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A Manhattan Story: 'Downtown'

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Downtown: My Manhattan, by Pete Hamill.

04:55

Other segments from the episode on January 18, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 18, 2005: Interview with Kevin Bacon; Review of Pete Hamill's new book, "Downtown: My Manhattan."

Transcript

DATE January 18, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Kevin Bacon discusses his career and his latest film,
"The Woodsman"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Kevin Bacon, is starring in the new movie "The Woodsman." He plays
a sex offender who has just gotten out of prison after serving 12 years for
molesting young girls. The movie follows him as he tries to re-enter society
and keep control of his own impulses. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott
described Bacon as giving `a complex, unsettling performance, a reminder of
the power of screen acting to illuminate even the darkest of souls and to
bring us closer to people we might otherwise do everything possible to avoid.'

Bacon got his start in movies like "Footloose" and "Diner." He's since
starred in many films, including "Apollo 13," "Murder in the First," "The
River Wild" and "Mystic River." We're going to look back on some of his roles
a little later. Let's start with a short scene from "The Woodsman." Bacon's
character, Walter, is meeting with his psychiatrist and has confided that he
just followed a young girl in a shopping mall, but he didn't touch her or talk
with her.

(Soundbite of "The Woodsman")

Unidentified Man: What did you think would happen?

Mr. KEVIN BACON: (As Walter) I don't know.

Unidentified Man: What did you want to happen?

Mr. BACON: (As Walter) I don't know. Would you please stop writing on the
(censored) pad? You know that if anything happens to me, I go back to prison,
no parole, no nothing, for life.

Unidentified Man: Is this the first one?

Mr. BACON: (As Walter) Of course it is. Why do you think I'm telling you?

Unidentified Man: I want you to calm down. You followed a girl. Perhaps you
wanted to see what it felt like after so many years. Maybe subconsciously you
were testing yourself, and here you are, talking about it with me. This is
positive. Walter, we'll pick up here next week.

Mr. BACON: (As Walter) Remember when you asked me what my idea of normal was?
Normal is when I can see a girl, be near a girl, even talk to a girl and not
think about--that's my idea of normal.

GROSS: I asked Kevin Bacon about preparing for his role in "The Woodsman."

Mr. BACON: You know, I didn't spend time hanging out with child molesters. I
did do a lot of reading and a lot of research. There's a lot of research that
the director had done about people that have this affliction, but it was
important for me to make him an Everyman, because one of the things that's
most frightening about this, you know, sickness is that it cuts across all
kind of, you know, racial, socioeconomic, even international boundaries. You
cannot look at a crowd of people and pick out the sex offender. So it was
important for me to make Walter an Everyman.

GROSS: Now you're dealing with a character who knows his impulses are wrong.
He understands that. But knowing that they're wrong doesn't make them any
less strong. And so throughout the movie, your character is fighting his
impulses, and even, you know, whether he's in an area where there's a child in
sight or not, he's keeping himself in check and that's constantly registering
on your face. It's a very kind of withdrawn, introverted performance, because
you're always--you're--aside from couple of moments, you're always holding
back and holding it in. Can you talk a little bit about doing that?

Mr. BACON: I think that the driving force for me is shame. He's a very
shameful character, and I think that all of us have things in our life that we
can feel ashamed of. You know, you have to go to work and take that shame and
put it in your gut every day and make sure that you keep staying in touch with
it and hope that it comes out through your eyes. I think that you have to--it
has to be there in any kind of situation.

For instance, if I look on the schedule and I see that there's a day where I'm
just riding the bus all day, normally in a movie, you go, `That's going to be
an easy day,' you know? I don't have to beat anybody up, I don't have to cry,
I don't have to, you know, yell and scream, you know. I'm just riding on the
bus. But they're all hard, 'cause it's a day--he's riding on the bus with a
lot of shame, you know. It's got to be there all the time in everything that
he does, walks and talks and, you know, sits there and eats a bowl of cereal,
you know.

I felt really strongly that I wanted Walter to be a person that we would see
how he was feeling rather than hear how he was feeling. There are--just like
in life, there's people who are more verbose or demonstrative and wear their
heart on their sleeve, you know? Walter is someone who has tried to
disappear. He spent 12 years in prison and to be a child molester in prison
is the lowest person on the totem pole and it would make someone want to hide.

GROSS: The one character in the movie who is really kind of sympathetic
towards you and understanding of you is a woman who you work with, who is
played by your real wife, Kyra Sedgwick. And I'm wondering if it's--what it's
like to work with someone who you actually know really intimately, and you
have to be in this acting situation where you're getting to know each other.
Of course, the people you're getting to know aren't who you really are. But
no one knows you better than a spouse, so is it harder to establish these
characters who are mysteries to each other?

