Kevin Costner: I'm a better actor now

For a time, Kevin Costner was the biggest movie star on the planet. And its leading male sex symbol. Women swooned over him the way they now lust after Ryan Gosling, except that Costner cast a deeply romantic aura rather than a cool appeal. It wasn’t his abs that spoke for him, it was the boyish grin and relaxed sense of command that gave people the sense that his screen alter egos would always do the right thing. Whether it was the back seat sex scene with Sean Young in No Way Out, his sense of mission in building the baseball field in Field of Dreams, or his stoic charm in The Bodyguard, Costner has always satisfied our need for a soft-spoken Everyman. Even though Waterworld may have sunk his matinee idol mantra, his trademark smile still carries plenty of gravitas that neither George Clooney nor even Brad Pitt can muster.

Now 59, Costner is beginning to find a new comfort zone as the aging hero in recent films like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, 3 Days to Kill, and the upcoming Draft Day. It’s a sharp spike in his level of activity after spending the last decade fulfilling his commitment to his second wife Christine Baumgartner to be a devoted husband and father to their three young children. According to Costner, this second marriage has taught him greater humility:

“It’s the ability to say you’re sorry,” Costner said. “I know that sounds so simple. If you’re willing to tell somebody that you love them, are you also willing to say you’re sorry? You need to, even when you think you’re in the right."

Draft Day, directed by Ivan Reitman, stars Kevin Costner as the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, whose job is to rebuild a bad football team and find the best players available to help him do so. That leads us to the day of 2014 NFL Draft, where all 32 NFL teams select the best college players in the world. Reitman actually shot footage during the middle of last year’s draft, giving the film an eerie sense of reality.

Costner’s character finds himself hard pressed by his girlfriend, the team owner, and a barrage of media criticism while he wheels and deals in order to get the best player available in the draft.

Over the course of his illustrious career, Costner has two Oscars, three Golden Globes, and has been nominated for three BAFTAs. In his personal life, Costner was formerly married to his high school sweetheart, Cindy, née Silva, for 17 years, with whom he has three adult children. He also has a son, Liam, 17, with Bridget Rooney, heiress to the Pittsburgh Steelers football fortune (her cousin is actress Rooney Mara) with whom he had a brief relationship following his divorce.

In 2004, he married his girlfriend Christine Baumgartner, a former model and now fashion accessories designer with whom he has two boys, Hayden, six, and Hayes, five, and a daughter, Grace, three. Kevin and Christine divide their time between homes in Los Angeles and a sprawling ranch in Colorado.

THE INTERVIEW

Q: Kevin, you’ve surprised a lot of people by playing in some serious action films of late like Jack Ryan and 3 Days to Kill. Is this the new Kevin Costner?

COSTNER: (Laughs) No, it’s still me even though the knees might creak a little more. I’m very happy playing the older guy who’s seen it all and done it all but still likes to get the job done. I’ve a pretty long career where I was able to fulfil most of my acting and directing ambitions, but I don’t feel like I’m washed up. I still have faith in my abilities and I think with age I’ve become a much better actor because you’re no longer desperate to be top dog. You can relax and enjoy your life and work in a completely different way.

It’s like finding this freedom and lightness in your life which means that when you commit to doing something you’re doing it purely for the challenge or pleasure of it. It seems really silly for me to agonize over things anymore although I do expect people to know what they’re doing on a film set. I can still be a hard ass about that. (Laughs)

Q: Did you enjoy doing the fight and action sequences?

COSTNER: I’ve kept pretty fit over the years although now I know when I should back off doing a stunt that is more dangerous and also because I don’t really need to be doing it. But it’s actually fun to still see that you can do that kind of physical work although your director is having a heart attack and the crew is quietly confident but instead of thinking, 'Oh, he can do that no problem,' now it’s more like, 'He should be able to do that...' (Laughs) Now I have much more respect for the role of the stunt man.

Q: Draft Day is your fourth sports movie, but whereas the first three [Bull Durham (88), Field of Dreams (89), For the Love of the Game (99)] were about baseball this is about (American) football?

COSTNER: I actually made Field of Dreams and Bull Durham back to back, which wasn’t exactly a smart career move, when everybody thought baseball was box office poison. Earlier in my career I would have liked playing in a football movie but now, since the window has just about closed on me being a player, I was very happy when Ivan (Reitman) came to me and asked me to play the general manager. I was OK with that. (Laughs)

Q: What was it about the story that attracted you to the project?

COSTNER: I felt Draft Day had a chance to become a classic... I wouldn’t have been it if I hadn’t thought it had chance to be great. Football is so popular that this film takes its place next to those great sports films I’ve done in the past. Ivan rode the edge of a movie that can become a classic. It has a lot of grit and you have to have that in a sports film and that’s what I loved about it.

Q: Would you like to own a sports team?

COSTNER: Well, I once thought about that but then divorce comes along and that’s no longer viable (Laughs). But I can’t think of anything better than to own a sports team. Some people think that actors don’t know a lot about sports but I wasn’t born an actor and I grew up watching sports. We watch sports religiously and I had a pretty good feeling for my character.

Q: Do you regret never doing a sequel to Bull Durham or The Bodyguard?

COSTNER: You only get so many shots at movies but what has driven me in my career is searching for a good story. I would love to do sequels because you can make a helluva lot of money and load up the truck and shovel the cash in.

But I always lived by the rule that I wouldn’t do a sequel if it’s not as good as the first one. No one’s ever accused me of not making long stories and sometimes those movies that I’ve done (The Postman, Waterworld) they’re like two movies. But people care about movies and so do I.

