Kevin Costner – 20 years ago on the comeback trail

                           June 2003    By Philip Berk

Twentieth Century Fox’s decision to sell most of their studio property to cover cost overruns on Cleopatra has been called the costliest blunder in Hollywood history.

Equally disastrous was Kevin Costner’s insistence on making Waterworld against his wife’s better judgment.

The film turned out to be a expensive  failure which ended his story book marriage and put a halt to a once promising career.

Not only did he end up having to pay $60 million in alimony, his film choices since, with one exception, have all  been instantly forgettable.

His new movie Open Range, which he also directed, has received respectable reviews, and he’s obviously hoping it will change the course of his career..

Arriving at his press conference for the film, not only does he look great — youthful and handsome as ever — but he’s eloquent and articulate as he was in his prime.

So what does he have to say if people call this his comeback movie?

Uncomfortable with the question, he struggles to find an answer.

“I don’t know. I’ve always tried to go to work whatever the movie is. I’ve always tried to show up and answer questions from the press. And they’ve been personal. I don’t know how my career plays out, but it’s my career. And hopefully the relationship I have with the audience is an honest one. I don’t know about that word.”

When he says he’s always made himself available to the press, it’s not far from the truth.

I remember one time when someone asked him about the rumored break-up of his marriage, he started to cry but quickly regained his composure.

The only time I ever saw him lose his temper was when a journalist asked him about a “hula dancer” the tabloids had linked his name with.

“That’s none of your business,” was his answer but then went into a long dissertation about the nobility of any labor, hula dancer or not.

He has never hesitated to talk about his personal life and he’s always been  forthcoming about his relationship with Christine Baumgartner, a model he in l999.

The two of them have been together, off and on,  for years, but just recently announced that they would marry.

Why marriage at this time? I ask him.

“You don’t know when love comes to you or if it’s ever going to come to you again,” he replies. “I never wanted to go through life with a series of women and I haven’t really done that. You hope you can find love. That’s really what we’re all looking for on some level. And being comfortable with that, you hope you get it. I had it once and I wasn’t sure I would have it again, but right now that has presented itself so I’m trying to be very protective of it.”

What provoked that decision?

“As I said, I always felt I could be in love again. What I never wanted was to be divorced again. That was a painful thing. But I feel I’ve found a girl who is in love with me, not with what I do. She doesn’t really know very much about acting even though she’s beautiful enough to be an actress. It’s her inner beauty that attracts me,” and then jokingly he adds, “and she’s a good cook as well.”

How are his children taking it?

“My daughter was the one who helped straighten me out. When I told her I was about to pop the question, she asked me what I was going to do. And I didn’t really have a lot to tell her. So she advised me,  ‘Better get some candles, and get the room fixed up,’ And pretty soon I was thinking, I haven’t thought this out as well as I should.  It took my sixteen year old daughter to frame the movie better than I could.”

So they approve?

“Of course they have only one mother. They’re not looking for another, but they want me to be happy. I’m sure the geometry looked a little different at first.”

And his relationship with his children, is it as strong as ever? 

“Oh sure.”

Is he closer to his daughters than he is to his son?

“It’s different. You are more protective of your daughters. They’re the ones that will feed you forever. Your stinky son, he’ll just love you. And boys stop kissing you at a certain age whereas daughters never do. The saddest thing about children is when they leave home. But if you’ve done your job right they will come back to you. I’m braced for the fact that my daughters are going to make mistakes. I absolutely let them know they have a place to land when they fall. But I’m anxious to see what happens in their lives.”

Do any of them aspire to be actors?

“I think Lily, my middle one, has potential. She’s a singer and she’s quite beautiful and she’s a performer. I wouldn’t be surprised if she said she wants to do this. But we don’t talk about it because she knows I’m her supporter and she really knows herself;  so at the moment she’s only interested in her schooling. And my little Joe is the same thing. Although it’s my shadow that he’s going to have to step out from under.”

Two potential actors in the family.

Does he plan to have children with Christine?

“I think that would be logical if it’s important to her, and I believe it is. So we may do that. It wasn’t something I drew on the board, but then again I didn’t think I could love someone so much again. And when there’s love anything is possible.”

So this is a good time in his life? 

“I think it is. It’s nice to feel at peace with yourself and it’s nice to value the things that you have and to be able to appreciate things that others have without coveting them. Somebody can say to me,’I have this beautiful piece of land.’ I can go and look at it and absolutely agree it is beautiful, but I don’t find myself thinking, Boy I wish it was mine. I’m happy. I’m content with what I have. And I have what I want. We’re all trying to move to that place in our life where we feel most content. Of course there’s still plenty of work to be done, but if you can keep your ambitions in check and your ego in check you’ll be okay.”

And Christine helps him get to that place? 

“I think you have to understand the ticking of your own heart, and you have to overlay that with the experience that you’ve gained in life. I knew I was attracted to this woman but it was necessary for us to watch each other over time. She had a full understanding of what my life is. And vice versa. For me to take that leap because of her outward beauty  or because she made me feel comfortable would have been a mistake. So before I did that, I had to find my way on my own. “

Has it changed him as a film maker?