Mr. BACON: Well, it's a difficult acting exercise because you have to erase
16 years of marriage of 16 years of familiarity. So often as actors we're
asked to do the exact opposite. I can't tell you how many times I've met
somebody, you know, at 6:30 in the morning in the makeup trailer, and they
say, `OK, this is--she's playing your mother.'

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BACON: And then 15 hour--half an hour later you're on the set, and you
have to bring everything, all the complexities of that relationship through
this complete stranger you have no relationship with at all and no history
with. It's difficult. And this is like the opposite problem where you have
to kind of erase the history.

GROSS: And what happens when the movie's over? You know, I hear so much from
actors that it's hard sometimes to shake a character. That might be
particularly true when you're playing a pedophile like you are in "The
Woodsman," and then you go home with the main character who you're acting
opposite, who is your wife, and so if you stayed in character at all when you
got home, or if the roles kind of came home with you, that would really be a
problem.

Mr. BACON: Yeah. Well, I can say that people have sort of looked sometimes
mistakenly at the idea of the two of us working together, that it would
somehow make the process easier for either one of us emotionally, and it's
just--it couldn't be farther from the truth. I mean, the fact is that when
you have two people that are actors, in our case what we tend to do is I'll go
to work and she becomes kind of a support system, you know, for me, in terms
of taking care of the kids and the house and being a shoulder to cry on. Then
she goes to work and I take over that job, and I become the support system for
her. When we're both working together, we're really not there so much for
each other as husband and wife, and so it is difficult.

In terms of leaving it at home, you know, I did a movie called "Murder in the
First" where I was playing this prisoner and I was getting beaten and
shackled, and I was covered in bugs and dirt, and I had lost a whole bunch of
weight and was in a very, very dark space emotionally, a similar kind of space
to where I was when I was doing "The Woodsman." But I have this picture of me
about two days after I wrapped the picture, and I'm on a beach in Hawaii. My
head's shaved and I'm still gaunt and pale, but I'm holding my little girl and
you can see on my face that that guy is behind me, that it couldn't be farther
from my thoughts. So it's not so much that I carry it over as it is I know
that I have to go back into that place the next morning. That's the thing
that's difficult, not leaving it behind, but knowing what's ahead of you. So
on Friday night, you know, when you wrap on a Friday night, you know, you have
a beer. You know that Monday morning, I gotta be Walter again, and so it
makes the weekend, you know, a little bit rough.

GROSS: Kevin Bacon is my guest, and he's starring in the new movie "The
Woodsman," in which he plays a child molester.

Do you prefer child molester or pedophile in the context of your character?

Mr. BACON: I prefer sex offender.

GROSS: Sex offender, because he was locked up, so he's officially an
offender?

Mr. BACON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And why do you choose that over pedophile or child molester?

Mr. BACON: Well, I think that it's a difficult subject matter and it's a
difficult movie to want to get people to see. However, people are amazed at
what they feel about the movie, and the reactions that we've gotten as we've
traveled all over the world and all over the country and done countless
screenings have been incredibly positive. And I just think that `child
molester' and `pedophile' are two words that are even more repulsive, you
know, in some ways, and I mean, I think it's one of the things that I've tried
to put out there as much as possible, and you don't go to this movie and run
the risk of seeing bad things happen to children. As disturbing as the film
is, and as tense as the film is, it's not--there's nothing in it that is
gratuitous or sensationalized.

GROSS: My guest is Kevin Bacon. He's starring in "The Woodsman." We'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Kevin Bacon. He's starring in the new film "The
Woodsman." Let's hear a scene from his 2003 movie "Mystic River." He played
a state trooper investigating the murder of a young woman who was the daughter
of his childhood friend. In this scene, he's questioning a couple of the
girl's friends.

(Soundbite of "Mystic River")

Mr. BACON: (As Sean) You guys were having a goodbye dinner, right?

Unidentified Woman #1: What?

Mr. BACON: (As Sean) Well, she was leaving town, wasn't she, going to Las
Vegas?

Unidentified Woman #2: How do you know?

Mr. BACON: (As Sean) She closed her bank account, she had hotel phone
numbers.

Unidentified Woman #2: She wanted out of this dump. She wanted to start a
new life.

Mr. BACON: (As Sean) Well, a 19-year-old girl doesn't go to Las Vegas alone,
so who was she going with? Come on, girls. Who was she going with?

