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An archive Kevin Costner Interview! Have you got a top western script destined for the big time? Enter our contests to find out- enter HERE! A featured article from the WriteMovies archive first published October 2006 by Pam Grady.
Connecting the Costner Dots
|Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Kevin Costner plans to celebrate his 25th year as a film actor by making another western. And if you understand where he came from, his fascination with the oater makes perfect sense.
By Pam Grady
To get Kevin Costner feeling nostalgic, one only need mention Visalia. The actor spent his junior year in high school in the Central California Valley town, and he says now, via a recent one-on-one sit down with FilmStew, “Truth be known, that was probably my best year.”
On this afternoon, Costner is sitting in a stark conference room at the Oakland, California Airport Hilton, a quick stop on a tour of Coast Guard stations that he recently took with The Guardian co-star Ashton Kutcher and director Andrew Davis prior to last Friday’s opening. Earlier that day, on the first stop on the tour at Alameda’s Coast Guard Island, Costner had effortlessly charmed the “Coasties” in the crowd as he paid tribute to the Coast Guard’s mission of saving lives. So at ease was he on the dais that Kutcher could only marvel, “I thought Kevin would be getting Punk’d for having to go first, but I’m the one getting Punk’d.”
Costner is still chatty several hours later, only now he is taking a look back over his life. “So… One year in the Central Valley, but it was my fondest year,” he continues. “I could drive by that time. That’s not the end all, I wasn’t looking to get out, but I had a little bit of freedom. It was a fairly lonely time for me, because I had been moving a lot in my life. Yet again, here I was moving, and it’s not so easy.”
“I’m a hunter-fisherman, so in my being a kind of loner type, I got a bird dog and I just remember every night after school, I would grab that dog and we would go out and be by ourselves,” adds Costner. “It was a time when guys were looking at girls a lot and I was looking at them, too, but I wasn’t able to compete for them, at least in my mind. I wasn’t in their clique and I was kind of an undersized kid. It was just me and my dog, you know, out in that truck and that was just pretty neat.”
In a way, that self-reliance set a pattern for both Costner’s life and career. In college, he spent one summer traveling around the United States in his truck, with the canoe he built himself stowed in the bed, to facilitate his exploration of all four corners of the country. The next year, he worked as a deckhand on a commercial fishing boat that toiled the waters off the Pacific Coast.
He was not an actor, yet, but he sang in choirs, played piano, wrote poetry, and relished the drama he found in sports. “The notion of performance was something that was always inside me,” he reveals. “The idea of what was dramatic, I think there were always opportunities everywhere for drama, in my sports, I knew right when the drama existed. I liked that moment, liked that flashpoint. It didn’t’ scare me. I liked having to make the free throw to win the game or lose the game.”
The business major at Cal State Fullerton realized by his senior year that business was not something he had much of an affinity for. “I thought, ‘What am I doing in business?’ It was more like a white rat going through a maze,” he recalls.
With his instinct for drama, acting seemed like a natural, although he still had reservations. “My next problem was, what I wanted to do, was that a way a man made a living? I framed houses, I worked on fishing boats, I liked physical work… So acting, was I just kind of afraid to go to work?”
Perhaps that reticence, coupled with his love of sport, explains his growth as an actor. The classical leading man he is most often compared to is Gary Cooper, and indeed they both share a knack for playing the prototypical American hero, the stand-up guy with endless reservoirs of courage. But there is also more humor in Costner, so that he can also play the rascal, although one that usually rises to the occasion.
Thus, his career runs the gamut from the son chasing the father’s ghost in Field of Dreams and the cavalry officer who lives among the Indians in his own epic Dances with Wolves, to the broken down golf pro seeking one last shot at redemption in Tin Cup and the alcoholic ex-baseball player who seizes a shot at love in last year’s underrated The Upside of Anger. His role as rescue swimmer Ben Randall in The Guardian falls somewhere in between; a stoic, heroic man, who is also something of a mess, a guy who so devoted his life to his work that his personal life fell apart while he wasn’t looking.
“I thought we had a really good beginning and a really good end to a movie and I don’t pick movies that way, because I like it to be a complete document and this wasn’t a complete document,” Costner says of his first reading of The Guardian screenplay. “But it had a really good beginning, a mythical beginning and it had a very kind of mythical end. I remember that the hair stood up a little on my neck, and I thought, ‘If we can orchestrate the rest of the movie to get to that, then we can have ourselves a popular movie.'”
“I saw it as a formulaic popular movie, but the idea if we can do this, it’s like Field of Dreams,” he continues. “If we can do everything right and get to the point where, ‘Do you want to have a catch?’ can raise the hair on your arms or break you down or take you emotionally wherever you go at that moment. I thought that for this movie, if we could create a middle that could make you believe the beginning and the end, I thought, ‘Well, we could do it.'”
Costner decided to take a chance on the film, in spite of the fact that he routinely turns down projects if the script is not completely together. “I don’t like to start movies where we have to be writing. I’m anal that way,” he admits.
There were also certain inherent risks in the project where much of the film would be shot on water, much of it in a specially constructed wave tank designed to mimic ocean currents. But the 51-year-old actor is careful to put his role in the movie in perspective, comparing it to what real rescue swimmers do.
“They don’t let guys past 44 do what I do, so I’m already six years past it. But I’ve taken care of myself; I’ve tried to. I saw how hard it is and that’s in the best of conditions. Our lives really are – they might be at risk, but they aren’t at stake,” he observes. “Your life’s at risk when you’ve got a helicopter going over you and you’re in water. That thing goes down, and Ashton and I are going to get killed.”
“Four or five other things could happen, so we were at risk, but our live weren’t at stake,” he adds. “When you go out to really save someone, that helicopter may not come back and now you’re stuck in that water that’s 50 degrees for a long period of time. That’s different, so I make sure I know what the difference is.”
“It’s neat, because the Coast Guard is really our one service – well, not the only one – but its mission statement isn’t to kill people, it’s to save lives. It’s honorable, a special breed. The hardest thing is making it look real.”
It has been nearly 25 years since Costner crashed into the movies in 1982 with small parts in Night Shift, Frances and the long forgotten Chasing Dreams. But his passion for his vocation has not waned. He is not one for mincing words. Bring up The Upside of Anger and his irritation over New Line’s treatment of its release boils to the surface.
“It was a shame they didn’t believe in that movie more, bring it out in the fall when it should have come out,” he bristles. “Because I think Joan [Allen] would have been recognized in such a nice way.”
“I just think the kind of cowardice that came with that picture, always their explanation was, ‘It’s a movie that falls through the cracks; we don’t know where to put it,’”he continues. “That’s – excuse me – that’s f*cking insane. It’s an adult-themed movie, give it the adults and don’t worry about the larger demographic. Just let it alone. I felt that in some way, Joan was slighted because of that, not by the Academy, but that timeframe when she might have been really noticed. I felt bad for her.”
Costner is too polite to mention that the Academy might have recognized his performance as well had the timing been right, as he added another unforgettable character to his resume. But when it comes to his own career, the nostalgia that seizes him when he talks about his adolescence disappears, as he looks ever forward. Right now, he is wearing a goatee, a look he is experimenting with, as he contemplates his next project.
“I like to do cowboy movies, so I’m gonna do another one, maybe next summer,” he says. “It’s the mythic quality that I like. It does play into my sensibility of going by yourself, of being, with all the possessions you own are with you on the back of your horse. I know that I’m kind of suited for that.”
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