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Kevin Costner: a modest superstar.

Kevin Costner is the superstar next door, the ordinary guy who made good but stayed the same. He's the Jimmy Stewart of our era. If Mr. Smith went to Washington and stayed honest, Mr. Costner went to Hollywood and stayed humble.

The director-star of the much-honored Dances with Wolves and the star of such other hits as The Untouchables, No Way Out, Bull Durham, and Field of Dreams, Costner remains a dedicated family man, loyal to his friends, and unbending in his integrity. Only this year have the demands of his growing household caused him to move out of the modest house the family had lived in since the days when he was unknown. When they moved, the Costners chose a nearby neighborhood with sidewalks instead of retreating to a castle behind an electrified fence.

"I'm not impressed by all this," he says, indicating the luxury of the personal motor home where a star rests between takes of a film. "I always figured I was something special-the way everybody is something special." The six-foot Costner, 36, looks and performs like he was born to dazzle, yet he's always thought of himself as a regular guy. He may be the star of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and thus Sherwood Forest's hunkiest green-garbed guy, but he insists, "I never thought I was sexy, and I don't believe it now."

Costner takes pride in the rebuffs he weathered in the long years he spent waiting in the wings for his break. He recalls one unintentionally withering comment from a casting director. "She looked me in the eye and said, Well, what we're really looking for here is someone handsome.' What she said was hurtful. She was wrong to say it. But I would have been wrong to believe it." Costner didn't believe the hurtful put-downs he received on the way up, and he doesn't take any stock in the praise he gets now. Characteristically, he confronts the question directly: "How about you?" he asks. "I don't know how you feel about yourself, but I think that if you and I walked into a bar right now, and I hadn't just been in these movies, between us we wouldn't draw three looks."

In Hollywood there are plenty of turns off the straight and narrow, but Costner isn't the kind of man who zooms out happily into the fast lane. He knows he's better off sticking close to home. He has been married since 1978 to Cindy Costner, a onetime airline marketing executive who also has an architecture degree. The Costners and their three children (Annie, 6, Lilly, 4, and Joe, 3) make it a point to remain together even when the man of the house is off shooting a movie in South Dakota (Dances with Wolves) or England (Robin Hood).

Playing straight-shooting Eliot Ness in The Untouchables, Costner was given corny lines like "Let's do some good" and It's nice to be married." Untouchables director Brian Depalma said of Costner, "He can take those old Western lawman lines and make them real."

Costner does truly believe it's nice to be married, but he's aware of the added risk to marriage that stardom presents. "If the adulation you get from being in successful movies is your reason for living, you won't ever be satisfied. Cindy was there in the beginning. If I can hold my marriage together throughout my career, that will be an accomplishment that will be worthwhile."

And the temptation to walk into bars to see if he gets more than three looks? "That's not interesting to me. At the same time, if people have the perception of me that I have a perfect life, they'd be wrong. I do have a wonderful family, but not a perfect life. If I painted it that way, I'd be setting myself up for a fall, and I wouldn't be as smart as I think I am."

Costner started out in life with the smart idea of being a businessman. His grandparents had come west from Oklahoma during the Depression. His father worked for the electric company and moved his family from town to town. Costner grew up shy and short and didn't blossom until his years at California State University at Fullerton, where he studied marketing. He worked summers on fishing boats as a cook, relishing the solitariness of the job. On land, he hitchhiked vast distances.

After graduating from college, he went into sales but resolved to become an actor after a fateful meeting with Sir Richard Burton on an airplane. He simply approached the famous thespian seeking advice and somehow won Burton's attention for half an hour. "After that," Costner says, "I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do. I told my wife that we were going to Hollywood and that if I had to get a job taking trash out it was going to be movie trash."

Costner talked himself into a lowlevel administrative job at a small non-union facility known as Raleigh Studios. "I had a big debate with myself over whether I should tell the studio that I was an actor," he remembers. "I was calling myself an actor, but I didn't have an agent and I'd never even interviewed for a professional acting job. In the end, I decided to do what the smart money said not to. Nobody wants to work with somebody who's wishing he was in front of the camera acting instead of behind it pushing. But I told them and they still hired me."

What goes around comes around. Costner recalls, "It's funny, but after I began to get acting work regularly, I kept running into guys on the production crews who I did favors for when I was at Raleigh. It didn't look like it at the time, but I knew I was going to be an actor."

It took three years of gofer work at Raleigh before Costner got his break: He was cast in Frances to play a small but important part in several scenes with the film's star, Jessica Lange. Costner played the scenes--and all but one of them ended up on the cutting room floor.

