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Kevin Bacon on The Following, Playing an Antihero, and Footloose

Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

When we left Ryan Hardy and the world-weary team on The Following last season, though they were battered and bruised, they seemed to have finally nabbed the bad guy. But of course, evil can’t truly be contained on this show. Kevin Bacon spoke to Vulture about Monday’s season-three premiere, playing an antihero, and Footloose.

So we get to see you dance in the season-three premiere.  
I do dance a little! It’s true. When I saw that, I was like, “What exactly do they have in mind? I hope this isn’t turning into the angry warehouse dance.” That would definitely jump the shark.

But it would be entertaining. Like when you pulled out that old number for Fallon last year.
Yeah, the fan reaction to that was amazing. It got 17 million hits or something like that.

Can you believe that it has so much staying power? You’ve had such a long and storied career. But people will always remember Footloose.
I think it’s a nostalgia thing — just something that makes people smile, in a way. I can’t really put my finger on it, but it’s great. It was fun to do, and I’m glad people had a good time with it. And when I did that wedding scene, it was an unusual night for us on The Following. Because we don’t have a lot of nights where it’s music and dance and beautiful girls and happy people on the show. It’s just not our thing. But it was a nice moment, even as just a crew, to experience that. I had to really stop and think to myself, If I’m really being honest, how does Ryan Hardy even dance?

We learn pretty quickly in the premiere that Ryan Hardy has finally found love again.
A big part of the season for me is about the fact that Ryan is finally with someone that he should be with, in a way. He hasn’t been the best picker, you know? Wife of the serial killer he’s trying to catch, a tabloid journalist, and actual Follower — not great choices. It is interesting to explore this part of him. And I do feel that this woman is the one he’s supposed to be with.

Which means she’s in for it, right?
Well, Gwen is certainly in for the fact that Ryan’s job is his life. It’s hard trying to be with a guy who’s so enmeshed with Joe Carroll and is so stressed out and has his own version of PTSD. Will she be in physical peril? Even if she’s not, it’s a hell of a life to be married to this guy.

It feels like the peril is inevitable — anyone in Ryan’s three-foot circle feels the wrath of it all.
Yes, constantly. He’s constantly having people around him die horrible deaths. That’s part of Ryan’s curse throughout the whole show.

When we spoke last, you said TV was nerve-racking, because with your wife, Kyra Sedgwick, and The Closer, you guys didn’t realize it would be a seven-year commitment. It’s been three years and counting with The Following. Does it still feel fresh to you?
Yeah, it does. Because with every season, every episode, really, there are new challenges. And we have new writers this year, so that’s been a lot of fun, exploring that new relationship. In TV, the relationship between the writers and the actors is an important one, let’s put it that way. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s complicated. Building that character and that arc, I can communicate with the writers and say, “Maybe we do it this way, or maybe we add one more scene about this.” In TV, it’s so critical. So adding new people to the writers’ room, it’s very exciting.

The element of surprise is so key on this show. How much do you know in advance?
Surprise is not so important to me, though. Yes, I have to work that into Ryan, but as an actor, I don’t need that. If you’re doing Hamlet, you know what’s going to happen. So why should television be any different? That said, a lot of times with TV, they don’t tell the actors what’s going to happen. But I’ve kind of fought for that, in a way. It’s important to me. And at this point, I’m pretty clear on where things are going — and these writers, they really rise to the occasion. But also: Every episode is not written in stone. It can morph. Story lines take off, characters take on a life of their own. There’s new ground that you don’t think is ready to be mined, and then suddenly it is. And these days, even audiences will tell you where they want you to go.

Do the producers account for that?
I think that they do, a bit. We certainly saw that last season. But normally we’re on by January. This time, we’re on in March. So by the time we start getting feedback, it’ll be too late. So you’re stuck with us as is this time.

Tell me a bit about The Cop Car, which did well at Sundance. I hear you have a horrible mustache in it.
Well, I don’t know if it’s horrible! I liked the mustache. It’s a very, very cool little movie, and I’m quite proud of it. We were able to get it sold and distributed, and hopefully it will be out summer or fall. It’s one of those things where you read something and you have to do it. So I jumped in. It’s really a story about these two little boys, and I’m the bad sheriff. The cat in the game of cat-and-mouse.

You’re drawn to material that’s pretty dark. Even when you’re the hero, like in The Following, you’re the antihero.
Ryan certainly struggles with things a lot, in a professional and personal nature. I guess it’s because I like the stakes to be high. That really requires life and death situations. I find that challenging. And so when this show came my way, it afforded me those kinds of challenges. Every minute of every day for Ryan is life or death.

So how do you shake that off, once you’re done?

I have to get out of that headspace and back into life. Family stuff. My work with Six Degrees. Hanging out on the road with my band.

And you like hitting the road with your brother and the band.
While I’m finishing up The Following, we can’t really tour. But as soon as we’re done, we’ll put some dates together for spring and summer.

Is it still like very big brother–kid brother?
Yeah, I think that’s always going to be the essence of our relationship. But do we share a room? No — we get our own space. But we’ll share a day room and hang out. It’s family. It’s fun.

And speaking of fun — I know Michael Ealy is coming onboard as the new villain this season.
We’ve shot one phone call together so far. I just saw it cut together and it really, really works. It’s great to see it, because we’re eventually going to have to cross paths, and you hope that the chemistry is there. And Michael’s bringing a different energy to the show. He’s very different than Joe and James Purefoy. Joe was driven by charm and ego, larger than life. Joe was like a rock star. And Michael’s character, Theo, is smart and sinister, but wants to be as behind-the-scenes as possible. He’s like a shark that’s quietly moving through the water. And he’s killing it. He’s got that charisma, but it’s simmering. Not over the top. Michael’s character is a brilliant, intellectual computer genius. But chillingly evil. Ryan Hardy’s got his work cut out for him.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece referred to Ryan Hardy as Ryan Harding. It has since been corrected.

Kevin Bacon on The Following