Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner in Mr. Brooks

Kevin Costner in “Mr. Brooks”

Kevin Costner joined the talented cast of “The Big Chill” in 1983 thinking it would mark the beginning of an illustrious movie career. He was 28, had been taking acting lessons while working on fishing boats, and had a business degree from Cal State Fullerton in his back pocket. His role was that of Alex, a suicide victim who would appear in flashbacks throughout the film. In fact, Kevin did not appear in the final version at all but rather on the cutting room floor. Yet the humbling experience did not deter Kevin for a moment. Director Lawrence Kasdan promised Kevin he would pay him back on a future project. Indeed, Kasdan kept true to his word, and in 1985, Kevin was cast as Jake in “Silverado.” It would not be the rising star’s last western.

But it was 1987 that proved to be Kevin’s breakout year. First, director Roger Donaldson (who would later guide Costner in “Thirteen Days”) pitted Kevin against Gene Hackman in “No Way Out,” a thriller which Roger Ebert awarded four stars. Time, though, has proven Kevin’s other 1987 film as the more durable one. “The Untouchables” saw Sean Connery win an Oscar, Robert De Niro deliver a colorful over-the-top performance, and Kevin Costner anchor the action with his turn as Eliot Ness. Set in 1920s Chicago, “The Untouchables” displayed Costner’s ability to function quite well in a period piece. Now, he also set out to display his versatility as an actor. A couple of classic baseball movies followed and it seemed Kevin was on a major hitting streak. “Bull Durham” established Kevin as a romantic leading man and his down-to-earth normal guy persona immensely benefited “Field of Dreams.” As both of those films earned critical acclaim and audience approval, Kevin himself looked to raise his game another notch.

1990 proved to be the year in which Kevin Costner ascended from prince to king. While “Revenge” proved an able thriller (helmed by Tony Scott), it was the sweeping epic “Dances with Wolves” that brought Kevin triumph and honor. Assuming the daunting task of actor, producer and director, Kevin met every challenge, and in doing so saw “Dances with Wolves” earn 12 Oscar nominations – including two for the 35-year-old, Best Picture and Best Director. Kevin followed that up with “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”

The American cinema’s reigning provocateur of that time, Oliver Stone, employed Costner in the role of Jim Garrison, the New Orleans District Attorney who journeys on the path of conspiracy, in the 1991 sprawling “JFK.” Perhaps a role that was somewhat dwarfed by the subject matter with dazzling cinematography and a host of cameos, Costner’s strong acting range is evident – best exemplified in Garrison’s speech at film’s end – and an obvious connection between director and lead actor emerged. But for the next few films, Costner revisited familiar ground. He continued his leading man duties with “The Bodyguard” and “Tin Cup” and traversed the western landscape as “Wyatt Earp.” It was his subdued performance as Butch Haynes in the overlooked Clint Eastwood film “A Perfect World,” however, that proved a quiet gem, and the curious failure of “Waterworld” threatened to capsize Costner’s success with risk taking. Perhaps inevitably, Kevin reached his nadir with “The Postman,” the 1997 box office dud that nearly ruined Costner’s reputation as both filmmaker and star. Kevin limped to the end of the 90s with mediocre genre pieces like “Message in a Bottle” and “For Love of the Game.”

The Cold War thriller “Thirteen Days” felt like Costner was returning to “JFK” territory, 2001’s “3,000 Miles to Graceland” raised more than a few eyebrows, and “Dragonfly” failed to ignite the moviegoing public’s imagination (it was directed by Tom Shadyac of “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”), but Kevin somehow managed to make a refreshing turn with the release of “Open Range.” Perhaps he reached a personal peace with where he was in life, or maybe it was because he was on the verge of marrying Christine Baumgartner. Either way, Kevin assuredly guided “Open Range” as both actor and director with a humble budget of $20 million. The film was a quiet success, grossing $60 million domestically. Two years later, Kevin took on the role of a former baseball player in “The Upside of Anger,” and he followed that up with “Rumor Has It” and “The Guardian,” two films that once again employed his tried-and-true romantic charm and action-adventure tendencies to average movies.

The 2007 release of “Mr. Brooks” took Kevin into a darker, more psychologically complex character that audiences were tentative to meet halfway. Because of the dismal reactions to “The Postman” and “Waterworld” from the previous decade, Kevin slowly grew to embrace the confidence in his own talent and accept the freedom to self-finance projects he himself finds interesting. His early track record showed he’s a mainstay, and it would be nice to see Kevin assume deeper, challenging works in the latter part of his career. He’s at his best exploring historical America, whether it be in the West, in 1920s Chicago, or 1960s Dallas. He needs a director who shares his passion for his country and wouldn’t be afraid to push Kevin into new ground. At this point, no other director needs Kevin Costner more than Oliver Stone.

Kevin Costner on the Screen

He’s John Logan in “Sizzle Beach, U.S.A.,” Gardner Barnes in “Fandango,” Jimmy Scott in “Shadows Run Black,” Eliot Ness in “The Untouchables,” Crash Davis in “Bull Durham,” Ray Kinsella in “Field of Dreams,” and Civil War vet Lt. Dunbar in “Dances with Wolves.” He’s D.A. Jim Garrison in “JFK,” Stephen in “The War,” Garrett in “Message in a Bottle,” and adviser to the Kennedys in “Thirteen Days.” He’s an Elvis fanatic in “3,000 Miles to Graceland,” the doctor in “Dragonfly,” Charley Waite in “Open Range,” Denny Davies in “The Upside of Anger,” and Beau Burroughs in “Rumor Has It.” He’s also played the title character five times (“The Bodyguard,” “Wyatt Earp,” “The Postman,” “The Guardian,” and “Mr. Brooks”), which just might be some kind of a record.

As he’s gotten older, Kevin doesn’t get as many leading roles as before, but he’s embraced solid supporting roles. He does a fine job in “Molly’s Game” playing the father of Jessica Chastain‘s lerad character.

Kevin Says

On going against the grain:
“If I have to reduce my life to the box office, I can see what the up-and-down thing is. Popularity now is cultural achievement. If you can be popular, you actually can make a living out of being popular. It’s not my way.”

On dreams:
“I’m a big fan of dreams. Unfortunately, dreams are our first casualty in life – people seem to give them up, quicker than anything, for a ‘reality’.”