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TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Kevin Costner - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web
Having apparently peaked at the age of 35 by directing and starring in Dances With Wolves, snapping up two major Oscars for his efforts, Kevin Costner would spend the next two decades on a professional rollercoaster. His ups have been giddying, and his downs, well, few in Hollywood can rightfully claim to have gone lower. The man's a genuine maverick, a loose cannon. Like Spielberg he's obsessive in his attempts to create new screen legends. And sometimes, sometimes, he manages to pull off that magical stunt.
He was born Kevin Michael Costner on the 18th of January, 1955 in Lynwood, California. His father, Bill, was a ditch-digger who was later to service electricity lines for Edison of Southern California. His mother, Sharon, bore two other boys - Dan, who was born in 1950, and another who died at birth three years later. Bill's work made family life somewhat nomadic and, denied a settled upbringing, Kevin became a dreamer, writing poetry. He also possessed a great interest in and affection for American history and the natural wilderness, which would later bring about Dances With Wolves, and which saw him, at 18, construct his own canoe and follow Lewis and Clark's river-route out to the Pacific.
In his teens Costner sang in the Baptist school choir and attended writing classes, specialising in poetry. Also, despite only being 5' 2" when he graduated from Villa Park High School (he later sprouted to a hefty 6' 1"), he was keen and adept at most sports, starring at basketball, baseball and football. Again, this early penchant for sport, with all its mythologies and internal and external conflicts, would fuel his later work - like Bull Durham, Tin Cup, Field Of Dreams and For The Love Of The Game.
In 1973, Costner attended the California State University at Fullerton, eventually graduating with a business degree. He immediately married his college belle, Cindy Silva (she would bear him three children - Annie, Lily and Joe), and took a marketing job in Orange County. Throughout his college career though, he'd been studying acting, five nights a week, and he continued to pursue his Hollywood dream in his spare time. Then came a life-changing moment. On a plane returning from Mexico, he found himself chatting to screen legend Richard Burton who advised him that his best chance lay in giving up all other distractions and concentrating on acting full-time. Costner followed his promptings, upped sticks and moved to Los Angeles where, in order to feed himself and his wife, he worked as a truck-driver, a deep sea fisherman and as a guide on bus-tours round the homes of the rich and famous. He also captained the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, where Cindy would play Snow White.
Roles were hard to come by. He'd earlier, in 1974, performed in Malibu Hot Summer, a softcore romp that would be renamed Sizzle Beach USA and relaunched in 1986, after his initial success, despite the fact that he was only in it for five minutes, as a stud in a cowboy hat. He'd then made a return in 1981, appearing very briefly (as Man In Alley) in Frances, the fraught Jessica Lange-starring biopic of actress Frances Farmer, released the following year. Amazingly, but very revealingly, although he only had one line to say, a line which would give him his all-important SAG union card, for an age he refused to say it, being unconvinced that Man In Alley would say such a thing. Eventually he was persuaded to back down and speak up, but to this day he believes it was the wrong thing to do. That is the kind of stubbornness and attention to detail that would see him long labouring under a reputation for being "difficult".
After his pop-up spot on Frances, he moved on to Shadows Run Black where a killer dubbed The Black Angel is slaughtering small town teens. Costner would play the snotty, arrogant boyfriend of one of the victims, who's suspected of her murder. Unfortunately, though cheap horror films were doing good business and providing an entry route into the industry for many young actors, Shadows Run Black was considered an absolute dud, indeed it was once described as "the Plan 9 From Outer Space of slasher movies". It would not see the light of day till 1984. As with Sizzle Beach USA, he would do more for it than it did for him.
Now he was after more serious work. His first major part came in Stacy's Knights, where Andra Millian played a young girl with a talent for blackjack. Kevin would play her mentor and supporter, whose violent death at the hands of casino heavies causes her to seek hefty financial vengeance. Following this would come a brief appearance (though you wouldn't think it was brief from the video sleeve) in Chasing Dreams. This, concerning a young kid who finds relief from family-, school- and farm-life in the world of baseball, would be his first experience of sports movies.
