Journey, man

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

But Bacon doesn't blindly play the idealist even on a promotional phone call. He knows that now is either the most right time for a film such as Stir of Echoes -- about, of all things, a man who sees the dead -- or the most wrong time possible, especially in the wake of The Sixth Sense, which deals with so many of the same themes.

"I wish I didn't have to think so much about how a film is going to fit into the market, but unfortunately I do," Bacon says with the resigned tone of a man who has seen films more than half-full come up empty too many times. "It's one of my least favorite aspects of this business, but it's so important. You have to be concerned. It may be a good time for this sort of movie, but maybe we're too late. We're different from Sixth Sense, but there are some common elements. Audiences may think they've already seen it."

Or they may not recognize the film at all. Kevin Bacon's name above the title is not the same as Sixth Sense star Bruce Willis' -- even though Willis has a so-called Bacon factor of two, according to the infamous Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Game (http://www.cs.virginia.edu/oracle/), which proves how every actor in Hollywood can be linked to Kevin Bacon through no more than half a dozen films. (Bruce Willis was in The Player with Robert Wagner, and Robert Wagner was in Wild Things.) And Kevin Bacon's name above the marquee isn't worth even a smidgen of Blair Witch's hype -- even though Blair Witch also has a Bacon factor of two. (Blair Witch's Joshua Leonard is currently filming Navy Diver with Robert De Niro, who was in Sleepers.)

After all, Bacon's name has been above the title almost every time out the gate since Footloose, but has it ever packed a punch? When you see the marquee Stir of Echoes -- you know, starring Kevin Bacon -- do you really feel anything at all? Likely not -- his is not a name that, as they say, opens movies. Perhaps being "the center of the Hollywood universe," as Movieline quipped, simply means Bacon is one of the most ubiquitous actors working today -- famous only because he seems to have been in every movie made since 1980.

At 41 years of age, he's hardly an icon. Rather, he's a character actor, and a surprisingly youthful-looking one at that. But he doesn't seem to mind his status as the man famous for being, well, famous.

"Some of that stuff used to bother me," he says, referring to the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. "I thought people were making fun. But I'm lucky to have acting and to have acted as long and as often as I have. I look for films where I can do solid characters. That's the challenge for me."

Bacon says that was the attraction of Stir of Echoes, in which he plays Tom Witzky, an Everyman in an Anytown. He's a loving husband and father, a blue-collar worker by day and an aspiring musician by night -- a man still childish and selfish until his eyes are opened to another world and a stronger calling. It's a performance full of nuances usually not found in supernatural fare; it's rare indeed to find such a real person in such fantasy films.

But Bacon insists that's the handiwork of writer-director David Koepp, who has penned the likes of Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Mission: Impossible, and more studious work, such as Carlito's Way and his debut, 1988's Apartment Zero. (Koepp made his feature-film directorial debut in 1996 with the peculiar misfire The Trigger Effect.) Stir of Echoes misfires occasionally as well, but with plot points, not character. To that end, Bacon insists Koepp is not a mere dilettante -- a writer who longs to get out from behind the keyboard only to stand behind a camera. Perhaps that's because Bacon has also directed: 1996's Losing Chase, which starred his wife Kyra Sedgwick.

"David's been a successful writer for a long time, but there's a huge difference in writing and directing," Bacon says. "He's still new at it, but he knows it all starts with a good script and good characters. Having directed makes me less tolerant of bad directing. I've been at this for a long time, and I've worked with some good directors, so I know when I'm working with a bad one. It's been a long time since I've worked with a director who's worked on as many films as I have."

Next time out, Bacon is partnered with a director who has made just half as many films as he: Paul Verhoeven, the man responsible for the likes of Robocop, Total Recall, and Sharon Stone's peekaboo in Basic Instinct.

Speaking of Verhoeven, Kevin Bacon is talking about his penis...again. And again, it's not exactly his fault. He's just trying to discuss the film he's currently shooting, Verhoeven's new sci-fi flick The Hollow Man, in which Bacon stars as an invisible man.

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