“There are 2 per cent of scripts where it’s, ‘Oh gosh, I want to do this’,” Bacon tells news.com.au. “It’s hard to tell a good story.”
When Bacon decided “very, very reluctantly” to look into doing TV some years ago, he read “three of the best scripts I’d read in years. Way better than the movies I was being offered. All of a sudden, I thought to myself, ‘What have I been waiting for?’
“I grew up in an era where you were either a TV actor or you were a movie actor and you didn’t do both.
“And if you had been a movie actor and things had not been going well, then maybe you would do TV because that was your only option to pay your rent. So to say, ‘OK, I’m willing to throw my hat in the ring, I’m willing to look at what is available on TV’, it was a really hard call to make.”
Bacon made the call a little while before going on to star in The Following for three seasons in 2013. But he doesn’t consider himself at the forefront of well-regarded film actors making the move to TV — even Meryl Streep is doing TV now in the second season of Big Little Lies.
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Bacon thinks he was a little late to the game. By then his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, had already done seven years of The Closer from 2005. Glenn Close had been on Damages since 2007, and had done a season of The Shield before that.
Gritty crime drama City on a Hill, streaming now on Stan, is Bacon’s third regular TV role after The Following and Amazon Prime comedy I Love Dick.
Set in the early 1990s, City on a Hill is a compelling look at the Boston crime scene, specifically at the transitional moment when the city, wracked by corruption and gangs, starts to clean up.
Created from an original idea by Ben Affleck and Chuck MacLean, the show is fictional but it’s grounded in the city’s history, set against the fallout from the case of Charles Stuart, of entrenched crime being swept out as part of a concerted effort by law enforcement and community groups.
City on a Hill is a very Boston show, and in addition to Affleck, hometowner Matt Damon is also a producer.
It’s also Bacon’s fourth role in a project where Boston is in itself a character, following Mystic River, Patriot’s Day and Black Mass, the latter of which starred Johnny Depp as infamous Boston mobster Whitey Bulger.
So what draws Bacon to these Boston-set movies and TV shows?
“I honestly don’t know. Do they find me or do I find them? Or is it just a big coincidence?” he says.
“Even though it’s a large American city, it feels like a small town when you’re there, and I know this having worked there so much. Everybody knows everything about what’s going on — cops, journalists, the FBI and sports figures.
“It’s a very tightly knit place and, I think, in that way, it kind of lends itself to these kinds of stories.”
But, through laughter, Bacon rejects any idea that he might consider himself an adopted Bostonian, his Philadelphia born-and-bred spirit rising to the fore.
“I’ll never be a Bostonian,” he says. “I grew up in Philly so there’s an inherent rivalry. Not to mention I’ve spent most of my adult life in New York, which is an even bigger rivalry.
“But I like working there.”
Naturalistic and nuanced, City on a Hill has a Homicide: Life on the Streets vibe, likely due to respected TV veteran, executive producer Tom Fontana, who wrote for Homicide.
Bacon’s character, Jackie Rohr, is an on-the-ground FBI agent who’s long benefited from the extra-legal quid pro quo of the streets. But he finds an unlikely ally in an outsider and by-the-book assistant district attorney, Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge), when they try to track down a gang of armoured car robbers and murderers.
Jackie is a complex character, one who is neither a good guy nor a villain, reflective of the shades of grey City on a Hill revels in. It’s also the kind of role that excites Bacon.
“City on a Hill came together so quickly,” he says. “My manager hadn’t mentioned anything and all of a sudden, there was a script with this amazing part and an opportunity to make this pilot. I was thrilled.
“I thought to myself, ‘Boy, I wonder if anybody else turned this down’ because it all happened so quickly. I also thought, ‘What actor in his right mind would say no to a part like Jackie Rohr?’.
“When I read a script, there are some roles that look like a part I can figure out, and then there are some parts that when I read them, I hear it.
“I know it sounds freaky but I can hear his voice, I can see what he’s going to look like, and I can see the way he’s going to walk and what his hair is going to be like, and the way he’s going to move his body.
“It’s as though the character tells me how to play it, and Jackie is that kind of role. I can’t really explain it but I get him.”
For Bacon, while his heart remains in movies — “it’s where I began, it’s my life’s work” — TV is where the juicy roles are.
“For a guy like me, for better or worse, TV is where I’m going to be able to do my best work at this point in time.
“They’re not going to make movies like City on a Hill. In the 1970s, there were Serpico, The French Connection and Dog Day Afternoon. Those were the kinds of movies being made and those are the kinds of movies that I love. They don’t make those movies anymore, they make comic books.
“So if I want to play a part like Jackie Rohr, TV is the place to do it.”
City on a Hill episode one is streaming now on Stan with new episodes available on Mondays
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