With his career progressing slowly, he got a very minor part as a frat boy in Ron Howard's Night Shift, a black morgue-set sex comedy that marked the screen debut of Michael Keaton and Shannen Doherty, and also the first time Howard would work with long-time producer Brian Grazer. Financing himself with ad work, he appeared on TV plugging Apple's Lisa computer. Then, at last, came the big break. Director Lawrence Kasdan cast him in The Big Chill, as the poor fellow whose suicide reunites a bunch of radicals from the Sixties. With the film also starring the weighty likes of Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum and William Hurt, Costner was in prestigious company. BUT, horrifyingly, at the very last moment Kasdan decided that the flashback sequences didn't work with the rest of the movie and cut them, meaning Costner only appeared as a briefly-glimpsed corpse.
This was a blow which might have crushed Costner's confidence, particularly as he'd turned down the lead in WarGames (consequently a career-launcher for Matthew Broderick) to do The Big Chill. But Kevin, dedicated to the point of bloodymindedness, persisted. His next appearance was in Testament, a grim, emotionally-charged movie showing the slowly disastrous effect on a small Californian town when a nuke is dropped on San Francisco. As radiation sickness seeps amongst them, the townsfolk can either help each other through this torment, or selfishly seek survival. With Rebecca De Mornay (who broke through that same year opposite Tom Cruise in Risky Business) as his wife, Costner was a young man frustrated by and fearful of this creeping death.
Testament was a thoughtful and intimate portrayal of nuclear catastrophe, so well made that even though it was made for TV its producers decided to give it a cinema run. However, it would be overshadowed by The Day After which, starring Jason Robards and exploring the aftermath of a nuclear strike on a mid-western city, seized the nation's imagination and rode a wave of controversy to become an enormous TV hit. Again Costner persisted, this time taking a small role in Table For Five, as a newly wed on the same cruise-ship as Jon Voight when he attempts to rekindle a relationship with the children he previously abandoned.
Now, at last, he turned the corner. Taking the lead role in The Gunrunner, he played a liquor-smuggling mobster in 1920's Montreal who, being at root a kind-hearted socialist, begins to provide arms for revolutionaries in China. Next came Fandango, where he played one of five Texan college buddies who take a road trip before returning to face the Vietnam draft and all the other goodies 1971 had to offer. The film would mark the breakthrough of director Kevin Reynolds, who'd impressed Steven Spielberg with one of his student shorts and been brought in by the great man to expand it into this Amblin production. Costner and Reynolds would later enjoy/endure one of the most turbulent actor-director relationships of recent times. Actually, they might have begun it earlier as, back in 1982, when Costner was working as a stage manager, he auditioned for another of Reynolds' student films - Proof. It had come down to a shortlist of three, and Costner had lost out.
Now Kevin finally reaped his reward for giving up WarGames. Lawrence Kasdan, feeling he owed the young actor a favour, called again and cast him as a young gunslinger in the feel-good Western Silverado (the importance of Kasdan to Costner's career, like Scorsese's to De Niro's, cannot be over-stated). Here Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover and Costner, as Kline's goofy brother sprung from jail, would play a gang of mismatched cowboys who refuse to bow to corrupt sheriff Brian Dennehy and battle for the cause of righteousness. It was an affectionate, purposefully cliched take on classic westerns and, being the first big budget cowboy film in some considerable time (Clint Eastwood's Pale Rider would arrive the same year), its popularity proved to the industry that the genre was far from dead. Costner, too, would take good note of this and would revisit the 1800s frontier several times in his career. Indeed, he'd use the sets created for Silverado when filming his own Wyatt Earp.
Now, as if to fully repay himself for the loss of WarGames, he took on American Flyers, helmed by WarGames director John Badham. This was another cycling movie penned by Steve Tesich, who'd earlier won an Oscar for Breaking Away, and saw Costner and David Grant as very competitive brothers, both keen cyclists, who may or may not have inherited their father's terminal condition. When doctor Costner discovers Grant has it, he has them both sign up for a notoriously gruelling Colorado bike race where they struggle to out-pedal each other, some mean-spirited opponents and even Death itself. It was what was to become a typical Costner flick - sporty, emotional and high on bloody-minded heroics.
Now Kevin moved on to an incredible run of hits. His natural combination of boyish innocence and moral authority made him an excellent Eliot Ness, leading the good guys against Robert De Niro's Al Capone in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, a role both Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson had turned down. It was a very well-received action piece, but Costner later admitted to being troubled throughout filming. Whereas the other characters were well-rounded figures, giving the other actors a chance to improvise and build, Ness was obsessive and straight as an arrow, leaving Costner no room to move or react in his scenes with the already intimidating likes of De Niro and Sean Connery. In fact, Costner would often be accused of appearing wooden onscreen, even though his roles demanded he be taciturn and inflexible.
