He has been criticized for his recent roles, but Kevin Costner’s new movie, “Waterworld”, may be his most controversial gamble yet. And it comes at a shaky time in his personal life. The actor says”
‘YOU CAN’T ALWAYS BE PERFECT’
By Edward Klein
WHEN KEVIN COSTNER ENTERED THE CELEBRITY ROOM of the Universal Pictures restaurant on a recent sunny California afternoon, all the other actors, directors and producers stopped to state. Their eyes followed him as he strode across the room to my table and stretched out his long legs. He was wearing the same two-tone cowboy boots he had on the last time I saw him, almost three years ago. I noticed a few strands gray running through his auburn sideburns, but otherwise the 40-year-old leading man looked remarkably the same.
The stares of his colleagues attest to the fact that Costner is a unique figure in Hollywood. He projects the kind of natural, effortless quality on the screen that made Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart and Spencer Tracy such great stars in the past. In films as different as No Way Out, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and JFK, Costner's characters always seem to embody the kind of solid American values that win the trust of audiences. And thanks to blockbusters like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Bodyguard, he ranks along with Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and Arnold Schwarzenegger as a marquee name who can guarantee a big opening weekend for a new movie.
But what really makes Costner special are qualities that no one else in Hollywood shares. With Dances With Wolves, he became the first major movie star to win Academy Awards for both directing and producing a film. To top it all off, he seemed to embody sterling character traits as well. For years, he enjoyed the reputation of being a truly committed husband and father.
"Let's face it," Costner told me the previous time we met, "the public can only take this good-guy story about me for just so long. It's wearing thin. I'm close to being what's not hot."
And, indeed, Costner's fortunes have taken a dramatic turn. His recent movies have foundered at the box office. His image as a devoted family man has fractured along with his marriage of 16 years. For many of his fans, he has ceased being a leading man who can do no wrong.
Now Costner is facing the greatest challenge of his career. On the day we met, he had just come from the editing room where he was working feverishly to save Waterworld, his new science-fiction action-adventure film, from its widely predicted fate of box-office mediocrity.
I'd heard that the pressure was getting to him. "Kevin," I said, "you're in a position to answer this question better than any other major movie star of our time: How does someone who has achieved such great success in the make-believe world of the movies learn to cope when adversity strikes in real life?"
At first, he didn't seem eager to address my question. But, as we talked, I discovered that one of Costner's ways of coping is through his sense of humor. "I'm not living with anyone," he told me, "and my three kids frequently come over to spend the night. They like to crawl under the covers with me. They're like three little stoves. They give off so much heat that I have to kick them out of bed." He paused for effect, then added: "Of course, they just crawl right back in."
What makes Waterworld such a huge risk is that Costner is coming off a string of disappointing movies in which he has portrayed characters who deviate from the straight-arrow image that made him famous in the first place. In Waterworld, he leaves that image behind once again and plays a character named Mariner, whom audiences may find difficult to like.
"You can call this my 'four-W period' -A Perfect World, The War-, Wyatt Earp and now Waterworld," Costner said. "Wa. Wa. Wa. Wa. I don't blame people for asking, 'Hey, Kevin, why don't you get off that letter?"'
A lot of people also are asking whether Waterworld, which opens this week, will be Costner's Waterloo. As a result of script problems and bad weather during filming in Hawaii, Waterworld cost more than $150 million to shoot. Postproduction costs could push the total above $200 million, making it the most expensive movie in history. It will have to be a huge blockbuster just to earn back its money. Costner also replaced the director, Kevin Reynolds, who walked away from the project and turned his back on a 10-year friendship with Costner, reportedly because he was angry over requests for last-minute changes in the film's tone.
"Someone wrote that I wanted to make the character of Mariner more heroic, and that was the basis of my argument with Kevin Reynolds," Costner said. "That's not true. If so, I would never have played Wyatt Earp, who certainly isn't perfect. Mariner is rough and tough, but you can begrudgingly come to like him and begin to trust his roughness. Everything that's written indicates I'm running scared. I don't run scared."
Nonetheless, Costner knows that if Waterworld is a mega-bomb, he will almost certainly pay a steep price. How did he feel about the prospect of being toppled from his Hollywood pedestal?
"I never dreamed of being the No. I guy, because that's a very elusive thing," he said. "That's like wanting to be the most important person at a party and not being able to enjoy the party or the people attending it. I wanted to be at the highest level of decision-making, and that's a large room with a lot of people. I wanted to be able to approach someone and say, "This is what I'd like to do,' and have their attention. That's all you can ask for that the power of your idea can carry the day.
