Kevin Costner's role call
Kevin Costner has been a major presence in Hollywood for four decades now, infusing everything from baseball movies to Westerns to romances with his all-American charm. Whether he’s starring, producing, or directing, Costner never fails to bring something interesting to the table. Ahead, the 64-year-old — who stars in season 2 of Paramount Network’s Yellowstone, airing Wednesdays at 10 p.m. — steps up to the plate and looks back at his screen career so far.
The Big Chill (1983)
This classic tale of friendship and loss was meant to be Costner’s big break, but his scenes were cut from the final film, except for isolated close-ups of his body in the opening montage. But the film still made a huge impact: “We rehearsed for a month,” Costner recalls. “Literally 30 days. That really formed how I go about my profession. All the other actors were very, very experienced. I absorbed everything about how the set was conducted and the process.”
Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan has vowed that Costner’s scenes will never see the light of day, and the actor agrees with the decision. “His vision trumps people’s curiosity,” Costner says. “It would only be judged. That movie stands so tall and has such resonance — he labored over that once, he doesn’t need to labor over it again.”
After cutting Costner from The Big Chill, Kasdan invited him to join this Western, which put Costner on horseback on screen for the first time as one of four unlikely friends/outlaws. “That was a really big, giant moment for me, to be in Silverado,” Costner says. “I always felt that I would end up playing a laconic kind of Western character. And here came this young guy full of juice… That was a perfect role for me. I’ve always known that it was a giant block in my foundation.” And audiences have loved seeing him on a horse ever since. “I had a real comfort being on him bareback and doing loopy things,” Costner recalls of his experiences with his horse. “You can’t help but want to be the guy on the horse in a Western. You don’t want to give that over to your double. You want to do it.”
No Way Out (1987)
After the success of Silverado, Costner moved on to full leading-man status, most notably with this political thriller in which he played a U.S. naval officer caught up in Cold War intrigue. Costner says he found the script, originally titled Finished With Engines, and brought it to Orion Pictures. The film is famous for its final twist, which Costner says was originally more heavily telegraphed before the final cut. “The final movie had eliminated two or three clues that you might’ve been able to, if you walked the breadcrumbs back, it wouldn’t be so much of a punch to the stomach when it happens,” he reveals.
The Untouchables (1987)
As government agent Eliot Ness, Costner was the heroic straight man opposite a murderers’ row of talent that included Charles Martin Smith, Sean Connery, Andy Garcia, and Robert De Niro. Connery won an Oscar, but it was De Niro’s unpredictable performance that proved most challenging. “He jumped off the page and improvised, and Eliot Ness would sit there with his formulaic answer,” Costner says. “That was problematic for me — I just didn’t feel like Eliot Ness went to that place. He’s a straight arrow. It was difficult for him to get down into the gutter.”
But Costner says he did improvise one line: “You heard me, Capone, it’s over,” during the climactic courtroom sequence.
Bull Durham (1988)
Costner is the king of baseball movies, and it all started with his portrayal of aging minor-league catcher Crash Davis, whom the actor calls an “American rascal.” In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Crash tosses aside his bowl of cereal — and everything on Annie’s (Susan Sarandon) kitchen island — and makes love to her. To really sell it, Costner piled up that island with as many things as he could find on set that were “reasonable” to be there. “I’m wiping things off without ever taking my eyes off [her]. What I like doing is taking a script and then finding the physical,” he explains. “So I loaded up that island. When you really want somebody, [nothing] makes a difference. ‘This crashed? Oh, the milk spilled? Who gives a sh—?’”
Field of Dreams (1989)
“I’ve been able to live so much of my dreams — pitch a perfect game in Yankee Stadium [in 1999’s For Love of the Game], and [in Field of Dreams] be on a bench and watch great writing delivered by the great James Earl Jones. Somehow a nonathlete brings into perspective what the athlete couldn’t; [Jones’ character] describes this sport that America loves but can’t quite get their arms around,” Costner says of the film’s hallowed place with sports fans. The actor — who starred as Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball field after mysterious hearing voices — describes the film as “our generation’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Our big action moment is ‘Do you want to play catch?’ It wasn’t a fistfight or a crash. And people’s hearts broke into a thousand pieces.” In spite of all this, Costner almost didn’t do the film. He was committed to another project, and Robin Williams was temporarily attached instead. “When I finally asked [director] Phil Alden Robinson, ‘Why did you wait for me? Because I think Robin’s really great,’ he was like, ‘I do too. But I think that Robin could hear voices in the corn, and I needed a guy that you don’t believe is going to hear a voice in a cornfield.’”