After The Untouchables, he scored another hit with the superior thriller No Way Out, directed by Roger Donaldson. Here he played a top-notch Navy guy who's assigned to the personal staff of Secretary of Defence Gene Hackman. Engaging in a hot affair with party girl Sean Young, he discovers that she's also Hackman's mistress then, when she's found murdered, he finds himself being slowly revealed as the main suspect. Now all his loyalties are tested as the net remorselessly closes in.
Many times film-makers have attempted to tap into the enduring popularity of baseball. Few have succeeded. But Kevin Costner now pulled this difficult trick off - twice, in consecutive years. First, 1988 brought Bull Durham where, as Crash Davis, he played an ageing catcher hired by the Durham Bulls to teach discipline to their new, fast but scattergun pitcher, Nuke LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins. Also helping Nuke mature is Susan Sarandon's Annie Savoy, a sexy, sophisticated fan who each season takes one of the Bulls under her wing and into her bed in the hope of making him a better person and player. At first, she and Crash clash, but gradually they come to recognise a common ground and their feelings for each other.
And it all so nearly didn't come about. In the movie's development, writer and director Ron Shelton had worked closely with Kurt Russell, his intended Crash Davis. But Russell was forced to pull out and Costner stepped in to revitalise baseball movies - a fact Russell graciously noted when he called Costner to congratulate him on the film's success. There could be no doubting the film's effect. In the next few years there were a welter of movies featuring the sport - Major League (times three), A League Of Their Own, The Babe, Cobb. Oh, and best of all was Field Of Dreams, again starring Costner. A modern fairy tale, balanced precariously just this side of Corny, it had Costner as an Iowa farmer who's told by mysterious voices to build a baseball diamond on his land. "If you build it, he will come" they whisper, he being Shoeless Joe Jackson, the baseball star shamed along with the rest of the notorious Chicago Black Sox when the 1919 World Series was found to be fixed. Thus farmer Kevin is being asked to construct a home where death is no barrier to the fulfilment of sweet dreams, a refuge for embattled innocence. He does build it, and they all come.
The Untouchables and those two baseball movies convinced Costner that the American public loves nothing more than to see its land, its favourite pastimes and its generous vision of its own good qualities mythologised onscreen. And he learned that they would accept him as a brave and upright all-American hero, like Gary Cooper or James Stewart. It's a lesson that's brought about his greatest successes, and a few of cinema's worse catastrophes. But first he took a step outside the Costner norm with Revenge, an aggressive little thriller that saw him as a former Navy pilot who goes to visit Anthony Quinn, a Mexican crime lord whose life he once saved. All is hunky-dory till Costner begins an affair with Quinn's wife, played by Madeleine Stowe, and the sneaky couple think they can pull the wool over hubbie's eyes. No chance. Costner is thrashed, Stowe maimed and tossed into a brothel and the cycle of revenge up and running. It was quite effective but actually rather nasty, with none of the characters eliciting any sympathy for their beastly actions (though Stowe clearly didn't deserve her unholy punishment). Very little was seen of Costner's characters' usually high morality.
Now, in 1990, Costner's own vision came to the fore with Dances With Wolves. Penned by Michael Blake, this had been a long time coming. Indeed, back in the early Eighties, having written Stacy's Knights, he'd spoken about just such a screenplay with the film's star Costner and its director Jim Wilson. They'd encouraged him to turn the story into a novel, as that would be easier to sell than a straight screenplay and eventually he'd got around to it, further inspired by the work, attitudes and lifestyle of bohemian couple Viggo Mortensen and Exene Cervenka, with whom he'd been staying. Indeed, he now intended Mortensen to play the titular lead. But Costner and Wilson (who'd now co-produce most of Costner's efforts) could really make this happen, and so took over the reins.
At first it wasn't easy. Costner approached three big names directors, but all wanted to make major changes, most of which would involve cutting down what would be a three-hour movie. Kevin, believing the film's strength lay in the slow building of characters, would not have it and decided to direct it himself, for the first time putting himself under massive production pressure and also turning down a lucrative offer to direct The Hunt For Red October. As star and director, he would personally tell the tale of Dances With Wolves, a Civil War hero who chooses to patrol the western frontier and comes to understand, and even love the ways of the Lakota Sioux.
