Kevin Costner enjoys roles as actor, producer, director
By Ellen McCarthy
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON ó When Kevin Costner was 18, he wanted to drive across the country with friends. His friends wouldn’t come, so he went by himself.
When he was 19, he wanted to go work on fishing boats. He implored his buddies to join him, but they refused. He went on without them.
When he was in his early 50s, he decided to make a movie about a dim, profane, beer-guzzling New Mexican hillbilly who is called upon to decide the outcome of a presidential election. Had they been asked, some of Costner’s friends (and who knows how many studio executives)might’ve passed on this particular adventure, as well.
Which is, of course, irrelevant. The comedy “Swing Vote” opens Friday.
“Some people say I’m a loner. And the truth is, I don’t think that at all ’cause I love people,” Costner says, his blue jeans and scuffed boots in sharp relief to the floral pattern of a Washington hotel sofa during a recent media tour. “What I’m not afraid to do is GO alone.”
The 53-year old actor seems to have fully assumed the posture of an aging cowboy, one who has ridden the land long enough to wearily know its secrets, schisms and sorrows. His tan face, lined and freckled, leads to a thinning muss of ash-blond hair. Sunglasses stay on indoors, and there is more seriousness than warmth to his presence.
“I can’t be talked out of what I think I like,” he says staunchly, as if a line had been drawn in the sand. “Whether it’s friendship or professional direction or whatever.”
It is a life of his choosing, he would say, including a career defined in equal measure by stunning success and profound mediocrity. Such is the fate of an actor who found himself able to green-light multimillion-dollar projects with just a nod and scribbled signature.”I’m not worried about being judged,” he proclaims with a swagger befitting the boots. “I didn’t want to be held back by the conventions of fear or the conventional wisdom of anything. Because, you know, what if everybody’s wrong?”
Costner has produced (and thus possessed a requisite degree of control over)15 of the more than 40 films he has appeared in since the early 1980s. Among them is 1990’s sweeping epic “Dances With Wolves,” which garnered seven Academy Awards, including the one Costner took home for Best Director. Also among them are last year’s horror flick “Mr. Brooks,” 1999’s romance “Message in a Bottle” and the extravagant 1995 box office bomb “Waterworld.”
Asked if going alone also means that when failure comes, it comes on his own terms, Costner balks.
“What is failure? What are you talking about?” he asks. “I have movies that the perception at the box office was that it wasn’t a number one movie or didn’t make a $100 million but goes to pay TV and makes $40 million on top of the thing, then goes to DVD. By the time the movie’s all done, the studio has made $30 million. That’s a good business.”
“What is a success?” he continues. “The ability to continue to repeat yourself.”
And what’s the potential harm, in Costner’s mind, when others (marketing gurus, studio heads, directors) tamper with his vision for a project?
“The problem that I have … is that a movie rings around my neck for the next 20 years. And the people who made decisions about it are not around. It’s just, it’s suddenly become MY movie,” he says, with transparent exasperation. So rather than continue to fight the system, he has assumed dominion over his work, shepherding scripts and using his own money when necessary.
Costner was the principle financier of “Swing Vote,” reportedly coughing up $21.2 million to fund the project.
His latest release is clearly timed to take advantage of this fiercely competitive election season. And beyond a star-studded cast that includes Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane and Stanley Tucci, it features a train of cameo appearances that flash across the screen like a yearbook montage of Official Washington: Chris Matthews, Tucker Carlson, James Carville, Arianna Huffington, Larry King and more.
The movie’s takeaway moral ó every vote really does count ó is one Costner adamantly argues extends to the high-profile residents of Hollywood.
“People like myself become marginalized really quickly,” he says. “The side that you come out for is happy, and the side that you don’t just suddenly renders you an idiot.”
Costner is as unwilling to let politicians define his ideology as he is to let studio executives define his work. He seems determined to be in command of every aspect of his life.
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