Kevin Costner Charts His Own Course
The veteran actor tackles a comedy role that never strays from his career-long ambition: having fun and telling a good story.
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, July/August 2008
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"But I guess we always need something to fight against in life," Hopper adds with a laugh.
As a result of the problem-plagued Waterworld shoot, Costner originally turned down what would become one of his most endearing roles: that of the washed-up golf maverick in Ron Shelton's Tin Cup. "After just coming out of the divorce and the whole Waterworld thing, I just didn't feel like working again," recalls Costner. "I wasn't in a good frame of mind. And so I said to Ron, 'I really like the script, but could you just give me some time?' He would have given me that time, but he had to start shooting right away. So I had to pass. And then a couple people said to me, 'You know, Kevin, this film is exactly what you need to do right now.' I was feeling so beat up and exhausted at that point. But ultimately I was glad I listened to them, because I'm so happy I was able to have that experience."
It's now early May, and Kevin and Christine have decided to take a vacation to the Florida Keys, staying at the palatial beachfront estate of friend John Morris, the founder and CEO of the sporting goods empire Bass Pro Shops. The couple have invited some close friends to share their sun-drenched sojourn under the tropical palms. It's a languid, yet lively week full of water skiing, swimming, sailing, fishing, golf and a few aerial trips around the Keys scouting available properties—courtesy of local hotshot pilot Jon Dahm's Flying Dog Helicopters. Spend any time with Costner and you'll understand how he thoroughly embraces life, with an almost childlike enthusiasm. "I guess I've had a kind of life where if I could dream it, I could do it," says Costner, kicking back on the beach with one-year-old Cayden in his arms. "But in life, things go way past a dream, though. I've always been cognizant of a work that would be involved with everything I do. You just don't land on the red carpet, or you don't just end up in front of 15,000 people with a guitar just because you dream it. You really have to work at it.
"And I guess the thing for me is I've always liked the work part much more," he continues. "I've always liked rehearsal. I've always liked writing on movies. I've always liked being in the editing room. I've always liked writing a song, and the practice. I don't immediately go to that spotlight. That's not the endgame for me."
Much like a modern-day Tom Sawyer, Costner's life has always been a path of never-ending adventures—most of them away from the public eye. For instance, his trip to Havana for a showing of his Cuban Missile Crisis drama Thirteen Days resulted in a fascinating two-day tête-à-tête with Fidel Castro. "I'll never forget it," he says, shaking his head. "We talked about a lot of things…and there was a certain honesty in how we spoke with each other, away from the glare of any cameras. But I remember one time I asked him if there was anyone in the span of his career, whom he may have once viewed as a competitor or an enemy on the world stage, that he came around to having an almost begrudging admiration for. And I framed the question, I thought, very beautifully. And he just looked at me and said, 'No, nobody. They were all liars!'" Costner lets out a big laugh. "You have to understand how painstakingly I framed this long question to him and I was completely floored by his response. Other times, he would really extrapolate on things I asked him. But I was just so surprised that there was nobody he begrudgingly respected—Americans, Russians and whoever else he was dealing with." Costner recalls sitting beside Castro during the Thirteen Days screening and breathing a sigh of relief when the final credits rolled, the lights came up and Castro expressed his approval of the film and praising its honesty. "I've never been so cognizant about every single word said in a movie," relates Costner. "I was very proud of the decisions we made on that film. I never once had to turn to him and say, 'Oh, we took a dramatic license here' or 'We needed to change that part.'"
It's now mid-May, and back at Costner's Santa Barbara beach home, there's electricity in the air. A major record deal with Universal has just been signed for Modern West's debut disc and plans are being finalized for a concert tour to take place this summer and early fall. But this isn't just another actor's vanity project. "It couldn't be, otherwise I'd get caught doing that," he states. "Vanity is just about dressing up. There are people who dress up every day and put on their jewels and they're actually the most unhappy people in the world. Vanity is about showing up at a dinner party because they know the who's who are going to be there. It doesn't mean they're having fun. But I feel I've learned what is fun in my life versus what's not fun. So the music is not out of step for me; it's actually just the opposite."
Costner compares his music foray to the leap in pursuing an acting career after earning a degree in business administration from California State University. "I had to make a big decision to become an actor, and when you decide to become an actor, there's a huge amount of doubt about what it means to those around you. Stuff like, 'How's he going to do that?' and 'What makes him think he can do that?' But I think doubt is not a bad thing to have, because it means you keep asking yourself questions. And if you're going to ask yourself questions, you have to come out swinging harder. You push harder. And everything that's happened to me in acting has been a fundamental of work and being associated with really good people."
Says John Coinman, one of Costner's original bandmates back in the early '80s and now guitarist-songwriter with Modern West: "As the head of the band, Kevin has this remarkable ability to speak to audiences and to pull them in. So many actors just can't transfer their sort of acting ability on-screen to music, where they're talking to people, telling these musical stories and making people feel comfortable. But Kevin can just deliver nonstop and in a very genuine and heartfelt way." Costner insists he's just as committed to this burgeoning music career as he is to filmmaking. "But if it ever stops being fun," he chuckles, "I'll be just as happy playing guitar and singing in my living room."
On the big screen, Costner will be seen next year in a chilling supernatural thriller called The New Daughter, and then a 1940s-era Western called Little War of Our Own in which he plans to direct and star. The latter boasts a unique script and Costner's enthusiasm for the project is quite contagious. In fact, he gets downright giddy when talk turns to his penchant for Western epics, which as a storyteller he prefers over contemporary settings. "I've always believed that true drama comes out of dilemmas, and so I think the Western really sets itself up beautifully for that. Like when you see a stranger, there's inherent drama because you don't know if he wants your horse, wants your gun or wants your water. And the West was filled with people who you had no way of really knowing who they really were because they could reinvent themselves in the next town 200 miles away.
"I mean, that can't happen in today's technologically advanced society, but back then word couldn't travel very far," continues Costner. "And America, which had just come out of the very violent Civil War, was wide open for people who had tainted records in the Wild West. It was a very dangerous place, and highly unpredictable. And when you have that, it makes for very compelling storytelling."
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