Soon afterward, it happened again. In The Big Chill, he played the suicide whose funeral draws the rest of the cast together. "I rehearsed for a month with the whole cast and shot for about a week. I knew when I was shooting it that if anything would be cut it would be my scenes." Sure enough, Costner's scenes were cut. He wasn't even glimpsed in a coffin.

Famous all over town as the actor who had never been seen, Costner eventually hit the screen several years later as the star of a pair of weakly-distributed films, Fandango and American Flyers. Then the director of The Big Chill, Lawrence Kasdan, remembered him when he came to make Silverado, and Costner finally seized his chance to find an audience.

All he needed was to point himself in the right direction. "A lot of people don't realize what they should be doing until late," Costner says. "As a kid, I used to play a baseball game and come home and write a poem about it, but I didn't realize which was more important to me. I'd go have a pizza with the guys and come home and write a short Story.

"It took a while to discover what I was supposed to do. How do insurance salesman or biologists get the call? I thought I was supposed to be a businessman, but I realized I was wrong. I feel like King Arthur in Camelot: Even when things aren't going well, no matter what, he still knows he's done what he was supposed to do."

Playing the flashy young gunslinger in Silverado set Costner on course for major roles. First was No Way Out, portraying a U.S. naval officer who turned out to have another allegiance. There was something about Costner's reserve and quiet strength that transformed this fairly inexpensive thriller into a big hit. Then he was the perfect picture of square-jawed rectitude in The Untouchables. His two baseball movies followed, Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, each an unlikelier hit than the other. Last year's Revenge was his only flop, and it was forgotten as soon as Dances with Wolves came out.

Costner managed to create this cowboys-and-Indians movie against all of Hollywood's expectations. In doing so, he fulfilled a pledge to the author of the original book that he'd made before anyone had ever heard the name Kevin Costner. When the film ran into budget difficulties during shooting, Costner had no qualms about plowing much of his salary back into the production so that he could make the movie he had envisaged. Then he had the self-confidence to release the film at a three-hour length, ignoring the conventional wisdom that audiences' attention span is too short. Costner's reward for his steadfastness was there on Oscar night for the world to see.

The story behind Costner's Robin Hood also illustrates his curiously straightforward way of doing business in Hollywood's labyrinth of selfishness. Last year in Hollywood, three Robin Hood scripts were chasing two actors, Costner and Mel Gibson. But Gibson was committed to making Hamlet, leaving Costner to choose one. "They all wanted me because I fit into a certain category, being a run-and-jump kinda guy," he says.

"I picked this one because the director (Kevin Reynolds) is a friend. It's a very good script, but I might not have done it without Kevin." Reynolds is a friend because he gave Costner a break casting him in Fandango in 1984. Costner does not forget a favor.

Thus he seems a perfect choice to play the archetypal hero of the common man, Robin Hood. "Robin Hood is a tired story in some ways," he says, "but it has themes that everyone responds to. The underdog. The man who fights the bully. You want to cheer for the guy. You have to believe a story like this is possible." Costner begs off analyzing the politics of taking from the rich and giving to the poor. He leaves it at this: "I don't think in deep terms. I just know what brings a smile to the face."

In this version of the old tale, Robin Hood's strongest sidekick is Azeem, a Moorish warrior played by Morgan Freeman. "It's important for me that Azeem steal the movie," says Costner paradoxically. He explains, "That's the way the script is designed. I like that theory of acting--that the leading actor should be considered the support. You're there to support the rest of the cast. You can come in and squash their ideas--'this movie is called Robin Hood, man'--or you can embrace them."

Costner is the most good-humored and accessible of major stars. On-screen he plays ordinary guys who survive amazing adventures and he's the same ordinary guy offscreen. More precisely, he's what other ordinary guys dream they'd be if they were movie stars. He tries to live a calm, eye-of-the-storm life. "What I care about," he says, "is what my parents, my wife, my friends think of me. I'm not immune to the perks of celebrity, I just don't have a lot of time for them.

"The time I should have been nasty was when people were saying awful things about me in casting offices. Now I get all the attention anyone would want. I don't need any more. In fact, the more I read about myself, the more bored I get."

At home, he forgets he's a multimillionaire. He says, "I like coming home to a woman who appreciates how truly full of baloney I am. I'm not that impressed with what I do. I do enjoy having a standing in the community. I used to get humiliated. I could be as foolish as to show up to interview for a part wearing a coat and tie. I've grown but I haven't changed. I'm on a roll and now my main concern is to make my career and my name stand for something."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mills, Bart
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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