Kevin Bacon makes his primetime TV debut in The Following, playing a former FBI agent with issues. He is forced out of retirement when James Purefoy's charismatic killer escapes. For Bacon the decision to move from film to television proved surprisingly easy. "It did come out of frustration with the movie process," he admits. "I was getting work, but increasingly there's a giant gap in movies between what the studios want to make and the tiny, tiny little films. In the 1970s when I started you used to be able to make films with interesting characters and edge. Where are those characters now? They're on television."
The thriller, which arrives on Sky Atlantic next week, is written by Kevin Williamson, the man behind hits as varied as Scream, The Vampire Diaries and Dawson's Creek. His inventive script acknowledges the genre's clichés and then subverts them. Viewers are dragged into the curious relationship between serial killer Joe Carroll and his chief pursuer, retired FBI agent Ryan Hardy, and then repeatedly find the rug pulled out from under them.
Above all, this is a show that draws its power from its oppressive atmosphere: just watching someone sitting in the dank, poorly lit main interrogation room in Brooklyn's desolate Navy Yard while the New York wind echoes eerily outside is unnerving.
Bacon's Hardy is clearly the show's hero, albeit a morally grey one. It helps that he is one of the few actors with the intensity and talent to breathe fresh life into the clichéd role of the washed-up FBI agent. Williamson admits he always wanted an established name – "a film star" – to play Hardy, although they never really thought Bacon would say yes. "We'd heard he was only looking at cable scripts," he admits. "He saw our script, said the show's great but I can't do 22 episodes; I said great I can't do 22 either." He laughs. "It would be impossible to keep up the level of tension over that time."
For Bacon, The Following's power comes from its strong characterisation as much as its ability to make you jump. "People like to be scared...but it's all about having an emotional connection to the thing they're watching," he says.
'The Following' begins on Sky Atlantic HD on 22 January