Costner Rides Again
With three young kids, a host of businesses, a stirring Whitney Houston eulogy and plans to direct again, the Oscar winner is back from a bumpy ride -- and still passionate -- with the six-hour miniseries "Hatfields & McCoys."
Call it the softening of Kevin Costner. When asked about his new History miniseries, Hatfields & McCoys, the actor steers the conversation to a discussion of the grueling 85-day shoot in Romania and how the protracted absence from home took its toll.
"I had already been on the road for a month with my [country rock] band in Europe," says Costner, 57, who has three children under the age of 5 with wife Christine Baumgartner, a former model. "Basically, I went right to Romania, started filming at the end of September and went into December, and only had 10 days when I came home because I was just starving [for family love]. You get lonely. You get terribly lonely."
Costner, lonely? The actor-director, who first broke out as the handsome star of 1987's The Untouchables and No Way Out, is regarded as many things -- but a softie, usually, is not one of them. Indeed, when this reporter skirts some highs and lows of his long career during our interview May 18, Costner levels his dark blue eyes with a hint of danger.
"I don't have a seller's remorse about how I've lived," he says coolly from the terrace of his sleek, modern home just south of Santa Barbara. "I am cognizant of what I have done, and any of us could maybe draw the line better. But I've tried to live pretty fearlessly."
And he has. The man who reigned in the '80s and '90s as one of Hollywood's biggest stars has demonstrated a relentlessness both impressive and rare, even when it veers into stubbornness. It's a trait that can lead to glory (Dances With Wolves) or despair (Waterworld). "I don't give up," he says. "I'm a plodder. People come and go, but I stay the course."
Such steadfastness was on display at Whitney Houston's Feb. 18 funeral, where Costner -- who had fought to have the singer cast in the interracial love story The Bodyguard -- delivered a eulogy. "I was shocked when she died," he says. "Having Whitney in the film was an idea that came to me, and I thought she was just perfect." He was particularly eloquent when he said: "The Whitney I knew, despite her success and worldwide fame, still wondered, 'Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?' It was the burden that made her great and the part that caused her to stumble in the end."
That speech reminded everyone of the charming man America fell in love with in Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, an everyman with a moral decency that inspired us to be our best.
A more complex Costner is evident in History's six-hour miniseries Hatfields & McCoys, which airs over three nights starting May 28, and in which he plays clan leader Devil Anse Hatfield, a man reluctantly caught in interfamily warfare but prepared to shoot another in cold blood if he has to.
The very nature of the story touched Costner's core -- a passionate concern with the often bloody history of America and its search for righteousness. It's a theme he has returned to repeatedly in films from Dances to Wyatt Earp.
The miniseries' unusual length enticed him to take the job, his first acting work since The Company Men two years ago. "There's a lot of hours, but that's what it's like to immerse yourself in something," he says.
Costner became a rallying force for the other actors (including Bill Paxton, Tom Berenger, Powers Boothe and Mare Winningham) in freezing cold Transylvania, chosen to save costs. "He was our leader," says executive producer Leslie Greif.
The project had been in the works for years, one of a number of scripts about the legendary 19th century feud that pitted southern clans against each other and took dozens of lives. (Writer Eric Roth has been attempting to make a film version with Brad Pitt.) Greif had struggled to get the story off the ground since the mid-1980s. At times, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster and Burt Reynolds expressed interest, but that failed to get Hatfields made until Greif took it to Nancy Dubuc, History's president and GM.
"We had given ourselves a mandate that if we were going to do scripted, we were going to do it in a big way," she says. (Faced with outside pressure, last year's Kennedys miniseries was dropped from the network and later aired on ReelzChannel, where it won four Emmys.)
Greif and Dubuc were thrilled when Costner came on board and had only one question for them: "I said, 'Are you committed to doing this whole script?' They said 'Yes,' " he recalls -- even though that meant going from four hours to six and from two nights to three. Adds Costner: "Nancy Dubuc was very strong and said, 'That was our agreement.' "
Initially, he also planned to direct, despite a potential budget that he says was a mere $14 million. But he felt the tight shoot and even tighter postproduction schedule precluded his helming -- even though he had done so spectacularly on 1990's Dances, which earned $424 million and won him two Oscars.
"I had music commitments," he explains, referring to Modern West, his country rock band. "And I was looking at a level of commitment for Man of Steel," the Warner Bros. movie in which he plays Superman's dad and which comes out next year. "So I had to say, 'I can't. Do you still want me as an actor?' "
They did, and now Costner immersed himself in the material, even writing its theme song with his band. "I got very deep into that character," he says. "I watched documentaries, read books and studied the social-economic moments of the Civil War [where the miniseries begins], which really throws a light over everything."
Greif speaks glowingly of Costner's professionalism -- how he knew every line by heart before shooting began; how he did most of the riding stunts himself; how he never complained when a snowstorm forced part of the shoot to be rescheduled. "He has more integrity and virtue and lack of star ego," the producer says, "than anyone I have worked with" -- a striking contrast to the actor some colleagues remember as difficult and even arrogant at the pinnacle of his career.
