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Profile in Courage

In the political thriller Thirteen Days, Kevin Costner explores the Cuban Missile Crisis and how John and Robert Kennedy saved the world.
David Giammarco
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, Nov/Dec 00

(continued from page 2)

It's now late August and Costner is enjoying the last few days of summer at his 35-acre mountain retreat in Aspen, which faces the continental divide and is something he describes as his own piece of heaven. "It's a magical place for me," he says, enthusiastically. "I'm most at home literally on the tractor out back, moving dirt around. I only share this place with people whom I'm close with. It's my personal refuge."

Costner spent most of the summer here, having turned down numerous high-profile projects, including Jerry Bruckheimer's historical epic Pearl Harbor, to spend a leisurely summer vacation with his children. "Either I was chopping wood, building decks, and when I wasn't doing that, I was playing baseball with my kids or out flyfishing on the lake," he says with a smile.   Most of the filming for Thirteen Days, including Costner's scenes, was wrapped up in January, with the rest of the photography, including some location shooting in the Philippines (which doubles for Cuba in the film), finished by May. In February, Costner donned a pair of blue suede shoes as a thief masquerading as an Elvis impersonator to pull off a Las Vegas casino heist in the midst of an Elvis Presley convention. The action thriller, titled 3000 Miles to Graceland, also stars Kurt Russell as Costner's cunning cohort in the plan. It's a unique film choice for Costner, one that he says "will surprise a lot of people--it's a really edgy and wild rock and roll ride." If everything goes according to plan, Costner will reunite with director Oliver Stone in January for their first project together since JFK. No details are forthcoming about the film, but Costner describes it as "a very emotional love story set on an international level."

With these solid projects, it looks as if Costner is finally breaking free of a career dry spell that saw him go from Hollywood's '80s golden boy to the media's '90s whipping boy. But Costner has never been one to wallow in self-pity, although he has been provided ample opportunity as the press snickered with glee at the bloated budget and troubled shoot of Waterworld (1995), lambasted the actor for epic self-indulgence in Wyatt Earp (1994) and The Postman (1998), and chastised family-man Costner when his 16-year marriage to college sweetheart Cindy Silva ended amid reports of philandering. Yet despite the private and public setbacks, Costner has continually picked himself up, dusted himself off, and saddled up again with the same dogged determination and stoicism of the Western screen heroes he idolized as a child.

This afternoon, Costner has been finishing a road he's been digging through his property the past couple of days. Costner's matinee idol good looks have been weathered by time in the sun; a few more lines and creases crisscross around his blue-gray eyes, and his surfer's sandy hair lies long against his tanned features. Charismatic and always blunt as a bullet, Costner earnestly defends the career choices that made him a media punching bag the past few years.   "Everyone feels like they could have done things differently in life," he muses, with a discernible Oklahoma drawl in his voice. "But I'm happy about the things I've done. Not always happy about the results, but happy about the decisions, because I made them myself. And I think that's an important way to go through life."

Costner knows what he espouses probably sounds corny and antiquated to some, but he clings mightily to the traditional values of his youth and the frontier virtue of self-reliance, forged by his parents and grandparents during the great Dust Bowl disaster of the 1930s in the southwestern Great Plains. His father's family lost the farm and moved to California in a Model-A Ford. "All they took with them was what they could carry," he says.   "I have to say, Kevin has a real integrity and a quality that's very Western, very all-American," says Oliver Stone, in the middle of polishing off the final draft of the script for their possible project together. "Kevin also has a real cuteness, a boyishness which I've always liked--that comes across very well on screen. He stands firm in his beliefs, which not many people do."

Costner certainly isn't one to back down from a battle, whether personally or professionally. "There's just no reason to be timid in life," he says. "We walk this world once and only once. Our legacy will be our children, and so they walk how you walk and they see either your bravery or timidity. There are plenty of people that will write embarrassing things if you try and fail. And that's too bad. It's the way the world works.

"But, I don't ever want my children to look at me and think I wilted like a daisy over stuff. When you risk, you aren't always going to succeed. But to me, real heroes are men who fall and fail and are flawed, but win out in the end because they've stayed true to their ideals and beliefs and commitments."

Armyan Bernstein, who produced Thirteen Days and Costner's 1999 romantic drama, For Love of the Game, admits that with Costner, what you see is what you get. "There isn't a disingenuous bone in his body," Bernstein says. "Kevin is truer to himself than almost anyone that I've ever met in my life. He's willing to go at it alone and take a beating and make an unpopular choice and sort of stand lonely in it. It's just the way he is. I don't know where that came from. But I wish people knew more about him--they sometimes have a tabloid sense of him, and it's really not who he is."

Costner certainly became the poster boy for the tabloid press when his marriage broke up during the production of Waterworld. Although he handled the media assault with grace, he says it certainly didn't help matters, either. "The press were looking for 'the other woman' in all of it, and there was no 'other woman.' So, they began to create their own scenarios and their own stories, and that was a problem for everyone. There wasn't another woman and that was their frustration. And so they unfortunately picked certain people and pinpointed them and they got a lion's share of attention--it was unfortunate and unfair.

"I mean, look," he continues, "relationships are hard, even when they're at their best. It takes a lot of energy to make a relationship work. And there are a lot of things that can threaten a relationship. And when you put the outside forces that come with celebrity and fame, you almost have an unbelievable..." Costner's voice trails off and then he says softly, "You have to almost walk between raindrops in your relationship to avoid the pressure of the media and the kind of attention you get. It's really unhealthy."

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