Unidentified Woman #1: Brendan.

Mr. BACON: (As Sean) Excuse me?

Unidentified Woman #1: Brendan.

Mr. BACON: (As Sean) Brendan Harris?

Unidentified Woman #1: Brendan Harris, yeah.

GROSS: Now "Mystic River" was directed by Clint Eastwood. I just saw him on
the "Actors Studio" on Bravo, the series in which he's--of interviews with
actors and directors, and he said in his interview that he likes to have a
very quiet set and that some actors--some directors like to holler `Action!'
but he likes to say, `OK, let's start the scene now,' or just doesn't...

Mr. BACON: (Imitating Clint Eastwood) `OK, you guys, go ahead.'

GROSS: Yeah, OK. Is that what it was like?

Mr. BACON: That's what he says, yeah. Then he says--and when he says cut, he
goes, (imitating Eastwood), `That's enough of that.'

GROSS: Does that work for you, to not have like the clanging--what do you
call it, the...

Mr. BACON: Slate.

GROSS: The slate, the clanging slate and to not have somebody crying
`Action'?

Mr. BACON: Well...

GROSS: Did it make a difference?

Mr. BACON: It makes a huge difference. You know, a long time ago, actually
when I was working with John Hughes, I came to the realization that part of
what--part of the setup for movies is to create this very, very tense time
between `Action' and `Cut,' which is the time when things should be the most
relaxed. It's when an actor should be the most relaxed. And you know, what
happens is, you've been thinking as an actor all day about what you're going
to do, and someone pounds on your door and gives you a 10-minute warning, and
then they give you a five-minute warning. Then they say, `OK, we're ready for
you.' You're already getting nervous, like you're going to jump out of a
helicopter, you know, into the Mekong delta or something.

And now you're on the set and people start screaming, `Quiet! Quiet! Cell
phones off! Quiet! Rolling! Speed! Marker!' The sound guy's usually so
far away that he's screaming, you know, when he's got speed on the knocker,
and then the guy hits the slate, and you're like a deer in the headlights.
And now you gotta act. And then you say, `Cut!' and all the tension goes out
of the room, and everyone's on the phone and they're talking about lunch and
dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.

When Clint was doing television, Westerns, he realized that he'd get six
horses lined up, and they would start screaming and they'd hit the slate, and
the horses would all take off. And he figured that if that was true for
horses, it's gotta be the same for actors. So he has no open walkie-talkies,
and the camera assistant just barely taps the slate. He doesn't say,
`Action.' So instead of jumping into some kind of acting head, you just are
kind of there and you just inhabit the scene, and then you inhabit your way
out of the scene, and you do another take, and it becomes the actor's time as
opposed to--you know, we only have these 10-second bits that are about us.
And it's very, very helpful and very, very powerful.

GROSS: Is he a non-intrusive director in other ways, too?

Mr. BACON: He's very non-intrusive, yeah. You know, he does not rehearse.
He doesn't give you, you know, long kind of suggestions about your character.
You know, I was playing a state trooper and I had to go out and, you know,
find some state troopers to ride around with. You know, it's not like, you
know, he demanded that of me. I'd worked on a Boston dialect that I worked on
by myself. There was no machine in place to, you know, kind of take care of
that.

GROSS: Should there have been one?

Mr. BACON: No. I mean, I feel like you--I like to do my own homework, you
know. I come to the set having made very clear decisions. I'll ask a
director for suggestions if I feel like I need them, and I'm certainly willing
to hear them or, you know, I'm open to any kind of input, but, you know, I
also want to go away and figure out who my guy is and come ready to go. And I
think all of us kind of knew that was the drill with Clint. And so all of us
came wearing our game jerseys and, you know, we were ready to step up to the
plate. That's sort of what you want to do for him, you know. And that works
really well for me, because I don't discover my character in the course
of--between, you know, take two and take 25, you know. I know who he is and I
also don't want to talk about it that much. Do you know what I mean? I don't
need to discuss it, and...

GROSS: Does it make it too schematic if you do?

Mr. BACON: Well, I think it can--I don't know. I think it can get in the
way. You know, that's not to say that there aren't directors that I've worked
with that have been helpful, but honestly there haven't been many times where
someone has come over--and this is--I think, generally the public's perception
of the great director is the guy who comes over and whispers some gem of a
piece of information in the actor's ear and all of a sudden, you know, they're
"Sophie's Choice," you know what I mean? You know, I think that's not usually
the case.