Unfortunately Ron Shelton (author of Bull Durham) never wrote another book and we never had a script for a sequel to The Bodyguard that was up to the level of the first film. So why spoil the legacy of those classic films? I won’t do that.

Some Hollywood studio people will say, 'But Kevin, it's just a movie, it doesn’t have to be good. Just play along.' And I would say, 'It doesn’t have to be good?' That’s why I’ve never done a sequel.

Q: Is Draft Day a different kind of sports movie?

COSTNER: It’s a great story. The script was outstanding and Ivan Reitman had a great vision for how to make the film. For me I want to make classic films or at least those that have a chance at being great. Since quite obviously the window is closing for me to play an athlete (laughs), I thought this story made sense.

Q: Do you regret that you never made another film with Whitey Houston?

COSTNER: Whitney Houston was a very special woman. She was also very easy on the eyes and she had a big engine of a voice. I am so sorry that we lost her. I was asked by Dionne Warwick to go speak at her memorial and I went and did that even though I was initially worried about creating a distraction. But I was honoured to pay tribute to her memory and talk about the Whitney Houston that I knew. We had a lot of fun hanging out and having interesting conversations on the set. I have very good memories of our working together...

Q: Do you still get a kick out of acting?

COSTNER: Hell, yeah! I’m a better actor now than I was five years ago and that’s because I want to be better. I don’t limit myself. I’ve always had great self-belief and not wanting to listen to all the naysayers out there. I would never have done Dances With Wolves if I had listened to everyone telling me that I was out of my mind and that the film would destroy my career.

Q: Did the fact that you’ve been enjoying a wonderful second marriage to Christine Baumgartner make acting seem less urgent to you?

COSTNER: There’s no question that my priorities have changed and that I’m not chasing the glory the way I once did. But I’m still passionate about acting, it’s just that I don’t like living in trailers anymore and that’s a big part of an actor’s life. I like to perform, though. When I see a great project come along, my own vanity comes out and I think maybe I’ll get to do another great film which will live on forever. I still want to make my mark!

Q: You met your wife Christine on the golf course. Do you both still get out and play much?

COSTNER: No. When you have three young children the best you can hope for is to have a quiet dinner once in a while! But we like staying in and enjoying our family time. It’s beautiful watching your kids grow up and discover the world and I’m very happy that I took time off to be with my wife and children and just enjoy all that family time. But then I started thinking that it was time to get to work again.

Q: You seem to be back in the saddle again as an actor. Is there anything different about your acting style or approach today as compared to when you were working twenty or thirty years ago?

COSTNER: Well, now I feel like I’m worn out again. (Laughs) I’ve never changed my approach to acting. I’ve always felt like I’ve gotten better. I think that all of us can get better. I feel like, in my acting, I’m better than I was three pictures ago. I think about it. I’m a slow study. It takes me a long time to grasp the material, in order to perform it. But when I come to the set, on the first day, I know the whole movie. That’s why I have to start so early.

So, I have learned my own patterns, and I have watched other good actors. I have done what every good actor does and stolen ideas. You see things. You stand on the shoulders of people.

When Christine and I started having children, I wanted to spend more time at home. And instead of doing movies, I occasionally went out on the road with my band (Modern West, a country rock band with which he’s toured around the world). We’ve even played at the Kremlin!

Then I went and did Hatfields & McCoys (an Emmy award-winning TV series). And then, I lined up these movies. I wish they weren’t so packed together, but on the other hand, I’m glad I did them. That’s just the way it plays out. I’m not re-energised. I’ve always loved the business. I’m a romantic about it. But for me, this business is always pushing a rock uphill. That’s what it feels like and it keeps you hungry.

Q: Ironically, even though you played the young Jack Ryan’s mentor in the rebooting of the franchise, you were actually offered the role of Ryan in the original Jack Ryan film, The Hunt for Red October, weren’t you?

COSTNER: Yeah, but I couldn’t do it. I had already postponed Dances With Wolves for one year, and then I was offered the chance to do this Red October film but I had already assembled my crew for Dances and I’d already put my money into it.

The studio was offering me a ton of money, more than I had ever seen before to do Hunt for Red October. And they kept coming back and offered me more and more money to do it. And I said, 'You know, when I’m saying ‘No’ it doesn’t mean I’m looking for more money, it’s just ‘No.’

And then Dances With Wolves, that silly Indian movie, turned out to be the biggest success of my life.

Q: Was making that film and then doing those epic kinds of stories like Waterworld and The Postman your way of escaping your movie star image?

COSTNER: I didn’t want to play the handsome leading man anymore. There was zero challenge in that for me and the image was becoming very tiresome and unappealing to me.

Q: When you were a young man were women fawning over you?

COSTNER: (Laughs) I don’t remember! (Laughs) I always found the attention kind of embarrassing because in high school I never had any luck with girls. Even when I met (Costner’s first wife) Cindy, I was kind of shocked that she was interested in me because she was so beautiful and I didn’t think I had a chance !

Q : You once said that you hesitated about started a second family because you felt burned by your divorce?

COSTNER: I was wary of going through with another marriage and children, which I knew that Christine wanted, because my faith was shaken. So, yeah, you feel burned and also you don’t to risk having that (divorce) happen to you a second time. You don’t want to worry that one day you’ll only get to see your kids half the time or even less.

But I feel so very lucky that I met Christine. I never imagined that I would wind up having this kind of beautiful family life again. I’m lucky to have found real love the second time around.

Q: Are you still as stubborn as ever?

COSTNER: Yeah, that will never change. I’m always going to do what I’m going to do! (Laughs) /Viva Press

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