He did need occasional help, Kevin Reynolds coming in to aid him with the epic buffalo hunt. And he went over-budget, personally putting up the money to keep the production on track. And, for the first time, he suffered accusations that this was a gross vanity project. Kevin's Gate, some called it, as the costs racked up, recalling Michael Cimino's terrible experience with Heaven's Gate a decade before.
Then the movie came out and was an instant hit. Despite its length and its uncompromising use of the Sioux language, audiences flocked to see it. It brought big westerns back into fashion - Clint Eastwood would re-enter the saddle with Unforgiven two years later - and it would convince film-makers that running-time was not a problem for audiences as long as the quality was high. Hence Braveheart, The English Patient, Schindler's List and, in terms of language, The Passion Of The Christ. Costner himself was rewarded with two Oscars, for Best Director and Best Picture (it was the first western to take Best Picture since Cimarron a half a century before), and a nomination as Best Actor, while the film garnered five more gongs.
Next came Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, hugely popular in the UK but then notorious for spawning Bryan Adams' long-running Number One single Everything I Do. Costner came to the project late and immediately argued with director Kevin Reynolds over the accent to be used. Costner, his actorly pride on the line, wanted to go native, while Reynolds figured that, now he was such a big star, he needn't bother. Costner persisted, as Costner always does, but was eventually forced to both concede defeat and take all subsequent criticism (of which there was much) on the chin. If only Keanu Reeves had been similarly advised when it came to Bram Stoker's Dracula%u2026 There was further criticism when rumours began to abound that Costner had demanded that much of Alan Rickman's work be cut, Rickman providing a hilariously evil Sheriff of Nottingham. This was interesting as it brought up a question of loyalty and integrity. Costner understood that to bring a legend to the screen, or to create one on the screen, you have to have a suitably heroic hero. Thus Robin Hood - laconic, manly and determined - could not be overshadowed by a Sheriff so magnificently wicked that everyone rooted for him. Thus, for the sake of the legend, Rickman had to hit the cutting-room floor (thankfully, his part would be mostly restored in later DVD versions).
Actually, this raises another question, about Costner himself. More than any other actor, apart from perhaps Orson Welles, he has been accused of engaging in vast vanity projects, intended to boost his own fame and glory. But if you consider that desire to deal in legends, and the fact that he could more easily get such legends green-lighted by starring in them, surely he has no choice but to make himself look good. He's the hero, after all. And it's not as if he doesn't make serious efforts to deepen his heroes' characters, even to the extent of making them ugly or cruel. His Wyatt Earp and The Mariner in Waterworld are far harder and more interesting than, say, Mel Gibson's William Wallace. And, while we're on the subject, it's worth re-iterating that, were it not for Costner's groundbreaking efforts with Dances With Wolves (a vanity project?), Gibson would probably never have dared to direct and star in Braveheart (not a vanity project?).
After Robin Hood, Costner took the lead in JFK, directed by Oliver Stone, whose Platoon Kevin had turned down five years earlier as he believed it portrayed American soldiers in a negative light (Costner's own brother was a Vietnam vet). Here he played New Orleans DA Jim Garrison, clawing his way through reams of evidence, cover-ups and lies to discover the truth behind the Kennedy assassination. It was a big critical success but, with Garrison being an Eliot Ness straight-arrow kind of guy, his acting scope was once more limited, the plaudits being taken by more flamboyant cameos by Gary Oldman, Joe Pesci and Tommy Lee Jones. Nevertheless, he was nominated for a Golden Globe.
He moved on to The Bodyguard, written in the mid-Seventies by his friend Lawrence Kasdan and originally intended to star Diana Ross and Steve McQueen. Now Costner stepped in as the former Secret Service officer, disturbed by his failure to stop the shooting of Ronald Reagan and hired to protect a pop diva (Whitney Houston). A thriller-come-love-story it was a huge hit, continuing an absurd run of success. Costner would claim and re-claim later that Princess Diana had been in negotiations to appear in Bodyguard 2 prior to her death in 1997. "She wanted the right to reinvent herself", he remarked.