GROSS: Can you pinpoint a time where you realized you were no longer, like,
the teen star or the new young star, that you were established and you were,
like, a full-fledged adult not only in person but in terms of the kind of
roles you were going to get?

Mr. BACON: Well, now I can't really pinpoint a time. I mean, I think it's
kind of a process. I mean, there have been moments in my career that have
felt like a turning point. Certainly, you know, "Footloose," you know,
obviously changed kind of the landscape for me in a way that I was not really
all that comfortable with, frankly. I mean, I was kind of--I thought I was
ready for it, but I really wasn't, and in a lot of ways I sort of rejected
that kind of stardom. And all of a sudden I didn't really want to be on
magazines, and I didn't really want to, you know, sign autographs and...

GROSS: But why not? Everybody--so many actors seem to really want--in
addition to good roles, they want the fame.

Mr. BACON: Well, I know. I have to say that I always have said that there's
two kinds of actors, actors that want to be famous and liars. You don't go
into this business because you want to fade into the background.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BACON: That's not the nature of an actor. It was just that that kind of
pop stardom is not the kind of stardom that I was looking for. I wanted to
be, you know, a legitimate New York, you know, actor, you know. I don't know.

GROSS: Admired for the craft and the dramatic roles...

Mr. BACON: Right, like...

GROSS: ...not, like, `He's cute! He's cute!' Yeah.

Mr. BACON: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And now I was, you know, on the
cover of whatever, Tiger Beat, you know, that kind of stuff.

GROSS: Right. Right.

Mr. BACON: So I rejected that in my own way and was kind of spinning my
wheels for a long time, many years. A lot of movies that I believed in that
didn't pan out, and then, you know, I'd sort of go into independent films and
smaller films, and they weren't seeming to break out and, you know, doing some
plays. But "JFK" was a movie that really turned things around for me, because
I worked for four days on the movie, and it was a very extreme
characterization of this kind of fascist, gay sociopath, and I--the movie came
out and the phone started to ring. It started to lead the way to much more
serious and complex and kind of edgier sort of stuff, and it was a great
turning point for me.

GROSS: Kevin Bacon is starring in the new film "The Woodsman." He'll be back
in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of "Footloose")

Mr. KENNY LOGGINS: (Singing) Now I gotta cut loose, footloose. Kick off your
Sunday shoes.

GROSS: Coming up, getting the lead in "Footloose," then finding out he has to
dance in it. We continue our conversation with Kevin Bacon. And Maureen
Corrigan reviews Pete Hamill's new book "Downtown: My Manhattan."

(Soundbite of "Footloose")

Mr. LOGGINS: (Singing) Come on before we crack. Lose your blues. Everybody
cut footloose. You're playing so cool. Obeying every rule. Dig way down
into your heart. You're burning, yearning for some, somebody to tell you that
life ain't passing you by. I'm trying to tell you, it will if you don't even
try. You can fly if you'd only cut loose, footloose. Kick off your Sunday
shoes. Oo-wee, Marie. Shake it, shake it for me. Oh, Milo, come on, come on
let's go. Lose your blues. Everybody cut footloose.

Backup Singers: Cut footloose. Cut footloose.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Kevin Bacon. He's
starring in the new film "The Woodsman." Let's hear a scene from his 1984
film "Footloose," which helped make him a star. He played a city boy who
moves with his family to small town, where rock music and public dancing are
banned. In this scene Bacon's character, Ren McCormack, is asking the town
council to allow his high school to have a dance. The minister has strongly
opposed the idea. Ren decides to beat him at his own game by turning to the
Bible.

(Soundbite of "Footloose")

Mr. BACON: (As Ren McCormack) And it was King David--King David--who we read
about in Samuel. And what did David do? What did David do? What did David
do?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BACON: (As Ren McCormack) David danced before the Lord with all his
might, leaping--leaping and dancing before the Lord; leaping and dancing.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BACON: (As Ren McCormack) And Ecclesiastes assures us that there is a
time to every purpose under heaven, a time to laugh and a time to weep, a time
to mourn. And there is a time to dance.

GROSS: Let me ask you about "Footloose." The role that you played was so
different, I think, than who you were and what your life had been. You grew
up in the city. This is about a kid who, you know, moves to a small town.
You know, the preacher hates dancing and frivolity, and you, of course, teach
the kids how to dance, and you have to dance in it. And it's such a teen
film. And you'd been, I think, like, the youngest actor in Circle in the
Square, a kind of long-respected theater company in Greenwich Village. I
mean, the sensibilities seem, like, so different. Did you feel like you were
cast in a movie that was almost alien to what you knew?

