“For years and years, if my agent came to me and said, ‘Here’s a TV show you should do’, I would fire my agent,” admits the Philadelphia-born actor, 62.
“There was such a dividing line between movies and television, and I was not a television actor. From the time I left the soap opera in America called The Guiding Light [in 1981], I was like, ‘I’m never going back to television’.”
A few decades later, and Bacon – who was catapulted to fame thanks to 1984 dance film Footloose – has certainly gone back on his word.
You see, we’re chatting over Zoom ahead of the launch of series two of crime drama City On A Hill, which airs on Sky Atlantic in the UK.
He plays corrupt FBI agent, Jackie Rohr, who is trying to exploit Boston’s defective criminal justice system in a desperate attempt to salvage his career.
The new episodes, which are set in the Nineties (cue some brilliantly nostalgic outfits and hairstyles), largely revolve around a federal housing project in the Roxbury neighbourhood of the city.
It’s an area that is plagued with drug violence, where people have a rightful distrust in local law enforcement, and coalition leader Grace Campbell (Pernell Walker) is working tirelessly on behalf of the community. However, her efforts are undermined by gang activity happening right under her nose.
Meanwhile, a cat-and-mouse relationship ensues between Jackie and assistant district attorney Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge), who is keeping a very close eye on the FBI agent.
Expect an explosive start to this latest series; Bacon reveals his character is “acting completely recklessly, with no concern for really anyone other than himself”.
“Jackie obviously does a lot of reprehensible things,” elaborates the star, who often has an earnest tone, and is chatty and amiable.
“He says a lot of inflammatory things. He’s murdered people in cold blood. He is a philanderer. He has substance abuse issues. There’s a lot of things that are wrong about this guy. My job is to stay true to who he is, and to make sure that I humanise him.”
Bacon’s career has been non-stop, and across a variety of genres; he has nearly 100 acting credits on IMDB, with the most memorable being Apollo 13, Mystic River and JFK.
As well as the big Hollywood hits, there’s also been short films, comedies and cop thrillers on the small screen – and not forgetting that in the UK, he’s the face of the EE adverts.
Asked if there are any roles he regrets taking – or not taking – he takes a long pause. For a moment, it seems as though he might say something juicy. But instead, he gives a more restrained answer.
“Let’s put it this way… In the bigger picture, I wouldn’t change anything because, who knows? In the universal puzzle, if you move a piece around, maybe it doesn’t kind of lay out.
“Even if I was to take a role that I passed on, who knows that I would have been the guy to make it work? I’d like to think I could, but I don’t know.
“And in terms of mistakes, sure. There’s nobody who has chosen perfectly throughout their career. Unless they’ve only done one movie, and that movie was a hit, then that’s the one person that chose right. But the rest of us, we’re just throwing the s*** against the wall to see what sticks.”
The father-of-two, who’s been married to actress Kyra Sedgwick since 1988, also worked as a director on the new series of City On A Hill. What does he most enjoy about being behind the camera?
“When you spend so much time on a set as I have – ever since I’ve been 17 years old I’ve been basically living on a set – at some point, you want to be the guy that’s telling the story.
“It’s fun, and it’s interesting, and I love the process.”
It helped that, with one series under his belt already, Bacon feels he really understands Jackie and who he is. One way in which he can relate to the character is the fact he’s at “retirement age”.
“He should be heading to the golf course or getting a boat or building birdhouses or crocheting – it’s time,” he quips.
“But his work is super wrapped up in his sense of power, of masculinity. And that’s one of the things that’s kind of fun about playing this character, is that he’s a guy that is looking at his own mortality, or at least a switch in his lack of power – whether it’s business or legal, or power over his opponents, or sexual power.
“It’s all going to be slipping away now, and that’s terrifying to him.”
Bacon’s own retirement isn’t even an option right now, he assures us.
“I have my foot on the throttle even harder than I ever have, in a funny kind of way. I’m trying to stay busy and really super motivated because, at least so far in my life, I don’t have much of a rear-view mirror. I don’t really look back.
“I’m hoping that my most exciting and creatively fulfilling work is in front of me.”
But, regardless of his determination to be on our screens, Covid-19 has been getting in the way a bit. City On A Hill was one of the many, many shows which had to halt filming last year.
“I do think it can fully recover,” Bacon muses, when asked about the impact of the pandemic on the film and TV business. “How and where it recovers… It’s kind of above my pay grade to really understand that.”
He takes a moment to reflect on how his industry was already shifting in recent years; people are now making “tiny little pieces of entertainment” on apps like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, he notes.
“I’ve been at this a long time, and I’ve never seen it change and move and turn around as monumentally as it has.
“What people are hungry for, or how we receive it or consume it, that’s something that’s been shifting long before the pandemic – pretty much every week.”