Kevin Bacon: ‘A lot of actors say they’re really shy. That’s bullsh*t. You want people to look at you’

It’s 40 years since the actor starred in Footloose. In Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, he joins Eddie Murphy in a franchise that also dates back to 1984

Kevin Bacon: 'I love working with actors who take some very big swings, character-wise.' Photograph: Tony Cenicola/New York Times

Kevin Bacon has a rule for DJs at the weddings he attends: please don’t upstage the happy couple by asking him to dance to the theme from Footloose. That toe-tapper, in which he played a big-city teen who moves to a Bible-fearing, dance-prohibiting small town, is part of a canon of quintessentially 1980s titles that launched the actor’s career, movies that include Friday the 13th, Diner, She’s Having a Baby and Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

“It’s pretty wild when I think that it’s the 40th anniversary of Footloose,” the 65-year-old says about the film. “I was lucky to be a part of those films.”

Bacon is the perfect addition to Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, the fourth instalment of the wise-cracking, high-octane Eddie Murphy-headlined series that dates back to the same year Bacon bopped his way through Footloose.

“What I loved about the new Beverly Hills Cop movie is that they did a nice job of keeping the same tone of the original, without being a period piece,” he says. “It’s similar to what they did with Top Gun: Maverick. They kept the vibe.”


The film teams Axel Foley, Murphy’s unorthodox detective, with his estranged daughter, Jane (Taylour Paige), as they seek out Axel’s former chum Billy (Judge Reinhold). Returning favourites include Paul Reiser, John Ashton and Bronson Pinchot. Bacon plays a sleazy police captain whose shirt and shoes are a little too fancy for someone on the force.

“I get asked a lot if playing bad guys is more fun,” says Bacon, who has previously cast dark shadows across X-Men: First Class, Hollow Man and Sleepers. “I think writers seem to spend a little more time and detail writing the villain. The good guys sometimes are just the good guys, you know? With the villain you have to figure out the motivation.

“With Beverly Hills Cop it was a cool process, because I got a call from the director and we talked in detail about who this character might be and what his reasoning is. He lost his family. He got shot. He got nothing for it. You can’t afford to live in Beverly Hills, where he works. I also wanted them to look like someone entering the dating world.”

Bacon particularly cherished the opportunity to exchange comic barbs with Murphy. One frames the other as a cocaine dealer; Axel responds with a helicopter-jacking. And so on.

“He’s such an iconic performer,” says Bacon. “I’ve been lucky enough to work across all kinds of genres, and I love working with actors who take some very big swings, character-wise. That’s him. He’s the kind of actor that I admire. Certainly, to get a chance to get into the ring with him is a career highlight.”

Bacon’s admiration for big-swing actors has served him well. He earned his first Golden Globe nomination opposite Meryl Streep in The River Wild. He stood out in the starry ensembles of Sleepers, JFK and Apollo 13. He appeared on Broadway with an unknown Sean Penn in 1982; the pair would reunite on Mystic River, Clint Eastwood’s harrowing Oscar-winner.

“Mystic River is an interesting one,” says Bacon. “We had so much fun making that movie. So much of your experience as an actor is dictated by whatever the vibe is on the set. You can make a scary movie and it’s hilarious and everyone’s having a blast. Mystic River is a heavy movie. But working with Sean and Tim [Robbins] in Pittsburgh was some of the most fun times I’ve ever had. The days were short. We had great material. We had good scenes to play. We were all out of town in the same hotel. And we all love Clint.”

Kevin Bacon and Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F

Kevin Norwood Bacon was born in Philadelphia, the youngest of six siblings in a close-knit family. His mother, Ruth, was an elementary-school teacher and activist; his father, Edmund, was an urban planner and the author of the influential 1967 book Design of Cities.

“Creativity had a huge premium in our household. My mother and father were both visual artists in a way. She could paint. He wasn’t an artist, but he could draw as an architect and city planner. We were encouraged to love art, whether that was sculpture or music. There was a lot of music in the house. My brother and sister were musicians. I was a musician. If you needed something, we were encouraged to make it rather than buy it. It wasn’t about the money. It was about the creativity,” says Bacon, who with his brother Michael has released seven albums since 1995 as The Bacon Brothers.

Bacon was 18 when he was cast in his first feature film, National Lampoon’s Animal House.

“Honestly, I wanted to act before I knew what acting was,” Bacon says. “I have a very strong memory as a kid of walking into a room – any room – and wanting to be seen. That has definitely been there for as long as I can remember. A lot of actors say that they don’t want to be seen and they’re actually really shy in real life. That’s bullshit. If you become an actor and spend your whole life doing this, it’s because you want people to look at you, to see something that you’re doing. Why would you do it otherwise?”

His acting credits are versatile enough to extend from the wilful silliness of Beauty Shop, the Queen Latifah comedy, to his disturbing directorial debut, The Woodsman, in which he starred as a convicted paedophile adjusting to life after prison. The process, he says, is always the same. But he has picked up some pro tips from Kyra Sedgwick, his wife of 36 years and a frequent screen collaborator.

“I started doing practical research pretty early,” he says. “I enrolled myself in the high school where we shot Footloose and spent a day there to see what life would be like as a transfer student. In my theatre days I did crazy, dangerous stuff. And then I met Kyra and I watched her figuring out and writing backstories for her characters. And I still need to make playlists for whatever guy I’m playing. During the movie I’ll have dreams about the character, and I find myself moving in ways I don’t expect. If I’m doing a death scene I’ll get into that headspace and stay there for the day. But once the movie is over I want to say goodbye to whoever’s shoes I’ve been walking in. Even when it’s Beauty Shop!”

Kevin Bacon: ‘I was incredibly cocky and unwilling to take any advice’Opens in new window ]

Bacon has more than four million followers on Instagram, where he posts scenes from his goat and pig farm in Connecticut, #MondayBlues selections from his record collection, and footage of himself dancing around the kitchen table with Sedgwick.

“Years ago I heard a podcast with a woman called Kendall Ostrow,” says Bacon. “And she was explaining that it’s okay if you don’t want to be on social media, but if you are there you should do it properly. That stuck with me. I’ve been coming up with dumb ideas for content and making mixtapes since before Instagram existed. I taught myself to shoot and edit on a video camera early on. I’ll ask friends to play parts. It’s like writing songs. It’s something I do between jobs.”

As well as his Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild award and star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Bacon is probably the only working actor to have inspired a mathematical formula. The Erdos-Bacon number is a measure of “collaborative distance” based on Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the 1990s parlour game that has evolved into SixDegrees.Org, a charitable organisation that Bacon founded in 2007.

“We’re always growing and doing cool stuff,” he says. “It was a way to take something that felt a little goofy and do something with it. If you take me out of it, at its core it’s a cool idea. It’s the concept of us being connected, especially in such a divisive world.”

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is on Netflix from Wednesday, July 3rd