Mr. BACON: Well, I mean, first off, I was about 23, I think, or 24 when I
did the movie.

GROSS: Which is about five years older than your character?

Mr. BACON: Yeah, yeah. So playing a high school kid, you know, was a little
bit difficult for me. I felt like I was so kind of beyond high school in my
mind, and I'd been living essentially on my own since I was 17. So it was,
you know--yeah, there was something that was kind of alien about it. I didn't
really even realize that it was a dance movie. I figured that I would just
dance, you know. And then all of a sudden I saw that there were
choreographers and dance doubles and all this kind of stuff.

GROSS: They didn't audition your dancing?

Mr. BACON: They did, but it was just kind of like a class. I just took a
class, and they watched me do this dance class. I had no idea that it was
really a dance movie per se. But I said to Herb Ross that--I said, `You don't
really need a choreographer, man. You can just turn on the music, I love to
dance. I'll just dance around for you.' You know, I didn't get it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BACON: I didn't get it. But all that being said, you know, I took the
character very seriously. I thought about him as, you know, coming from a big
city and what it would be like to be in a small town and to feel alien to this
environment. And, you know, I did all the same work that I would do for
anything else. In fact, I went--I got the local high school in Provo, Utah,
which is a very heavily Mormon community, to enroll me as an exchange student.
And I was concerned--I wanted to see if they would think I looked too old
because I was very concerned about playing someone 17. And I also wanted to
see what it would feel like to be an outsider. Although I had done soaps and
I'd done "Diner," nobody recognized me. And the teachers, in fact, didn't
know--were not in on the scam. It was just the principal of the school and I
think maybe the guidance counselor or something. They introduced me as Ren
McCormack and...

GROSS: That's your name in the movie.

Mr. BACON: Yeah, and that I was, you know, just like the kid--and it was
actually very, very helpful and interesting; terrifying, in a lot of ways,
you know. I had big guys, you know, threatening to beat me up and girls...

GROSS: Seriously?

Mr. BACON: Yeah. And girls, like, you know, giggling and laughing and, you
know--I mean, just--it was very much like the movie. And one kid sort of
befriended me, you know, and took me around. And I remember that in the--I
think in the script I was going to go to school, and the mother said to me,
`If you're going to go to school, you have to put a tie on.' And I said, `No,
Mom, I'm not going to wear a tie.' And I knew that that was crazy, that kids
in high school didn't wear ties, so that wasn't something I needed to--so we
kind of switched it around and I put the tie on. She says, `You're not going
to wear that tie, are you?' And when I went to the school, you know, these
kids were all farmers and, you know, jocks and dressed accordingly. And I had
sort of like a, you know, punk kind of hairdo and a skinny tie and, you know,
kind of a funky-looking jacket and stuff like that. And I remember just them
looking at me like I was a freak.

GROSS: You know, when you're in a movie, your face is blown up on a big
screen, you're on the cover of magazines, and you have to look at yourself
because I'm sure you have to watch some of the rushes or the movies, if for no
other reason than to analyze your performance and see how you did. Does that
experience--for you, has that experience made you any more or less physically
self-conscious? And I don't know if you're prone to self-consciousness or not
in the first place. Some people are, some people aren't.

Mr. BACON: Well, let me first say that if you ever left your outgoing
message and then played it back and you just cringe, you multiply that by
about a thousand, and that's what it's like watching yourself on a movie
screen because it's not just your voice. It's your face, it's your eyes, it's
your hair, you know, it's your body. It's very hard to look at yourself in
that kind of way.

I have spent a lot of time looking at rushes. I started on "Footloose," and
Herb Ross was very resistant of letting me, as most directors are actually
very resistant to letting their actors see their dailies. In fact, I put it
in my contract now so that I don't have to have an argument with the director
over this. And he finally let me in to, you know, see dailies. And I was,
you know, kind of horrified. And I figured that what I needed to do was learn
how to get past that and to watch enough footage, so that if there was
something that I wanted to play, I could learn how to play it, you know. And
I could learn things about camera and learn things about camera angles and
what plays and what doesn't because a lot of times as an actor you think
you're doing something, then you see it, and it doesn't come across that way.
You go, `God I could've sworn I was playing it like this, and it's just not
that at all.' I prefer to have some kind of control over that. I don't want
to just kind throw myself out there and let it turn into whatever it turns
into. So I watched and I watched and I watched and I watched . And it did
make me, to a certain extent, numb to seeing myself and hearing myself.

GROSS: My guest is Kevin Bacon. He's starring in the new movie "The
Woodsman." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Kevin Bacon, and he's starring in the new movie "The
Woodsman," in which he plays a sex offender.

