Journey, man

Kevin Bacon hasn't been in every movie ever made -- it just feels like it

Kevin Bacon is talking about his penis. It's not his fault -- not exactly, anyway. Bacon didn't bring it up, so to speak. He never does, at least not in public. He's just trying to promote his latest film, the small supernatural thriller Stir of Echoes. But here he is nonetheless, explaining how it feels to know that the guy he's talking to -- some stranger -- has seen his hang-down, explaining how it feels to know that, well, a good handful of people reading this article have seen him in the shower during just one of the many lurid gambits played by last year's Wild Things. That movie was as juicy and as fun a B-film thriller as you could ever hope to see, a guilty pleasure for audiences -- as well as first-time producer Bacon, who to this day wonders why it wasn't a hit.

"I wish everybody had seen it," he says with a compact chuckle. He sounds good-natured about it, though perhaps a tinge wistful. "But you know, Wild Things really didn't do that well. I mean, it did OK, but I can't say that I wasn't a little disappointed. I thought it was this really cool film, an unusual film. But I'm not sure everybody really got it. It was tongue-in-cheek, didn't take itself too seriously. However, that's a hard thing to explain to people going in, and audiences..."

Didn't flock to see it. But those that did couldn't help but notice Bacon. Somehow, amid Neve Campbell going lesbo and Denise Richards going topless and Matt Dillon going all the way with both, Bacon was the actor that people -- those who saw the movie, anyway -- talked about, even if it wasn't exactly for all the reasons he hoped.

"I never really expected it to have the impact that it did," he says. He explains that during the first day of a press tour, "something like 27 of 30 reporters asked me about giving the Full Monty. You forget that men never do that in American movies. It just never, never happens. There's this thing about showing your ass that certain kinds of male stars do as a sign of, you know, status or something. I'm not that calculating. As an actor, I think you just try to do whatever works best for the film, try to do something original, maybe not so expected."

It's a fitting take on his entire 21-year movie career. Just when you think you have Kevin Bacon pegged, when you think you know exactly how he's going to be used and what he's going to do, he startles you by showing you something you haven't seen before. His performances are as varied as they are familiar: Now you see him, now you don't.

There were his early stints in coming-of-age classics: as the frat boy taking his licks and asking, sir, can he have another in Animal House; or as the boozing rich kid, Fenwick, hiding in the closet with Daniel Stern in Diner. Then, there were the genial starring roles: as the rebel with a dance card in the impossibly and unexplainably popular confection Footloose and as the father-to-be with a bad case of the freakouts in John Hughes' quaint but gooey She's Having a Baby.

Next up, solid along-for-the-ride gigs: the medical student who made fun of a little girl in the would-be neo-Brat-Pack vehicle Flatliners; the prosecuting attorney who goes up against Tom Cruise and Demi Moore in the would-be Top Gun-in-a-courtroom A Few Good Men; and as flyboy Swigert, who got all the babes and Gary Sinese's seat in the would-be epic Apollo 13. In between were the edgy, take-notice supporting turns, including a stop as the flamboyantly frenzied hustler who thinks Kevin Costner is a good-looking man in JFK, followed by his role as the boys-home guard who rapes and abuses young versions of Brad Pitt, Jason Patric, and Ron Eldard in Sleepers. Rounding out his résumé were memorable appearances in overlooked films: River Wild and Murder in the First.

Then, of course, there's the classic early role that becomes only more delicious as his career marches on. Bacon played the guy who gets it through the neck in the original Friday the 13th -- the 1980 film conveniently left out of his bio these days, though Bacon's not above bringing it up.

"My career has had valleys to go with the peaks," Bacon points out, perhaps because the word "journeyman" has slipped into the conversation -- though in a good way, really. "Particularly after Footloose had made me the 'It Boy.'" By valleys, no doubt he means his roles in Quicksilver, a movie about a bike courier, and the now-cult horror-comedy Tremors, which starred the dad from Family Ties and that estimable actress Reba McEntire.

"You never get the scripts you deserve," Bacon admits. "It's always based on how much money your last picture made. Anybody that tells you anything different is full of shit."

Maybe, maybe not: After all, Wild Things didn't make much at all: $30 million domestically, or $10 million more than the sassy B-picture cost to make. Yet Bacon wound up starring in (yet another) one of this year's modestly budgeted, well-written, gripping old-school supernatural thrillers. In a summer that's seen horror films such as Artisan's ultra-low-budget Blair Witch Project and Buena Vista's The Sixth Sense unexpectedly rake it in at the box office, the optimist offers that Echoes, also released by Artisan, should be a prime property as summer comes to a close.

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