Now it all became more complicated as Costner began to delve into the darker side of an American dream and character that had previously served him so well. In Clint Eastwood's A Perfect World, he starred as Butch Haynes, a criminal who breaks out of Huntsville jail in 1963, kidnaps a kid and goes on the run, pursued by Eastwood's gnarled Texas Ranger. Slowly we learn the depth and origins of Haynes' violence as his relationship with the child grows and Eastwood reveals his guilt at his earlier failure to prevent Haynes' unjust incarceration. It was excellent stuff, and Costner, released from the constrictions of the good-guy hero, delivered a truly impressive performance.
As if liberated by this experience, Costner reunited with Lawrence Kasdan (here director and co-writer) for Wyatt Earp. He could so easily have portrayed the famed lawman as a good man in a chaotic age, an avenging angel of justice. Instead, his Earp was traumatised by early tragedy, a stubborn loner who stumbles into office and uses merciless violence to dominate the towns he controls. He also bullies his family and drives his lover to laudanum addiction. And he's a hero, relentlessly taking on the bad guys at their own game.
It really was a magnificent western, peopled by some great characters, in particular Gene Hackman as Costner's hard-assed father and Dennis Quaid as an infirmed, gentlemanly and psychotic Doc Holliday. Unfortunately, it arrived on the screen several months after Tombstone, a movie telling much the same story with Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp. Thus Costner's film, budgeted at $63 million, produced a US gross of only $25 million. A terrible shame as Tombstone was good, but Wyatt Earp far better.
Now Costner's career would become a real rollercoaster. First, he turned away from epic action with The War, playing a Vietnam vet in 1972 Mississippi who's turned his back on violence and is attempting to rekindle romance with his wife, Mare Winningham (who'd played his addled mistress in Wyatt Earp). Complications arise when his troubled son Elijah Wood is drawn into a confrontation with neighbouring bad boys the Lipnickis.
The War was a moving piece and, after A Perfect World and Wyatt Earp, it continued Costner's finest run of work to date. However, as all three had failed to hit pay-dirt, he was under pressure to pull off another major hit. And so he decided to speculate to accumulate with Waterworld. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, this saw Costner as The Mariner, a kind of floating, mutant Man With No Name in a world almost completely covered by the oceans. Being a major hero, he decides to save some surviving humans from outlaw Dennis Hopper and take them to a mythical Shangri-La named Dryland. It was an interesting and entertaining film, huge in its scope and ambition, with Costner playing The Mariner as wholly introverted and obsessed with the tricks of survival in this harsh environment. Sadly, the finished product was utterly overshadowed by production problems that had set tongues wagging for months before release.
Firstly, there'd been terrible difficulties when storms destroyed many of the sets. The script, too, proved unsatisfactory, Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Joss Whedon being brought onto the set for what he later described as "seven weeks of hell". With costs escalating to $175 million, making it the most expensive movie ever, and with just two weeks to go, Kevin Reynolds walked, leaving Costner to take over the direction. Kevin would later say he had no choice but to take up the reins - he knew that whatever happened he would have to carry the can. Across the industry, the "Kevin's Gate" talk started up once more. More wittily, Waterworld became known as Fishtar, in reference to the Dustin Hoffman/Warren Beatty disaster Ishtar (as an aside, after Ishtar, Town And Country and the gut-twistingly embarrassing Bulworth, surely Beatty , more than Costner, deserves the description Disaster-Man?).
On release, the critics were vicious and the film tanked - though not as badly as is often said. The US box office gross climbed to a usually healthy $88 million, with $255 million taken worldwide. Video, TV and later DVD takings would limit the damage much further. But that was not the story people liked to tell. With Costner having just been divorced from his wife (apparently due to his serial philandering), and having to cough up a cool $75 million, the big story was that, just five years after his Dances With Wolves triumph, the king of Hollywood had fallen heavily from grace.
Immediately, he bounced back. Tin Cup, directed by Bull Durham's Ron Shelton, saw him back on his home ground, on the sports field, as a former college golf champion, now a down-and-out pro on a tatty driving range. When psychiatrist Rene Russo comes for lessons, he decides to woo her away from her boyfriend, Don Johnson, a real golfing champ and Costner's former rival. The US Open might be a suitable testing ground . . .
