“Cavedweller,” directed by Lisa Cholodenko, co-starring Kyra Sedgwick and Aidan Quinn
“Loverboy,” directd by Bacon, co-starring Sandra Bullock
“Beauty Shop,” directed by Bille Woodruff, co-starring Queen Latifah
“Where the Truth Lies,” directed by Atom Egoyan, co-starring Colin Firth and Alison Lohman

For much of his earlier movie career, which began in 1978 with “Animal House,” Kevin Bacon was a bit like that raw skinny stranger standing courtside waiting for someone to choose him for a pickup game. You didn’t want him at first because he looked too light to take the punishment inside until he quickly proved himself no pushover.

Over the past decade, his portrayals have hardened and deepened, and the combination of buried rage and fragility he brings to “The Woodsman” at times makes you hold your breath.

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“I didn’t want to do dark,” Bacon says, “but I didn’t choose the movie; the movie chose me. To me, the phrase ‘career planning’ is an oxymoron. I like popcorn movies. I’d like to do something mainstream. High-speed, kick-ass, funny. Like ‘Beauty Shop,’ where I get to cut loose with Queen Latifah.”

At 46, Bacon has become the kind of versatile go-to guy that has made him the recipient of numerous top awards and award nominations, culminating in a 2000 Lincoln Center Film Society lifetime achievement award.

Philadelphia born, Bacon’s father was city planner and his mother a volunteer who worked with troubled children, the homeless and prison inmates.

“With my parents, you were nothing if you weren’t creative. I have one brother and four sisters, the closest one eight years older. I was a natural show-off. I had a very captive audience at home.”

(Along with his brother Michael, Bacon has had a successful side career in the club band called the Bacon Bros.)

At 17, he went to New York to study at the prestigious Circle-in-the-Square and enjoy the hang-out/sleep-late life of the theater, which led him to attempt one play a year even well into his movie success. (He made his Broadway debut in 1983 in “Slab Boys,” with Sean Penn; another of his notable successes was Lanford Wilson’s “Lemon Sky,” which aired on PBS’ American Playhouse).

“Theater separates the men from the boys,” he says. “Anything can happen on any given night. If you do it right, it’s such a rush. I feel the same way about film, with the added advantage that if you do it right, it’s a moment that’ll be captured and looked at forever.”

Bacon, married to “Woodsman” co-star Kyra Sedgwick, addressed the classic actor’s malady of worrying about his next job by diversifying, not just in directing, but in producing and development.

“You’ve got to stop saying ‘There’s no good scripts,’ or ‘This guy’s hotter than you,’ ” he says.

Clearly a certain amount of anxiety is good for one’s creative juices. But over and over again, Bacon has amply proven that he’s got game.