For Love of the Game

Kevin Costner doesn't make friends. He makes movies, dang it.

Costner is told he has a reputation for being a troublemaker.

He says, "I'm trouble for people who change their mind and don't stand by what they say."

Perhaps Costner's reputation has so degraded over the years because somewhere along the way, he seemed to stop enjoying himself in the movies he chose, and audiences stopped enjoying him in the theaters in which they screened. The grins of his early films, among them Fandango and Lawrence Kasdan's western Silverado, both out in 1985, gave way to the grim seriousness of his later work. The bravado of Crash Davis in 1988's Bull Durham and the boyish enthusiasm of Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams a year later drowned in the soggy Waterworld and were trampled to death by horses in Wyatt Earp and The Postman and even Dances with Wolves.

Kevin Costner saddles up for another western--and, yeah, he knows it ain't a great career choice. So?
Kevin Costner saddles up for another western--and, yeah, he knows it ain't a great career choice. So?

His characters, once rowdy and feisty, were suddenly haunted and solemn--deadly dull shadows who seemed to enjoy life as much as a conservative talk-show host. When he showed up as cocky, ditzy, even kind of dorky West Texas golfer Roy McEvoy in Tin Cup in 1996, you were reminded of how much fun the guy could be when he lightened up and brightened up the screen. But three years later he was a mopey widower in Message in a Bottle, and it hit you: Costner no longer played characters you wanted to hang out with, but guys you'd tried to avoid at the bar as they told you their sob stories or started reciting mangled Shakespeare.

Some of that just comes with a man getting older: Costner was 30 when he made Silverado, in which his yee-haws were louder than the sound of gunfire, and now he's a man of 48 who endured a very public divorce in 1994, whose friendship with Fandango director Kevin Reynolds sank along with $175 million during the filming of Waterworld and whose Postman was buried beneath rain and sleet and hail and snow and a review in The New York Times that called it a "truly awful movie." Costner, who will marry 29-year-old Christine Baumgartner next summer, has picked up a lot of baggage since he began in the movie business--and it's heavy luggage at that, loaded with tons of bricks that can make a man's shoulders slump just a little. He's asked whether that's the case, whether the roles he seeks change the older--and wiser, or whatever--he gets.

"Maybe it happened subconsciously," he says. "I never thought of it that way, but, you know, what happens is, as I go forward I see the weight and the level of interest in the characters, and I become interested in them, you know--what they want to be about. I don't feel the need to do it all over the place. Any role I take, I'm comfortable in it, or I won't take it."

It doesn't seem quite fair, watching Costner put on the defensive in interview after interview; he's done nothing more than commit the crime of caring about his movies, some of which haven't been worth caring about, but still. He insists he cares about nothing more than entertaining the audience, not serving the studios who employ him. If those two things don't jibe, he's willing to take it outside and into the press.

"My movies aren't unreasonable; they aren't unreasonable at all," he says. "I think they are what they are, and you have to treat them as children--individually. You just do, and if you don't, if you treat them like a piece of product, which they get turned into anyway, you lose their personality...I don't think of myself as a real cutting-edge guy. It's not like I'm making movies that no one can understand, but it's OK, you know. It's OK if you believe in whatever your destiny is; this is probably who I am."

In the end, you must admire Costner in some way--for his tenacity, his stubbornness, his willingness to make unpopular choices and stick with them, consequences be damned. He knows--he knows--making another western is not the wisest career choice, just as he knew making three baseball movies wasn't the best thing to do; in Hollywood, man, they will freakin' bury you in that pigeonhole. Sure, he would love to star in a franchise; he once considered doing a Bodyguard sequel with Princess Diana. He wants commercial success. "I have an ego, I'd like that," he says, almost grinning. But then he talks about wanting to make yet another western, because he has faith in Open Range to find an audience despite studios' assertions that the genre died with its boots on a long time ago.

"I'm still the beaver," he says. "I've still got to build a dam. I'm still feeling like I want to make the next great movie if I can, and I won't go off and make something that I don't think makes sense to me. I don't know that this is the best career move, to go make a western, but I feel really good about the story. I feel really good about the movie experience. I want my relationship with myself, with an audience, to be an honest one. I really wanted to make this one. This wasn't a move to get back into some station or whatever. It's what I wanted to make, and there's room for everything. What I hope is, when I don't want to do this, I will stop. That's what I really hope. That I won't linger because the money exists."

And how will he know when that moment arrives?

"I know," he says, smiling at last.

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