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Kevin Bacon On Starring In They/Them, Being Name-Dropped In Guardians Of The Galaxy, And More – Exclusive Interview

There's a reason Kevin Bacon has a "six degrees of separation" game named after him — he's been in dozens of memorable movies alongside a plethora of equally famous faces. From "Footloose" and "Flatliners" to "Apollo 13" and "Frost/Nixon," the veteran actor has seemingly done it all. Leave it to Bacon to find a new niche with the LGBTQ-focused slasher flick "They/Them," which is now streaming exclusively on Peacock.

"They/Them" (pronounced as They-Slash-Them) follows a disparate group of queer kids who are sent to a gay conversion camp, where a team of counselors try to change their sexual orientation and gender identities while a masked killer runs amuck. Bacon stars as paradoxical camp leader Owen Whistler, who comes across as welcoming at first but quickly shows his true colors. 

During an exclusive interview with Looper, Bacon revealed why he likes starring in horror films like "They/Them," how he felt when he first found out he was name-dropped in "Guardians of the Galaxy," and what elusive role he'd like to land one day.

Bacon isn't afraid to do 'horrible things' while in character

It seems as though your career has come full circle, with one of your first roles being in "Friday the 13th" and now you're in a similar — but much different — slasher film. Did you have flashbacks to your role in "Friday the 13th" at all on the set of "They/Them"?

No, not really. There's a great kind of separation. It's 40 years, or something like that, and it felt like a very different kind of movie in so many ways — a higher budgeted movie, a movie with a social point of view. "Friday the 13th" was a giant hit and worked really well as a very specific genre film. "They/Them" is a little bit deeper than that.

In between "Friday the 13th" and "They/Them," you starred in several other horror films. What's your favorite thing about those kinds of roles, and do you prefer to play the good guy or the bad guy?

I like playing characters that are interesting and complex and not too much like the last character that I played, so good and bad don't really come into play that much for me. I became an actor so that I could walk in a lot of different men's shoes. I'm not afraid of doing horrible things as a character. That's never been frightening to me. You can tell from the movies that I've done and the things that I've done. I've been pretty bad in a lot of things, but I've also played characters who were heroic and friendly and romantic and all kinds of other things.

I come back to horror because ... first off, I like it. I'm a fan myself. I'm a consumer of it. If a new horror film piques my interest, I'm front and center opening weekend. I like that. I like the experience, because when I go to a movie as a film or television consumer, I want to feel things. Whatever it is, I want to feel things deeply. You can feel sad. You can get tears coming out of your eyes. You can laugh hysterically. You can jump. You can get scared. You can get creeped out. You can walk out of the theater with an uneasy feeling. These are feelings, and I like that.

As an actor, I like to do horror because the stakes are very high, and that means that there's good stuff to play. In life and death situations, those are good things to play.

He never wants to only go 'halfway' with a character

"They/Them" almost doesn't need a serial killer, as the real horror is what's happening day-to-day at the conversion camp. That dog scene, man, was brutal. How did you connect with such an awful guy?

The way I play any guy is to do a backstory, to think about motivation, to think about where he comes from, what his parents did, what his grandparents did, what kind of family members he has, how he feels about music — random things. What's his favorite food? All these kinds of things, and then start to layer on the external stuff.

In this case, I had the benefit of having John Logan, who wrote the screenplay, also being the director, so we could communicate a lot about his ideas and my ideas and try to find some common ground there between the two of us. Get in there and commit. I don't like to do things halfway. If I'm going to play him, I want to give it — like in that scene that you mentioned about the dog — I want to give it everything I can.

Touching on your overall career, you've been in so many iconic and memorable movies: "Footloose," "Tremors," "Flatliners," and so many others. Does one stand out above the rest?

Nah, not really, not to me. The films are interesting because there's the film, but then there's also the memory of the experience of the film, which is something that nobody else really shares — well, maybe the other people that worked on the film. How old was I? What kind of headspace was I in? Was I going through anything in my life? I make associations about the birth of a child, the death of a parent, marriage, these types of things that were happening. 

In a weird way ... I can think about them as benchmarks in the course of a life outside of movies. Mostly, I feel grateful to be able to still eke out a living at it, that people will still give me a gig. That's something that I really never take for granted.

He had an 'out-of-body experience' watching Guardians of the Galaxy

You're officially part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe via your role in "X-Men: First Class," and you personally have been name-dropped in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" and Avengers movies. What does being part of the MCU mean to you?

Being name-dropped in the "Guardians" thing was so great. What was so funny about that was that I didn't know about it when I went to the movie. I was a fan of James Gunn, and had worked with James in the last movie that he did before the first "Guardians," which was called "Super," a tiny little budget movie with Rainn Wilson as the lead. 

I was like, "Let me go see what James is up to here," and I went to the "Guardians." I was all alone in the movie theater on a Tuesday afternoon or something like that, and I'm sitting there and all of a sudden [Chris Pratt] starts talking about me. He starts mentioning me, and I'm looking around like, "Whoa, is anybody getting this? This is so weird." It was a very out-of-body experience. I walked out of the theater and called my wife and I was like, "Honey, you're not going to believe this. The weirdest thing just happened." It's cool. What can I say? It's awesome.

You're about to appear in another famous franchise, "The Toxic Avenger." How did that role come about, and was it fun to film?

It was really fun. Macon Blair wrote and is directing "Toxic Avenger." I was a fan of his. He's done some great performances, and also has been involved in writing and producing horror movies and "Blue Ruin," and I think he was also in involved with "Green Room." 

I remember "Toxic Avenger," but I wouldn't say that I was someone who was deep into the Troma world. It was definitely on my radar, and I remembered this giant cult following around that whole thing. The reimagining of it is fantastic. Peter Dinklage is the lead. Peter was already attached [when I signed on], and here was this great out-there character, and Macon really allowed me to really go wide with it. I'm excited. I still haven't seen it, but I'm excited to see it.

It seems like you've played every type of character out there that there is to play, but is there a role or genre that has so far alluded you that you hope is in your future?

If I could pick one genre, I would say that sometimes the full-on comedy-type world of ... There's a lot of people that are like this, but I would look at Judd Apatow as a great idea. It always seems a little bit elusive to me, the closed shop thing. Maybe that's because I'm not funny, but it would be fun to dip my toe in something that was purely comedic and silly. We'll see.

Bacon's latest film, "They/Them," is now exclusively streaming on Peacock.