It was then that Costner went through a much-publicized 1994 divorce from Cal State Fullerton sweetheart Cindy Silva that ended with a reported $80 million settlement amid allegations of philandering.
"My faith was shaken," he admits today. "No one wants their marriage to end, and it did. You are going to see the people you love most, your children, only half as much. That's a huge loss."
Then he faced a career-threatening flop with his futuristic 1997 drama The Postman, which earned only $17.6 million domestically, less than Costner's $20 million fee. "I still like it," he insists of his last big-budget movie (which was followed by some modest box-office successes such as Message in a Bottle and the critically acclaimed The Upside of Anger).
He is as loyal to his films as he is to some friends -- and disappointed when that isn't reciprocated. Often incorrectly identified as a Republican, he recalls being neglected by the man he helped run for president: "I voted for Obama and actually went off and stumped for him in Colorado. Then I never heard from him."
Costner's acting, directing and other business ventures have made him rich; at the time of his divorce, he reportedly had $150 million, and friends believe he is worth considerably more today. The money has allowed him to choose what he does -- even pulling out of Quentin Tarantino's hugely anticipated Django Unchained (a few minutes of which screened May 21 at Cannes) because the ever-lengthening schedule would have prevented him from taking on directing projects.
He has bought 10 acres adjacent to his home, where he plans to build a larger compound on the beach. With the three young kids (he has seven in all, including three grown-ups from his marriage to Silva and a son with Bridget Rooney) and two Labradors that scarf down our enchiladas the moment we look away, his house is a beehive of activity. That's also because Costner has a host of business projects, from a casino to clean-water projects -- one of which led to a lawsuit from actor Stephen Baldwin, who claims he was tricked into selling shares of a company Costner started before BP invested $24 million in its oil-spill technology. "In my mind, it's a frivolous lawsuit," says the star, a keen environmentalist. "But I won't stop, no matter what."
He continues, "We have spills every day around the world. We don't have an adult response to how to clean it up. I knew how to do it 20 years ago in a very engineered, scientific way. But the oil industry didn't beat a path to my door. Twenty million dollars of my own money later, I have the Baldwin lawsuit and it's completely upsetting to me."
He continues to put his neck on the line for projects many wouldn't touch, in film as well as other ventures. He has been developing an eight-hour Western, Horizon, which he plans to direct, along with an animated series titled Explorers Guild that takes place in a mystical otherworld and would stretch to 50 or 60 hours. He compares his ongoing endeavors to finance them with his persistence in battling for clean water.
"Like a lot of things, I don't give up on them," he says. "You try to overcome the roughest, toughest industries in the world -- oil and Hollywood."
He has money, kids whom he adores and a beautiful wife, and yet he still sees himself as tilting at the system, whether Hollywood or oil. "Like a lot of things, I don't give up on them," he says, noting he learned from his father, a blue-collar worker for the Edison Co. "He was tough; he was a fighter; he could fight. And he taught me in a way that was designed to win."
HATFIELDS & MCCOYS IN HOLLYWOOD: America's most famous warring clans have been immortalized, with varying success, through the years.
Family Feud (1979) The actual living descendants of the Hatfields and McCoys appeared on the Richard Dawson-hosted game show for a week to settle the original family feud (some say over land and timber rights, some say over a Civil War murder) once and for all. The families appeared in period costume -- complete with old-fashioned guns -- as they competed for cash and a live, onstage pig.
The Hatfields and the McCoys (1975) The made-for-TV movie features Jack Palance and Steve Forrest (of S.W.A.T. fame) as Devil Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy, the warring patriarchs. Palance's ex-wife Virginia Baker and daughter Brooke played Hatfields. Also in the cast: Robert Carradine, James Keach and James Garner's brother Jack.
Hillbilly Hare (1950) Bugs Bunny heads to the Ozarks for a quiet vacation when he's mistaken for a member of the Coy clan and gets chased by their enemies, the Martin brothers. Bugs outwits the brothers by having them square-dance off a cliff.
Roseanna McCoy (1949) This movie re-enacts the Romeo and Juliet romance between Johnse Hatfield (Farley Granger) and Roseanna McCoy (Joan Evans). In real life, Johnse eventually dumped Roseanna to marry a cousin. In reel life, they end up happily ever after. Despite the upbeat ending, the movie disappointed critics. The New York Times wrote that the multigenerational rivalry has "been satirized and distorted in jokes and comic strips for so many years now that it is difficult to take" seriously as a drama.
Our Hospitality (1923) Unaware of the war between the McKays and the Canfields, city slicker Willie McKay -- played by Buster Keaton -- falls in love with Virginia Canfield on the train home to claim his inheritance after 21 years. After dodging bullets and being forced to wear a dress in this satirical take, Keaton gets the girl and heals the breach. -- Andy Lewis