“I’ve probably changed, but I don’t know. It’s like watching your kids grow. Other people see that, you don’t. I find little things still interest me. I was just happy to direct this movie. I never felt happy with any of the movies until this one came along.”

And yet he had a hard time getting it financed. 

“Ironically, even though it’s a purely American movie, the only people who would put up the money for it were foreign distributors.”

It was only after the film was completed that Disney came in, picking up the U.S. rights for $10 million. Since its opening three weeks ago,the film has grossed over $40 million. 

Besides Costner, the cast includes Robert Duvall and Annette Bening.

Were they asked to defer their salaries? 

“No one worked for free except me. We put every dollar we could on the screen, and I had to put up my own money to keep the production going.”

This is the third time he’s directed. Is that something he enjoys?

“I only have one complaint and that is, come Friday I start to hate my actors and everybody on the set when they start talking about where they’re going to go the next day. And when Monday rolls round, they’re talking about a picnic they went to or the fucking concert they attended. ‘And what did you you do?’ they ask me, and I’m going, ‘I was preparing.’ ‘How about next Friday?’ At that point I start hating everybody cause I want to have fun too.”  

The breakup of his marriage caught Hollywood by surprise.

What has he learned from that experience?

“Any man that’s not reflected on his life has no chance of going forward in any meaningful way. When I look back, I realize my life was much more complicated than it was ever been written about. At the time I chose not to talk about it because the one thing that Cindy and I did, which is what I love about her, always will love about her, is that we never attacked each other in the press. We did our own divorce. We didn’t let lawyers do it. We did it ourselves even though our hearts were on the ground. Because of that we have respect for each other. I’ve taken all the hits in the press. That’s the hat I was going to be given. I knew that, and I accepted it. If anybody was going to be bruised, I would rather it was me and not her.”

How much did career have to do with the breakup?

“We men unfortunately have a tendency to give so much to our work. If we invested as much to our families as we do our work, we would have a different situation. I don’t know why it is. It’s just that we think about our jobs. We love our children, we love our wives. We think about them when anniversaries come up, and we think about them when they’re struggling. But that kind of commitment we seem to give to our work, we don’t give to our relationships. Of course I love my children, but I give a lot to the movies because that’s my chosen profession and I’m serious about it. I’m passionate about it. If it means working extra hours I do. If it means fighting for a moment I will.”

How often does he see his kids?

“Since my divorce my children have been with me an equal amount of time. They’re seven days with me and seven days with Cindy, and that’s something I wouldn’t give up. I love taking care of my kids. I’m at their school, at their plays. I’m at their sports. I’m at their awards. I want to see their boy friends and I want their boy friends to see me. I’m really active in their life. They’re growing rapidly into people who I can talk to about my specific problems. They’re now old enough, and they’re very capable.” 

And they’re comfortable being around Christine?

“I wouldn’t bring anybody into their midst that I didn’t think was a good role model for them. My children know the difference between somebody’s who’s real and somebody who’s not. I’m not going to put somebody in front of them who I don’t consider representative of what a woman should be. Anybody who comes into my life has to be prepared to love four people.”

Burt Reynolds once joked about Hollywood sincerity, “When they put your picture on the wall, what you don’t realize is on the back is Kevin Costner’s picture. They just flip it over.”

Is he still the power player he once was?

“The power of Hollywood, it’s a money-driven business. People want hits. I want hits too, but not at the expense of spitting on my own life. I’d like Hollywood to accept the visions I choose. There are good men and women in the studio system, people that care about film the way I do. But there are also people that don’t feel that way, and I’d just as soon not make movies with them  because it stresses them out, and it absolutely stresses me out.”

Any regrets about his tiff with Universal

Long considered the screen’s most cleancut (and sexy) superstar, in his 1999 film For the Love of The game, he allowed the cameras to show his full manhood on screen.

The studio, however, desirous of a PG-13 rating cut the scene.

Costner was so furious he went public on it.

“Maybe they think my considerations are purely narcissistic, but I certainly don’t want to make movies with them.” he told Newsweek.

Universal stuck by their guns.

One executive was quoted as saying, “Do we really need to see Kevin’s penis?” 

Another complained, “It’s not fair for him to hijack a $50 million asset.”

His reply, both measured and temperate, is quite revealing.

“There comes a point  where somebody has to speak up. I’m as confused as the next guy that I have this adversarial relationship with Hollywood,  but I can’t spit on my own life when I know what they’re doing is anti-movie. Contrary to what you may have heard, I keep a lot of things under wraps. I told them that it would be better if I didn’t do the Newsweek interview, but they wanted press from every possible angle. I told them those questions were not going to be soft. ‘It’s better that I don’t say anything  because I don’t want to hurt a movie I worked on a year.’ ‘No, we really want this.’ I don’t fight about every one of my movies. But when I do, there are a lot of people that love that I fight for things. Sam Raimi, the director, is one. I’ve never believed in sacred cows. 

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