You grew up in Philadelphia.

Mr. BACON: Yes.

GROSS: And your father, Edmund Bacon, is a very important person in the city
of Philadelphia, and I live in Philly, so I can say that with some authority.
I think he was the head of the Planning Commission for several years.

Mr. BACON: Yeah.

GROSS: He designed part of the Center City of Philadelphia, and there's even
a street named after him now. And, you know, I interviewed him several times
when I first got here in the '70s. I'm wondering how it affected your
connection to the city of Philadelphia when you were growing up, knowing that
your father designed part of it and that his sensibility was an integral part
of your environment.

Mr. BACON: Yeah, that's true, but that's not something that necessarily you
think about all the time when you're a kid. I mean, my dad used to take me on
walks and say, `OK, this is going to be'--he called them field trips. You
know, `This area used to be, you know, whatever, burned down. Now there's
houses here, and we're going to put a greenway through here,' yeah. I think
that certainly, as a kid, I was proud of him, and there was an element of
celebrity that he had in Philadelphia--and still has--that I probably aspire
to. And it was, in some ways, formulative to me because, you know, I think a
lot of boys want to beat their father, and, you know, in a way I think I
wanted to beat him at the fame game, you know. But...

GROSS: Check, accomplished?

Mr. BACON: Yeah, but not in Philadelphia, though.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BACON: It's still, `Hey, Ed, Ed, Ed, Ed.' But, you know, that wasn't
really a part of my day-to-day life. I mean, I was--whatever--going to school
and hanging out with my friends. And the interesting thing is also that my
mother, while she lived here with my father, was a New Yorker. And I think
that in her own kind of subtle ways, she used to talk to us a lot about New
York and how magical it was for her when she was a little girl. And, you
know, out of six of us, there's three of us there now. So...

GROSS: You didn't go to college. You, after high school, moved to New York,
so that you could join the Circle in the Square School. And that's a theater
and school in New York.

Mr. BACON: Yeah, it's an acting school. It's a--well, I was in a two-year
program, and I stayed for a year and then started working.

GROSS: Did your parents approve of that, or did they think you should go to a
school where you'd get your BA?

Mr. BACON: No. My parents had, you know, five kids before me, and they were
all around two years apart, and eight, nine years later, you know, I was born.
I think they'd pretty much seen it all and done it all and, you know, kind
of--I think their attitude was, you know, `Whatever you want to do, you know,
you'll be all right.' And I was a very, very independent kid. I mean, I
remember from earliest memories thinking to myself, `I gotta get out of here
and start making my own money and start living on my own, and I don't need
help.'

Came my senior year in high school and I hadn't really applied to any
colleges, and no one had really noticed, and I was able to get out of high
school half a year early because of, you know, doing some accelerated thing.
And I was working in a book-packing warehouse, and I was going to do a play
here in Philadelphia for the bicentennial. It was kind of like a--we were
sort of getting together with this group to, I don't know, kind of write this
musical. And it didn't feel like it was going in a good direction, and I
heard about a summer program with Circle in the Square. So I went up and
auditioned for that. And I was too young to go to their professional
workshop, but I begged them if they would just let--consider me 'cause I think
most of the kids were out of college. And they said, `OK, you know, we'll let
you audition.' I had the audition, I got in. My dad gave me tuition and some
money to, you know, look for an apartment, and that was it; I was off to the
races. And they never said anything about, `You need to go to college to have
something to fall back on.' It wasn't even discussed.

GROSS: Were you the youngest kid in the school?

Mr. BACON: Yes.

GROSS: Was that a good thing, a bad thing?

Mr. BACON: It was good.

GROSS: Why?

Mr. BACON: I'm not sure why, but I think it was good (laughs).

GROSS: It must have been comfortable in the sense you'd been the youngest kid
at home.

Mr. BACON: I'd been the youngest kid at home. I'd been...

GROSS: It was a role you were familiar with.

Mr. BACON: Yeah. I'd been the youngest kid at home. I was working in a bar
where I was by far the youngest person who was in the bar hanging out. When I
was younger, I had--almost all of my relationships with women were with women
15, 20 years older than me, and it was just what felt right to me. I don't
know.

GROSS: First film was "Animal House." Would you describe your role in it?

Mr. BACON: I was a frat boy from the bad guys, the preppy kind of fraternity
in the movie. They're sort of like the jerks, the elite fraternity.

GROSS: And what was it like to be on the set? Did you hang out with Belushi?
Did you have fun and meet people you wanted to? Did you feel like an
outsider?