"For a long time, the public had an image of me as the perfect leading man. But I never felt like my image. I never felt like I could do no wrong. And, inevitably, the public got tired of the good-guy story, and that image of me got derailed."
Costner is famous among his peers for !being a nonconformist who turns down parts that other actors would jump at. For instance, he told me that he had no plans at this time to make a sequel to The Bodyguard, his 1992 movie co-starring Whitney Houston, which grossed nearly 400 million. "If you stay put in your career and get caught," Costner said, "it's shame on you, because you didn't try to do anything. I've always tried to avoid getting into a rut. You watch A Perfect World and Wyatt Earp, and you'll see why they were good movies for me. The thing that tugged at me, that made me want to do those parts, is the same spark of originality that reached me in Field of Dreams and JFK and Dances With Wolves.
"My stuff's not highbrow. It just tries to be rooted. You spend your seven bucks, and you get something that has a spark of originality. If I was going to do it another way, I'd be in my third sequel by now. I had a chance to do a John Grisham book. He's a good guy, but I wasn't ready to do it, and I didn't want to tie the guy up for three years waiting for me to make the movie. I'm comfortable marching to my own drummer."
Costner's fierce independence leads him to take great risks. He went into hock to produce Dances With Wolves, his epic film tribute to Native Americans, after it was turned down by a number of studios. The film went on to win seven Oscars, including Best Picture of 1990. But recently he jeopardized his standing as a hero among those Native Americans. The dispute is a complicated one involving Costner's plans to develop, with his brother Dan, about 600 acres of land in the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota that the Lakota Sioux say is theirs. The land is adjacent to a casino and resort Costner already is building. "Anybody who knows anything about me knows that the process I've gone through to build the Dunbar hotel and casino was thoroughly legal," Costner said. "But let's get off legal. My brother and I are taking two pieces of land that were behind barbed wire and were inaccessible, and we are cleaning them up and giving them back to the public."
Costner is even more sensitive about the attacks he has sustained on his personal life. After months of rumors, he and Cindy Costner, his college sweetheart, agreed to divorce. "It's no secret that many people blame you for the breakup of your marriage," I said. "What about those stories that you brought on the problem yourself because of your involvement with other women?"
"I don't know how newspapers can print stories that I was with some of those women," he said, careful not to deny all the stories about his questionable behavior. "They had me romantically involved with [model] Angie Everheart. But that wasn't true. We just sat next to each other at a dinner. Then they had me with the daughter of my good friend, Steve Wynn [the Las Vegas casino executive]. That wasn't true either. Then there was that story about the married hula dancer in Hawaii with whom I was alleged to have had an affair. I never even spoke to the woman on the telephone.
"It was hard on Cindy and our children," he went on. "It didn't help things. The only thing it did was hurt. The collapse of my marriage was the hardest thing of all for me. I'm sure your readers know there's been pain, that I couldn't be happy about it. I've experienced personal tragedy. Sometimes I don't even know how I'm still standing."
I told him that I had heard he was still in love with Cindy. At first, he would only discuss the subject off the record. But then he abruptly changed his mind. "You can put this on the record," he said. "Through all the pain, Cindy's been what I always thought she was a real lady. I still have love for Cindy."
In fact, Costner has told friends that he misses Cindy terribly and would like to get back together with her. Whether or not that is possible, it's unlikely Kevin and Cindy will have to talk about their future until after the star completes his publicity tour for Waterworld.
Following that, Costner plans to begin filming a romantic comedy titled Tin Cup with Ron Shelton, the director of Bull Durham. He also intends to direct, produce and star in The Kentucky Cycle, an eight-hour TV series for HBO based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. And he has commissioned a musical called My Cuba and is considering the idea of singing the lead part. When I expressed some skepticism over his vocal qualifications for Broadway, he quipped: "If I do it, I'll sing it loud, so there's no mistake it's me-good, bad or indifferent."
With the subjects of Waterworld and Cindy behind us, Costner appeared to relax. And without any prodding, he finally began to discuss how he had coped with his personal and professional travails. "I've had to learn how to deal with the shadow that celebrity has created," he said. "But no matter what, you still have to show up on time. If you say you're going to do something, you do it. At the end of the day, you have to stand and be counted. People depend on you. You can't fold like a daisy. You might want to go off and mull things over, but you can't. No matter how I was feeling, I had to be responsible and go to work every day. All of that helps you feel that you're going to make it, that you're not going to spin out of control."
I had one final question: Did he ever think he might stop making movies? "Yes," he said, "I think about stopping. But I want that to be a clear choice. I still have some stories I want to tell. I want the collection of my movies to be the best of my generation. That's something worthwhile to work for. You can't always be perfect. But you can have a life that's about being something."