The star of the Fox’s hit TV series The Following has had a long and storied career that spans films like Friday the 13th, Diner, Footloose, A Few Good Men, Apollo 13 and *X-Men: First Class. There might be some sort of game inspired by his cinematic omnipresence. The actor returns to the small screen for Season 3 of The Following on March 2, reprising the role of troubled detective Ryan Hardy and renewing his battle with cult followers of serial killer Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy). Bacon explains the effects this dark show has on him as an actor and braves our Lucky 7 questions.
What do you feel the challenges are in creating compelling television with so much competition not only from other networks, but from digital and streaming platforms?
You put your finger on it. It’s a great time to be in television. You can call it the Golden Age of television, but the bar is really, really high. That’s something that we think about and talk about and work towards all the time to keep the level of what’s happening on the screen — in terms of the acting and the writing and the directing and costume design and the camera work and all those things — to try to keep it as high as possible. Specifically, the challenges are probably when you love TV you go home and you watch it and you think to yourself, “Wow, I hope we’re as good as that.” But in a lot of ways I think the great television that’s out there right now is inspirational in terms of getting back to work and saying, “Come on guys, we got to do better.”
How do you specifically feel you are raising the bar when it comes to Season 3 of The Following?
With Season 3 we’re not going to rely on scary for the sake of scary, or shocking for the sake of shocking. All of the violence, all of the things that are frightening and disturbing about the show are going to be emotionally connected to something, and that to me is what makes things powerful. There’s a great scene in the second episode [of Season 3] that involves a box. It’s really, really disturbing, but I’ll say nothing other than the reason that it lands and the reason that it’s hard to watch is you’re already emotionally invested in what’s in the box. Without that you just have a dumb kind of slasher thing that really doesn’t move you.
How do you feel The Following’s shorter-season format has impacted the show, creatively?
It gives writers a little more time to spend on each episode and to tell a story. All 15 pages of that chapter have to be great. You can’t have any that are just so-so because there’s still going to be 20 more behind it. It puts pressure on each individual episode to really work. There’s a lot of challenges with serialized shows that procedurals don’t have. With The Following, these guys are constantly juggling all these different storylines and where is it going to go by 15 [episodes], and where does it go each episode in terms of wanting people to hang in and watch it again. So it’s a very complicated thing to do and to try to do that over 22 episodes, that’s a difficult thing. I didn’t want to do a procedural, I wanted to do something that was serialized. It had places to go for my character and for the story so I just felt like 15 was going to be the way.
How long would like to continue playing Ryan Hardy?
My opinion about that changes day to day. If you ask me on a good day I’d say I’d play him till the end of my contract. But sometimes — with the amount of hours that I spend in this dark, dark place where either somebody’s trying to kill me, or I’m trying to kill someone, or there’s piles of blood, or my heart is broken, or I’m fighting my alcoholism, or getting beat up — there’s times I go, “Wow, how much more can I do this?” But I got to say I’m proud of the show. I really hope that we can get another season out of it, at least. It’s exhilarating and challenging and I would love to see it continue.
What was your first exposure to Playboy magazine?
There was a drug store around the corner from where I grew up in Philadelphia and back in those days the drug stores had a fountain, which was a place you could have hamburgers and milk shakes. And the guy that owned the store told us that it was a state law that you can only buy Playboy if you were taller than the cigarette machine. Obviously, we were young and short, so it wasn’t happening.
So your first exposure was a lot later than that.
Well, then probably about the same time I had a friend and his dad had some and he showed them to me. They were under his bed or something like that. Honestly, I thought that I was in heaven. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was.
What movie scared you the most as a kid?
I remember once as a kid seeing this TV show called Trilogy of Terror and there was an episode that had this little voodoo doll. That scared the shit out of me. It came alive and it was running around. That was probably 30-something years ago now.
Heaven forbid you end up on death row, what would your last meal be?
This is going to sound really weird, but I’d have to say fish tacos and some really good tequila.
What’s the first song you knew the words to?
Probably “This Land is Your Land.”
What was your first car?
The first car I ever had was a Toyota Corolla, a standard, and I lent it to my brother and he was coming up to New York. I don’t remember why I lent it to him. I parked it on the street, because that’s what I did. I was doing alternate sides because I couldn’t afford a garage. And he borrowed it and parked it on the street just like I had been, and it got stolen.
What year was the car?
I think it was a ’79. It’s funny when you think about cars you owned you never think of them as an antique because it happened in my lifetime. But then you see a movie that takes place like in the ‘80s and you go, “Wow, look at those crazy old cars!”
What do you consider your pop culture blind spot?
I’ll tell you the truth: I don’t do Facebook. I have a Facebook page, but I don’t go to it and I don’t really understand it. I post stuff to it all the time, but I don’t interact on it, you know? I love Twitter and I love other stuff. I’m not opposed to social media, it’s just that I don’t do Facebook.
What was your favorite mistake?
I was a mistake. Does that count?
Did your parents tell you that?
They denied it, but it’s painfully obvious. I am the youngest of six and there’s like eight years between me and the next oldest. There’s no way they wanted another kid. It’s fine. I’m totally good with it.