Dances With Wolves (1990)
“The thing I’m proudest of is: If somebody comes up to me, what’s going to come out of their mouth doesn’t boil down to a single movie,” Costner says. But the Academy honored him with Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture for this tale about Civil War soldier John Dunbar, who befriends wolves and a Native American tribe after being assigned to a remote Western outpost. Though he’d been working in Hollywood for a decade, Costner was new to the Oscar glow. “I didn’t even really know how to behave after I won,” he says. “I caught a little bit of flak because I didn’t go to any of the after-parties. I didn’t know you were supposed to. I thought people that went there knew all those people,” he explains. “So, I got my own restaurant because I had bought 50 tickets for people to be at the Oscars, and I made a party for them. I didn’t realize you [were supposed to] make the rounds.”
The Bodyguard (1992)
Costner amped up his romantic leading-man status opposite Whitney Houston as the titular bodyguard who falls in love with his charge. The film’s most iconic shot, which then became the movie poster, features Costner’s Frank Farmer carrying Houston’s Rachel Marron out of a concert venue when a riot breaks out at her show. “That wasn’t even Whitney, actually,” Costner reveals. “She’d gone home and that was her double, and her head was buried into my shoulder. Which was appropriate anyway, she was frightened. I picked that picture out because my friend Ben Glass took it. I sent it to Warner Brothers and said, ‘There’s the poster.’”
This much-maligned directorial effort has been the butt of many jokes, but Costner stands by the post-apocalyptic epic. “I’m very proud of that movie; I stand up for it,” he says. “I know what the flaws of it are. I know exactly what they are. I went through a divorce at that time. It was a perfect storm of a lot of different situations, but I never gave up on the movie, and the movie has this life.” That life he’s referring to is partly thanks to Universal theme park’s long-running Waterworld show, which Costner recalls attending with his kids and causing a bit of a stir. “I’m watching this show,” he remembers. “In their skit, they said every title to every movie I’ve made. They go, like, ‘Stay away from him — he’s untouchable.’ Of course, every time they said a line, 1,500 people hear it, and they turn around like this [and look at me]. I’m thinking, ‘I hear it too, I hear it too.’”
The Upside of Anger (2005)
As retired baseball player Denny, Costner romances grieving widow Terry (Joan Allen) in this beloved romantic dramedy. Costner credits the film’s success to his costar and the script. “She’s just a great dance partner,” he says of Allen. “She found that bitterness, and she could be a little abusive as a character. And my character was like a St. Bernard who just wanders into the backyard into their life, and finally looked at her and said, ‘What’s your malfunction?’ It was really very astute writing.”
Hatfields & McCoys (2012)
This Western miniseries about the famous feuding families gave Costner his first-ever television project. It was something he’d been circling for a while, however, even suggesting they make his 1994 film Wyatt Earp as a miniseries. Still, the appeal came in being able to tell a longer story to audiences, which is something he fought for as a star and producer. “The model at that time was two nights, and things only work [over] two nights,” he says. “And I’m like, ‘Wow, really? Is that the conventional wisdom right now?’ I said I won’t do it unless every scene is put back in. [Every scene] we shoot is going to be in [there] for the audience because that’s what I believe in, is the audience.” In the end, the series spanned three two-hour episodes and aired over three nights.
Molly's Game (2017)
Costner is a lover of words and screenwriting, which made him a natural fit for prolific scribe Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut. He plays a minor but crucial supporting role as Molly’s (Jessica Chastain) father, whose fraught relationship with his daughter leaves her with trust issues. Costner says he was more mesmerized than challenged by Sorkin’s notoriously loquacious dialogue. “It was precise and [rhythmic] and nuanced, and you felt an obligation to hit that because it informed the next couple of lines. So there was a logic to it,” he says. Though the film is Molly’s story, Costner’s third-act monologue essentially asks him to explain the entire film and her journey. No pressure, right? “[Sorkin] came at so many things sideways, but yet they were so understandable. I’m going to give you three years in three minutes. That was beautifully conceived, and I feel a pressure because I like to work for directors that are giving and that are thoughtful.”
Besides baseball, Costner is most often associated with the Western genre, and Paramount Network’s Yellowstone finds him back on the horse as the patriarch of a Montana ranching family. But don’t call it a Western. “I don’t think of it as a modern Western, I think of it as modern-day ranching,” he says. “The themes out in the country will always be a draw to me. It’s not ‘Here he goes again.’ That area of our country is still alive [and] contemporary.”