Mr. BACON: Well, it was my first movie, and, I mean, I was so overwhelmed by
the process and seeing what actually went in to make a movie. And here I was,
and I was living in a hotel. And they had this thing called per diem, where
they just give you cash every week. And there was a lot of kids 'cause we
were on a campus, so there was, you know, fraternities and girls. And, I
mean, it was kind of great, like, in that way. But there was also this
dividing line that happened off camera between the actual guys who were in the
"Animal House" and those who weren't, and they had a great sort of fraternity
kind of thing going on that was very much like the movie and very exclusive.
Belushi wasn't so much a part of that because he was actually shooting for a
few days and then flying back and doing "Saturday Night Live" and then getting
back on a plane and shooting for a few days and going back. You know, we were
out in Oregon, so it was a long, crazy kind of trip for him back and forth
from the set. Yeah, I mean, I did feel quite a bit like an outsider.

And then when the movie opened, I was working; I was back waiting tables, you
know. I mean, I took my money after--you know, came back to New York feeling
like a movie star, and I spent all my money in about a week or two weeks
and...

GROSS: I know there are so many actors, particularly in New York and probably
also in LA, who are there taking the order, and you know that they're
thinking, `I'm not really a waiter. I'm an actor.'

Mr. BACON: Yeah.

GROSS: Did you go through that?

Mr. BACON: Well, yes and no. I mean, the restaurant that I worked at, it was
an unusual place in that it was not like a real service kind of establishment.
It was a place where regulars would go for a shot and a beer and a hamburger.
And if you were expecting to, you know, get some ass-kissing, you were in the
wrong place. And the boss really looked out for the staff, and we looked
after each other. And it was kind of like my first family away from home.
You know, it was a family of cops and pimps and drunks and, you know, Wall
Street bankers and doctors and lawyers. And you know what I mean? It was a
very kind of diverse group.

GROSS: Oh, it sounds great. You were lucky.

My guest is Kevin Bacon.

I hope you don't mind my asking this, but when was the first time--'cause
you're probably tired of talking about it--when was the first time you found
out about the existence of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Mr. BACON: I don't remember the first time, but I do remember that, you know,
it was a long time ago. I mean, it's been around a really long time...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BACON: ...at least 10 years, 15 years. I don't know. And people would
say to me, `I played this drinking game the other day, and, you know, you had
to take a shot--booze--every time for every degree of separation from you.'

GROSS: I didn't know that was part of it.

Mr. BACON: Yeah. Or they said, `Yeah, a friend of mine's cousin came up with
a game about you,' you know--I mean, a lot of very, like, diverse kind of
things. And then it was one of the first things that really spread on the
Internet, you know. It was really the beginning of the In--I'm not saying the
game started the Internet, but when the Internet really started to begin, we
weren't used to these kind of concepts that exponentially, you know, would
spread. And Six Degrees was like that. People started talking about it and
playing it.

It was actually started by these guys down in--it was the University of
Virginia or something like that. They were sitting around in their college
dorm room and came up with this concept. A movie of mine was on the TV. And
Jon Stewart used to have a show--yeah, a nighttime show, and he had those guys
on. And, you know, I remember going to the show with my publicist, and it was
like, `OK, you know, I hope you're not too freaked out about this, but those
guys that, you know, say they came up with the game are, you know, going to be
on there.' And I thought it was a joke at my expense; that's the way I
perceived it being, you know, having a bout of low self-esteem, you know. I
felt, `Well, they're'--the ideas that, you know, they say, `Can you believe
that this jackass can be connected to Marlon Brando or, you know, Laurence
Olivier,' or something like that, you know. `Isn't that ironic?' I thought
that was kind of the joke. When I actually met the guys, they were--that
wasn't true. I mean, they actually were, you know, fans of the movies and
stuff like that. So...

GROSS: One more question. What else do you have in the works now?

Mr. BACON: Well, I have a picture called "Loverboy" that I directed that
Kyra is also in, and it's a book that we optioned and developed a screenplay
and...

GROSS: By who?

Mr. BACON: It's by Victoria Redel. It's a story of a woman and her
six-year-old son, and she has this very, very obsessive kind of relationship
with him and is trying to create this sort of utopian world for the two of
them to live in. And the little boy eventually wants to step out and make
friends and go to school, and we come to find out that she's emotionally
incapable of letting that happen. And we're going to premiere it at Sundance
in about a week. So that'll be nerve-wracking. And then I have "Beauty Shop"
with Queen Latifah; it's coming out in April. And I did a picture called
"Where The Truth Lies" with Atom Egoyan, who's a great Canadian filmmaker, and
Colin Firth is my co-star in that one.

