Kevin Bacon’s Smarmy Face Got Him Into ‘Animal House’

The role that made America say, ‘Thank you, Sir, may I have another?’
Kevin Bacon’s Smarmy Face Got Him Into ‘Animal House’

Kevin Bacon was in acting school. He didn’t have an agent. Didn’t have any big Hollywood connections. Pretty much the only thing he had going for him was a face capable of communicating smug insincerity. But opportunity knocked when a casting director for the upcoming comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House came by Bacon’s school. “We’re looking for fresh college types,” the guy said, and Bacon received an audition, he told Howard Stern this week.  And because the part didn’t have that many lines, “I made a face, basically.”

Director John Landis was all in on the face. He offered Bacon some direction: “I want you to be smarmy.” Bacon confesses that, at the time, he literally had zero idea what the word “smarmy” meant but he went with the onomatopoeia interpretation, making a face that felt like what the word sounded like. “That’s it!” shouted Landis. “That’s smarmy!” And Bacon became Chip Diller, Omega House pledge and ROTC fascist-in-training. Here’s that smarm in action.

It was Bacon’s first film role, but it didn’t exactly make him a huge movie star. In fact, when the movie came out, he was still waiting tables. But that didn’t stop Bacon from showing up for the premiere. He asked for the night off, took the subway down to Times Square, and found the red carpet.  Of course, Bacon was on the wrong side of the velvet rope when the limos start arriving, with Belushi and other stars spilling out and waving to fans. 

Another actor finally recognized Bacon and took pity, waving him onto the red carpet with his castmates so he can suffer further mortification. “He takes me into the theater and the security guard stops me. ‘What color ticket do you have?’” The answer was “the wrong color” and Bacon was escorted away from the other actors once again. “I’m not even in the good seats,” remembers Bacon. “I’m in the shit seats. It was humiliating.”

Undeterred, Bacon hopped on the bus to the post-premiere rager. But with his hair grown out from the movie’s ROTC buzz cut, no one recognized him. When he tried to hit on girls by convincing them he was actually in the movie, their response was “Where’s Belushi?” With fans ignoring him, Bacon left the party and returned to his friends, tail between his legs. “It was one of the most depressing nights in my life.”

We’d feel sorry for the guy but if we’re being honest, Chip Diller deserved everything he got.

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