Mystic Rivers he wants, but he'll always be the guy from Footloose. The fact that killers and pedophiles account for many of his best performances makes critical recognition even less likely.
In Rails & Ties - sure to be another of Bacon's underappreciated movies - he plays an emotionally bottled-up train engineer whose wife (Marcia Gay Harden) is dying of cancer and whose marriage is crumbling. When his train hits and kills a woman, her young son (Miles Heizer) blames Bacon even as he finds comfort in the couple.
First-time director Alison Eastwood has learned a thing or two from Dad about economical filmmaking and allowing emotion to build naturally, but it's the acting that keeps this solemn and occasionally clichd effort from jumping the tracks.