With Costner back on form as a solid guy who loves his sport and personifies its spirit, Tin Cup put Kevin back on the Hollywood map, and gave him another Golden Globe nomination, something of a resurrection given the burial of Waterworld. He could have taken it easy, consolidated, found another sports vehicle or a tight thriller like No Way Out. Instead, he came back slugging and attempted to create another big-budget legend with The Postman. Leaving nothing to chance, he would direct and star for the first time since Dances With Wolves. And it was another flop.
The problem was not the three-hour length. It wasn't that Kevin went so far in making his hero heroic (the people build a statue of him, for God's sake!) that even his supporters squirmed a little. It was the story - it was so weak. Costner played a stranger in a post-Apocalypse 2013 (mmm, Mad Max-alicious), who saves the good people from the bad people (fine and dandy) by building new lines of communication and thus recreating society as we once knew it (erm) by acting as a postman (no, thanks). The amazing thing was that it was written by Brian Helgeland who'd win an Oscar for LA Confidential that very same year. Helgeland would later claim that Costner had added at least an hour to his script.
Facing another barrage of (this time deserved) bad reviews and released just a week after the monstrously successful Titanic, The Postman fared very badly. Costing $80 million and making just $17 million at the US box office, in terms of percentages it was a failure far worse than Waterworld. The movie cleaned up at the Razzies - though this meant very little as the excellent Wyatt Earp had done the same. Worse, problems in production had caused Costner to miss out on Air Force One, a movie written for him but now a big hit for Harrison Ford. It wasn't looking good. Costner's personal life was now up in the air. Romantically, he was playing the field, being connected to Mira Sorvino, Elle Macpherson, Carla Bruni, Naomi Campbell and Courteney Cox. In 1996, a blood test had revealed him to be the father of Liam, a child by Bridget Rooney.
Perhaps sensing a need to regroup, he returned immediately to feel-good territory. Message In A Bottle, saw him as a widowed shipbuilder who tosses desperate words into the ocean, words which are found by and pique the interest of divorced researcher Robin Wright-Penn. Though a little morose and a tad over-contrived, the movie would at least return Costner to Number One at the box office. Pushing on, he now revisited the baseball diamond with For The Love Of The Game. Helmed by Sam Raimi and concerning an ageing pitcher whose obsessive pursuit of the perfect game may cost him his true love, it should have been a corker. Sadly, it wasn't. Lacking spark and resonance, it gave Costner his first sporting failure and started him on another run of box office turkeys. He would publicly complain that Universal had re-edited the film to gain a PG-13 rating and cut its heart out.
Not that his films were now all bad. Indeed, Thirteen Days, reuniting him with No Way Out's Roger Donaldson, was a reasonable Cold War thriller, reconstructing the Cuban Missile Crisis, with Costner as a special aide to President Kennedy, struggling against warmongering generals up for a nuclear conflagration. 2001's 3000 Miles To Graceland saw him leading a gang of misfits who rob a Las Vegas casino during an Elvis convention, and attempting to out-run both the law and double-crossed partner Kurt Russell. Though Costner played it extra-mean, the movie was still marred by its ultra-violence and the over-stylised work of former music video director Demian Lichenstein. Following this was the unconvincing supernatural thriller Dragonfly (another role turned down by Harrison Ford) which saw Costner as an ER doctor whose pregnant wife is killed in an avalanche in Venezuela. Soon he comes to believe she's trying to contact him from beyond the grave . . .
Thirteen Days, 3000 Mikes and Dragonfly all failed to recoup even half their budget at the US box office. Costner was on a real downer as he'd also been kicked off Beyond Borders due to his constant run-ins with director Oliver Stone, who subsequently left the film himself. And so, as he usually does when he's in trouble, he decided to take full responsibility for his position. Once more he took to the director's chair, and revisited the Wild West with Open Range, a movie in which he would star and for which he personally put up much of the finance. Here Robert Duvall would play a cattle-driver who preaches non-violence and a warm spirituality that impresses his employee Costner, formerly a natural born killer in the Civil War. But bullying rancher Michael Gambon tests Duvall's decency to the max, forcing Costner to defend his boss by any means necessary.