GROSS: Well, great. I'll look forward to seeing those. Thank you so much.

Mr. BACON: Thank you.

GROSS: Kevin Bacon is starring in the new movie "The Woodsman."

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Pete Hamill's new book, "Downtown: My
Manhattan." This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Pete Hamill's new book, "Downtown: My Manhattan"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Many of Pete Hamill's devoted readers think that if New York City could speak,
it would sound like Hamill. In his latest book, "Downtown," Hamill reflects
on the city that's given him his best subjects and his distinctive voice.
Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:

When Pete Hamill is on, I don't think there's a writer in his field to touch
him. A few weeks ago he wrote an essay for The New York Times on the deaths
of actor Jerry Orbach and writer Susan Sontag. And somehow within the
thousand-word or so constraints of that essay, he evoked telling aspects of
their characters and nailed a certain kind of glancing intimacy that New York
offers with people who, as he wrote, `on the surface, are not like you.'

Hamill's forte is nostalgic non-fiction, whether the piece in question is,
like that eulogy, personal journalism or his great autobiography, "A Drinking
Life," or the meditation on Ol' Blue Eyes he wrote a few years ago called "Why
Sinatra Matters." The novels of his that I've read slip slide into bathos.
His elegiac non-fiction knows when to put on the brakes.

Hamill's latest work of non-fiction, "Downtown," is something of a literary
dream date. Match one of our greatest chroniclers of times past with the city
in which he's generated his memories, and you've got a match made in heaven
or, more precisely, made somewhere in the vicinity of 14th Street. In
"Downtown," Hamill takes readers on a walking tour through the part of New
York that he calls home, the part where, throughout his adult life, he's
literally paid rent at 14 separate addresses. Hamill defines his downtown
idiosyncratically. For him, it extends from the Battery all the way up Times
Square.

His ramble sprawls out in time, too. As anyone who's lived in New York for
even a brief space knows, the city is haunted. There are those street names
that summon up the shades of vanished orchards and Dutch settlers. There are
those quintessential New York personalities, like Stanford White, Charlie
Parker, Walter Winchell, Allen Ginsberg and Joey Ramone, who've passed on but
left their trace in what Hamill calls `the city's human alloy.' And there are
the buildings, most of all the buildings, some that have mutated throughout
the decades from robber barons' mansions into Gap stores, while others, like
the New York World Building, the old Penn Station and, above all in this
ethereal skyline, the twin towers that have simply disappeared.

In Hamill's reading of the city, New Yorkers resemble the Dubliners of James
Joyce's immortal short stories. They rush among these ghosts but don't always
understand the signs and wonders of their presence. Indeed, for a native like
me, some of the fun of reading Hamill's book lies in learning the deeper
significance of mundane sights. That red star on the Macy's shopping bag, who
knew that it derived from a tattoo that its 19th century founder, Rowland
Hussey Macy, got when he went to sea at 15? Truth to tell, though, any
cultural historian of middling ability could excavate such epiphanies. The
singular pleasure of Hamill's book is his voice, as suited to this subject as
Sinatra's was to, well, the singing of "New York, New York." Hamill says
that, `As a city, New York's characteristic tone is one of tough nostalgia,
tough because among the many codes spoken and unspoken by the generation of
immigrants who largely make up New York is the one that absolutely forbids
self-pity.'

Surely Hamill must realize that in characterizing New York's distinctive tone,
he's perfectly described his own. When Hamill really hits his stride here, in
the second half of the book that wanders up Fifth Avenue, through Union
Square and down and around The Village, his descriptions and anecdotes are the
tonal equivalent of an Irish wake. They strike just the right balance between
mournfulness and rueful humor. Take this tossed off reminiscence: `I still
go to Abe Lebewohl's Second Avenue Deli, where I used to sit over blintzes or
kasheh varnishkes with Paul O'Dwyer, the tough, laughing, white-haired
defender of almost everybody who needed defense. He was one of the last in a
line of passionate Irish lawyers that started with Thomas Addis Emmet in the
early 19th century. Every time he walked into the Second Avenue Deli, he was
embraced by the owner, the waiters and half the customers. The other half
were from out of town.' That's tough nostalgia for you distilled into a
paragraph toasted with a shmeer. You can't get anything quite like it outside
of New York. And inside of New York, you can't find anybody who does it
better than Pete Hamill.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Downtown: My Manhattan" by Pete Hamill.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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