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June 01, 2011

‘X-Men’ star Kevin Bacon has a solution to fame — a $500 disguise

Posted in: Movies

Kevin Bacon at the premiere of "X-Men: First Class." (Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images)

A couple of years ago, Kevin Bacon needed a few degrees of separation from his fame. He daydreamed of a crowded place where people didn’t tug at his sleeve to gush about “Footloose” or quote “Diner.” Finally, he went to a Hollywood makeup specialist and invested in a custom-made disguise that was weirdly simple but completely effective. He paid the $500 and then, with an anxious glee, he took his new rubber face to the Grove shopping center to experience an afternoon without autographs.

“You wouldn’t have recognized me if I was standing next to you,” Bacon said with a faraway expression. “It was really bizarre and I didn’t really like it. I didn’t like it at all. People cut in front of you and when you’re at a check-out counter it’s just … different. People weren’t all that nice to me. I’m just not used to it.”

Sitting in a quiet corner of a Brentwood restaurant, the actor shook his head, perhaps surprised at his own candor and then laughed at himself. “I can’t imagine life without it,” he added, referring to fame, which started to come his way after he left moved to New York at age 18 to pursue theater. On screen he found foothold roles in “Animal House” in 1978 and on “The Guiding Light” in the early 1980s and, eventually, so many movies that they invented a game about it.

The 52-year-old will be upping his recognition quotient with younger moviegoers June 3 with the release of “X-Men: First Class,” the fifth installment in a Fox franchise that already has racked up $1.5 billion in worldwide box office with its tales of mutant melodrama from Marvel Comics.

The film, set in the 1960s, is the story of three men, really, each with a genetic gift that invests them with so much power that they can change the course of history. One of them is Sebastian Shaw, played by Bacon, who is a world-class tycoon and a mutant able to absorb and then use any sort of unleashed energy (an exploding grenade or even a nuclear meltdown).

The other two men are familiar to fans of the franchise: there’s the metal-controlling Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender, and the master telepath Professor X, portrayed by James McAvoy, who find themselves in a conflicted bromance as they team to stop Shaw’s megalomaniacal plans.

Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw in "X-Men: First Class." (20th Century Fox)

Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw in "X-Men: First Class." (20th Century Fox)

McAvoy said the presence of Bacon on the set added a crackle to the production. “I don’t use this term but it just seems right — Kevin Bacon is just a cool cat. For me, as a moviegoer, if you tell me Kevin Bacon is playing a villain in a summer superhero movie, I’m there man. I’d be excited, too, to see a film that is bold enough to go with that unexpected choice.”

For an actor with credits such as “Mystic River,” “Apollo 13,” “The Woodsman,” “Frost/Nixon” and “A Few Good Men,” stepping into a superhero film wasn’t going to happen unless there was a compelling reason. He cited the presence of producer Bryan Singer and director Matthew Vaughn and the chance to play a dark character who wants the world to burn but rarely raises his voice as his reasons for joining the mutant franchise.

“I haven’t been this guy before,” said Bacon, who studied years of comic books after taking on the role. “He’s a little bit Ted Turner, a little bit Hugh Hefner, a little bit Donald Trump. That’s how I see him. I wasn’t interested in him as scary evil. It was more about control. His power is a metaphor for who he is; he can be different things to different people and he also takes whatever energy you have and throws it back at you.”

January Jones as Emma Frost and Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw in "X-Men: First Class.". (20th Century Fox)

January Jones as Emma Frost and Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw in "X-Men: First Class." (20th Century Fox)

Shaw’s background, as Bacon knows it, is a cruel soul who grew up in dead-end Pittsburgh but viewed the world as a chessboard and was able to amass his first billion by age 40. “I don’t play him with a Pennsylvania accent, though,” said the Philadelphia native who lives in New York. He’s been renting recently in Santa Monica while his wife of 23 years, Kyra Sedgwick, has been here working on her TNT television series, “The Closer.”

Bacon is developing an HBO series now (he’s reticent about the details) after years of ignoring television prospects because of the intense workload, the odds of failure and the locked-in issues that come with success. Frustrated by the lack of challenging adult drama projects in features — and pleased, no doubt, by the Golden Globe trophy he picked up as the star of the 2009 HBO film “Taking Chance” — he agreed to consider the small screen.

“The first two weeks I got three of the best scripts I had read in a long time — amazing writing, amazing ideas, edgier work, more developed characters, worlds I hadn’t seen,” Bacon said. “I had a mind-blowing experience because I resisted and resisted it for so long. But TV is something different than film. When Kyra first had me read a script for ‘The Closer,’ we still had kids in junior high and high school and we were living in New York. I said, ‘Go out to L.A., you’ll shoot the pilot and even if it gets picked up, how many of these shows actually work?’ Seven years later …”

January Jones as Emma Frost and Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw

Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw and January Jones as Emma Frost. (Marvel Studios)

Bacon rattled the ice in a near-empty glass of lemonade and explained how he was trying to find ways to change the rhythms of his career. He appeared in James Gunn’s scrappy, subversive little movie called “Super” earlier this year (“A defiantly independent film,” Bacon called it) and coming up, he’ll be seen in July in “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” a comedy with Steve Carell and Julianne Moore.

He recently drove cross-country with his two dogs too, which was good for distancing himself from celebrity — until he got a speeding ticket from an Oklahoma trooper who felt compelled to share a personal story about “Footloose” even as some passersby recorded the roadside scene on their cellphones. Still, Bacon said his world view is increasingly punctuated with a healthy question mark and he doesn’t feel the need to disguise that in any way.

“I think when I started I thought I knew everything there was to know,” he said. “You progressively learn that you know less and less. To me the greatest challenge is to get little more truthful, to get closer to the truth in a way. That’s not to say I want to put me up there. I never play the character that is Kevin. I’m not interested in that and I don’t think anyone else would be, either. I’ve got home movies for that. My thing is, use yourself but also lose yourself.”

– Geoff Boucher

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