Kevin Bacon. Photo credit: Michael Lavine/FOX

It’s one of those crystal cold days in upstate New York and the parking lot outside of the Executive Diner has all the makings of a crime scene: half a dozen cop cars barricade the left side of the building, while yellow caution tape flutters in the chilly wind. To a passerby, it looks like something terrible has happened. But this is all just make believe. We’re on the set of The Following, FOX’s chilling new show slated to premiere this month, and have jumped on the opportunity to get one degree closer to Kevin Bacon.

On the show, Bacon plays the lead character of Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent investigating the escape of a serial killer he put behind bars eight years ago. The killer is charismatic mastermind Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who created a network of serial killers while imprisoned. For someone who has to play a disheveled, broken man searching for redemption in a couple of hours, Bacon looks awfully cool with his wayfarers and head-to-toe black. But that seems to come with the territory. After a prolific acting career of over 30 years and more than 60 films that include cult classics and favorites such as National Lampoon’s Animal House, Footloose, Mystic River, A Few Good Men, and X-Men: First Class, he knows the drill. We had a chance to speak to Bacon about his move into episode TV and his experience in working with dark subject matter.

Don’t miss the premiere of The Following, Monday, January 21, at 9 p.m. on FOX.

How did you make the transition to episodic TV?
Kevin Bacon: Well, it’s been a long time. About four years ago, I decided I wanted to look into it. I was really enjoying watching a lot of television shows. I was seeing so much good writing, good acting and directing and the whole thing that I just felt there was a lot of exciting stuff going on, on the small screen. That began a process of trying to find the right one. I read this one, and the combination of the character, the story, and Kevin Williamson‘s involvement, I said yeah, this looks like it could be fun.

What are your favorite shows?
KB: My favorite shows are The Closer, The Wire, Homeland, Breaking Bad, Modern Family, Six Feet Under, Dexter, The Killing.

Do you consider yourself a TV buff?
KB: No, because I’ve sort of come to it lately. Before my wife started doing [The Closer], which was 7 years ago, I was really more like basketball and 60 Minutes. I wasn’t the TV consumer that I am now. I’ve come to it in the same way that a lot of people have come to it — where they just find so much compelling, interesting writing, story, and character happening on television. A lot of shows make you feel like week after week you’re watching a great little independent movie. Certainly Breaking Bad has that vibe. It’s like watching a great indie, but just half of one. An hour of great entertaining cool stuff.

How do you prepare for this character?
KB: Well, obviously there’s the FBI side to it, the time spent with the FBI, thinking about general law enforcement, and what makes people go into that and embrace that. And then there’s also more internal aspects of who the man is. It’s things that Kevin Williamson and I have discussed through the process, back-story, where he comes from. What’s interesting about this character, at least in the first five episodes and I think we’ll probably see more of it, is that I get a chance to play him at different points in his life because we use a flashback a lot. We’ll go back 10 years, then we’ll go back 4 years, then we’ll go back 2 years. That’s a great opportunity because the journey that he’s been through has really changed and shaped who he was.

That just makes it more interesting for an actor I would think…
KB: Yes, it totally does. And then I also can look forward to where he’s going to go. Of course you know what’s funny? What I always remember is the course of our show — I think we’re only on episode 9 and we’ve only progressed about a week from where we started because everything is really happening very quickly. Even though it feels like you’ve been on this journey, in real time it’s only been really a week.

How do you disconnect yourself from being exposed to the dark side of humanity while you’re working on the project?
KB: I’ve done a lot of stuff that’s dark, I always have. I’ve been drawn to it. I like things that are life and death. You have to be able to leave your work at the office sometimes and that’s something that you kind of learn in order to survive. If you just kind of keep yourself in this head all the time, I think you go kind of crazy. And, look, I mean, you try to remember that it’s pretend. We’re professional pretenders.

Even though some actors decide to stay in their character…
KB: Yeah, I think it’s very hard sometimes to turn it on and turn it off. Some people are really able to do that. They’re able to jump from “ha ha ha ha” to something kind of intense or emotional or sad or angry. I can’t really do that well. People say there’s a lot of joking around, you guys have a lot of fun. If we were doing that with something that was a comedy, then I think there would be a little bit more of that. But it’s a little hard to just jump into joke time at the drop of a hat. I think all of us, in the course of our shooting day, are very focused to get it done. From the director to the caterer, people take their work really seriously and work really hard, especially in television. We have eight-and-half days to do 43 minutes of solid television and that’s a grind. It takes a certain amount of seriousness from everybody. It never ceases to amaze me how remarkably hard the people on the crew work, as well as the cast.

What is your favorite film of all the ones that you’ve done?
KB: I don’t even go back and look at them. I like going forward, that’s what I do. I look down the road. I don’t turn around. I’m not in the rearview mirror too often. The memories of them are much more about the process of making them, or whatever kinds of elements were in my life at the time. I don’t remember so much the content of what we put on the screen. It’s more like what was happening in my world.

Do you share them with your kids?
KB: They’ve never really been interested, to tell you the truth. And we never pounded the table on showing them our films. Every once in a while they’ll discover one now because they’re grown up. They’ll say, hey I watched that movie of yours, that was good, or it sucked or whatever. They grew up on sets, but they didn’t grow up watching us. They didn’t show any interest in it. I feel that there’s a part of them that wants to separate it. You know your parents; you don’t want to think of them as other characters. I think there’s something kind of unstable about that. I don’t know, my parents aren’t actors, but I would think it’d be kind of weird. I think you want your parents to be just parents, like your friends’ parents.

That would probably confuse your identity a little bit.
KB: Especially with some of the parts that I’ve played [laughs].

The Following premieres Monday, January 21, at 9 p.m. on FOX.

Kevin Bacon in The Following premiering January 21 on FOX.