LOS ANGELES -- Kevin Bacon is hardly the first movie star to make the leap to television. But his new show -- serial killer thriller "The Following" -- may qualify as one of the creepiest projects he has ever done.
Needless to say, Bacon -- the charming teenager who turned a small American town on to dancing in "Footloose" in 1984 -- plays the good guy in the new Fox television series premiering on Monday.
Well, sort of.
Bacon, 54, plays taciturn, vodka-swilling former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, called back from retirement to investigate charismatic murderer Joe Carroll (played by British actor James Purefoy), who inspires a cult following of copycat killers while behind bars.
But Bacon's character has plenty of his own flaws and finds himself seduced by Carroll's diabolical personality.
"I wanted my character to be complex and flawed. That's the kind of hero I like to play and I like to see," Bacon told reporters before the premiere.
"He gets strangely seduced by Joe, not sexually but in a friendship way. Joe sees into Ryan and is able to play him like a violin. My character is not an extremely well-read and educated man. He is not a people person, a charmer, a dynamic speaker and maybe not even someone you want to go have a beer with, and Joe Carroll is all these things.
"It's an exciting thing for an actor to be able to peel those layers back," he said.
Graphic violence, tense thriller
Part psychological thriller and part violent crime show with scenes in which a Carroll devotee stabs herself in the eyes and another sets herself on fire, "The Following" is one of the most anticipated new dramas on U.S. television.
Variety called it "a full-throttle ride that, four episodes in, proves twisty, unpredictable and tense." Entertainment Weekly described Bacon's Hardy as "a telltale heart-warmer of a guy who tries to come off as cold and aloof. He doesn't fool us for a moment, though, and that's why we end up caring about this screwed-up hero."
The show, on network television rather than cable, has also provoked unease because of its graphic violence.
"It's squeamish and it's not for the faint of heart. You have to kind of look away," admitted the show's creator, Kevin Williamson.
"But it's also the cat-and-mouse of it. ...On the one hand, I have this amazing do-gooder and I tried to pair him up with the most evil, crazed, brilliant psychopath that I could possibly come up with," Williamson added.
Bacon, whose 30-year career includes roles in "Mystic River," "Apollo 13" and "A Few Good Men," is the latest A-lister to move into a starring role in television after minor roles on the small screen as a young actor.
He joins the likes of Kathy Bates ("Harry's Law"), Laura Linney ("The Big C"), Dustin Hoffman ("Luck"), Kate Winslet ("Mildred Pierce"), Don Cheadle ("House of Lies") and Kevin Spacey, who stars in the upcoming Netflix drama "House of Cards."
Bacon said he had been looking around for a TV project for about three or four years, after admiring series like gritty police show "The Wire," post 9/11 thriller "Homeland," and dark drug drama "Breaking Bad."
He said he was also encouraged by the experience of his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, the star of the police series "The Closer," for which she won an Emmy in 2010.
"I was finding myself to be more and more of a TV consumer as the quality and writing of the shows seemed to get better and better. I find myself really knocked out by so many shows," he said.
"I found this to be such a page-turner ... and I felt like the continuing exploration of this guy and what is eating at him and what makes him tick would be interesting to explore from a character standpoint."