Once more Costner had delivered a classic western and the public reacted well, the movie taking more than double its budget then scoring big as a rental. Things were looking up, both professionally and personally. He was now settled with Christine Baumgarten, twenty years his junior, whom he'd first met in 1994 when in depression following his divorce. They'd begun a relationship in 1999 and would marry in 2004, Baumgarten bearing son Cayden Wyatt in 2007. Onscreen, he'd move on to The Upside Of Anger where Joan Allen would play an alcoholic mother of four young girls, angry and struggling after her husband has walked out on them. Costner would play Allen's neighbour, a former star pitcher, now a sports show host. He's bored and also drinking and the couple gradually come together, Costner having to win the trust of her daughters. It was a comedy of manners with a serious heart and a bravely subversive ending, and Costner was generous in his part, ensuring that the excellent Allen dominated.
Costner's other project of 2005 was the far less intriguing rom-com Rumour Has It. Here Jennifer Aniston, back in Pasadena for her sister's wedding, comes to suspect that The Graduate was based on her own family's past, with feisty grandma Shirley MacLaine being Mrs Robinson and her dead mother being Elaine. Believing Costner, a 'Net tech millionaire, to be Benjamin Braddock, she tracks him down and is attracted by his rugged charm and his ability to fly her off to Californian vineyards for lunch. Already engaged to Mark Ruffalo, now she's confused. Will she be the third generation of her family to fall for Costner and - ugh! - is he her dad? Despite its iffy subject matter it was only mildly diverting and, with Aniston appearing way too young for Costner it was clear that he'd now need to limit himself to more mature onscreen paramours.
2006 would see him back in action in The Guardian, again playing an old hand teaching the ropes to a firebrand recruit. This time he'd be a legendary veteran of the US Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers, people paid to drop from helicopters and pull people from the sea. Tormented by the loss of his entire crew in a disaster, Costner's reassigned as a teacher and comes up against cocky Ashton Kutcher, an arrogant and foolhardy young buck. There'd be plenty of cliched training school sequences and damning comparisons to An Officer And A Gentleman, but the movie was entertaining enough, Costner and Kutcher fulfilling their roles well.
Very different would be Costner's sole release of 2007, the violent, macabre comedy Mr Brooks. Here he'd play a model citizen, a happily married man of the year, who's secretly addicted to murder. A split personality, he's cajoled into further atrocity by his dark side, played with relish by William Hurt, carrying out his killings with professional pragmatism. Things get complicated when he reluctantly picks up young apprentice Dane Cook and begins to wonder whether his daughter has inherited his psychotic genes. In the meantime, tough cop Demi Moore, wife of his recent co-star Ashton Kutcher, is on his trail. As said, it was an odd film, but Costner and Hurt were tremendous in portraying two sides of the same man, with Costner both tortured victim and sadistic slayer, almost passing out from the excitement of offing two lovers in bed. Despite his penchant for playing deeply moral men, in Mr Brooks and A Perfect World he excelled when playing conflicted killers.
Over the past several years, Costner had been working on a Broadway musical, a high romance called My Cuba. Having difficulty turning into it a movie, he'd decided to get it done anyhow, and thrown himself into the songwriting. Though finance would not be forthcoming, Costner would find great enjoyment in his music and, in 2006, would make his debut in The Kevin Costner Band, writing, singing and playing guitar. Many would see this as embarrassingly self-indulgent, pointing to the band's name and that of its management company, Kevin's Music LLC, but the crowds would flock to the shows. As ever, Costner would take his efforts with deadly seriousness, in 2007 suing a production company he claimed had gone back on promises to help him launch this new career.
Back onscreen, Costner's next appearance would come in Swing Vote where he'd play an unambitious, beer-chugging dude so slack he's looked after by his own 12-year-old daughter. Due to the vagaries of the electoral system, suddenly he finds himself with the casting vote between presidential candidates and must choose between Republican president Kelsey Grammer and a Democrat hopeful played by his former co-star Dennis Hopper. The movie would be a satire of politics and the media and carry the hopeful message that any one person can change the world, Costner of course being perfect for such an everyman role. Following this would come the thriller The New Daughter, where Costner would play a single father moving with his kids to the back of beyond. When his daughter begins to behave oddly, he comes to suspect a freakish mound in a nearby field. So the tension builds.
We can only assume that one day Kevin Costner will once again put all his money and influence behind another glorious and possibly misguided project. This may turn out to be My Cuba or, more likely, a movie that places him right at the heart of the American identity. A biopic of Joe DiMaggio? A bloody tale of revolutionary heroism from the early days of George Washington? Yet another retelling of Custer's Last Stand? Whatever - it will definitely be impressive and possibly brilliant. That's just Costner's way.