Fame & Fortune: Kevin Costner

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The iconic Kevin Costner began his supersuccessful career starring in independent films, gradually earning small parts in more established movies. But his feature film debut ended up on the cutting room floor — remember the body in the casket in “The Big Chill”? That was Costner.

Luckily, he made such an impression on the director that he was cast two years later in “Silverado.” Throughout his career, the veteran actor has seamlessly gone between comedy, action and drama in such breakout roles as “No Way Out,” “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “The Bodyguard” and recently opposite Jennifer Aniston in “Rumor Has It.”

Along the way, ego fueled some box office flops. Anyone remember — or want to — “The Postman” or “Water World”?

Costner showcased his exceptional filmmaking abilities in “Dances With Wolves,” which he produced, directed and starred in, winning seven Oscars, including for best picture and best director. He also directed, wrote and starred in the critically acclaimed “Open Range,” which he says took a big financial commitment on his part to get made. Maybe that’s why he is seen pitching products such as Subaru cars and iced coffee in Japan or Apple computers in other countries.

His most recent film is “Mr. Brooks,” a film he stars in and produced that portrays a darker side. The title character seems to have it all: a loving wife, devoted daughter, successful business, but unknown to everyone else, he is also a very successful serial killer. Besides “Mr. Brooks,” Costner is writing another Western, which by his own admission, will be a tough sell in Hollywood. “I’ll just have to mortgage something else,” he says.

Bankrate: You star and produce “Mr. Brooks.” Did you know that you wanted to produce this film right away instead of just taking home a paycheck?

Kevin Costner: I knew that without a doubt I would have to do that. I felt that it needed to be true to itself. I knew that I would also have to have final cut on it. If you like the movie, you know the odd things about it would be the ones cut first. If someone didn’t like blood, blood would be gone. Because they ask audiences “What do you like?” And then they cut. If no one else wanted to make this movie and I did, why would I let anybody try to flatten it out and make it more generic? So while I know some longtime people who’ve enjoyed my movies might be offended by this — might think that it’s too harsh — I get that and I accept that. But I don’t want to cater to my audience. I just want to feed it, you know. Take it or not take it, it’s an honest effort. So I knew I needed to have some control over the movie in the long run so that’s why I wanted to produce it.

Bankrate: What is something that you look for in a script? What jumps out at you?

Kevin Costner: Just fresh air. Just like something that seems highly original. I would never do this movie if it was pitched to me. But I would have never done “Field of Dreams” if it was pitched to me. It takes a writer that really has his muse working on his shoulder, you know? It was just an incredible window that they found into this subject. Writing is hard. It’s not easy. It’s an art form.

Bankrate: Do you think great writing is protected in Hollywood?

Kevin Costner: I don’t think that it is, no. Because the minute you’re willing to ask an audience what they think about a movie, I think it shows no one cares about the writing. And I think that’s foolish. I don’t go out to actors until my script is 100 percent finished. Because I don’t want anyone changing it. Annette Bening and Robert Duval didn’t change a line on “Open Range.” Why? Because I was sure that it worked. What is everyone so afraid of in making movies? Not being No. 1 at the box office? Well, Mr. Brooks ain’t going to be. We’re not even going to come close. But we can be a movie that’s so true to itself that you might want to take a friend back to it.

Bankrate: Can you say something about the Western you’re working on now?

Kevin Costner: It’s just a good cowboy movie about friendship, and there’s a code. It’s done; it’s written. People aren’t dying to make Westerns, though. I’ll just have to figure out how to make it. I’ll have to raise money from different sources and I’ll have to keep creative control.

Bankrate: Sounds like you are thinking about financing it through independent means?

Kevin Costner: Well we made “Open Range” in Calgary for just over $20 million and all the money went up on the screen. I didn’t take a salary for directing; I took the minimum. But nobody else did. Robert and the other actors made as much as they ever did, but I don’t like everybody to work under that banner of labor of love. “Dances with Wolves” was made for $16 million and everybody made as much money, if not more than they’d ever made in terms of salary. I come from a low-budget world, so I kind of know how to use my money, work with my money. If I was producing “Water World,” it would have been done in a different way — moneywise. I watch my money. With “Open Range” I put up about $750,000 and I got other people to put up some money. But I had to make some crucial producing decisions when making that film. I spent $300,000 on making the street flooding scenes real — that was a crucial decision but I wanted it authentic.

Bankrate: So is critical or financial success more important to you in making a movie, especially when you’ve invested in it?

Kevin Costner: Well, criticism is hard to take sometimes. Constructive criticism is something that all of us can do well from. Cynical criticism, skepticism is very difficult for me to deal with. When you make a movie, either lack of money, lack of talent, the sun went down — I sometimes can’t do anything about it. But I’m satisfied with the end product. So in truth, financially it would be better because then I could go on and make another Western.