By Roger Moore
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
These past few years, it’s been pretty hard to get Kevin Costner off his back porch. It’s in Aspen, so we kind of understand. He’s been raising three children under the age of 10, with his second wife, Christine.
“Half my life is driving kids to practice,” he jokes.
There were the business ventures — one of them Ocean Therapy Solutions, an oil spill cleaning system — that became famous thanks to the BP oil spill. Another, ArmStar, is a nonlethal weapon he’s selling to the Pentagon that could allow the military and police to pacify violent situations without killing anybody.
“A lotta fascinating [stuff] happens on my back porch,” Costner says with a laugh. “And I’ve never been a guy who makes movies back to back to back. I love movies, love acting, love directing. Hell, I even love rehearsing. But I have a more full life than that.”
He still, at age 59, fits that description film scholar David Thomson gave him in 2002’s Biographical Dictionary of Film: “He is not like others — he has resolved not to be.”
But 2012’s hit cable TV miniseries Hatfields & McCoys reminded us he’s out there. He gave heart to the special effects-burdened Man of Steel, and grizzled gravitas to Chris Pine and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
April has the sports movie veteran in another sports movie — Draft Day. After that, there’s McFarland and Black and White, a film with his Upside of Anger director, Mike Binder.
“I financed it, and it deals with racism,” he says. “You don’t do it just for the money, because God knows you don’t put your own money up for movies about racism.”
But first, there’s this gonzo action comedy from the writer-producer of The Transporter movies, 3 Days to Kill. Costner plays CIA contract killer Ethan Renner, a “cleaner,” who learns he’s dying of cancer. His new control agent (Amber Heard) bribes him with a serum that might prolong his life, providing he carry out one last series of hits, in Paris, where his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and the teen daughter he barely knows (Hailee Steinfeld) live.
“I like Ethan’s directness — in his job, and how discombobulated he becomes trying to deal with the women in his life,” Costner says. “We played those scenes fun, because he’s struggling.”
He likes, he says, the fact that this character hasn’t a clue about women — especially teenage ones.
“Welcome to the human race,” Costner laughs. “If you know a lot about women, please write that book. For the rest of us. Give us a hand.”
Costner shows every wrinkle, every gray hair in 3 Days. He might be “a national treasure,” as his director, McG (Charlie’s Angels), declares. But he’s not shy about showing his age, in character and out of it.
Costner wanted to play a man “wed to his job,” who has paid the price for that. He wanted to play a dying man who does what guys sometimes do in that situation — “He wants to earn a lot of money, doing these last few jobs, so he can leave his family something. If he can’t leave them memories, he’ll leave them money.”
Not that this explains Costner’s own suddenly full movie dance card. He’ll admit he’s in “the second half of my career,” but don’t go measuring him for a coffin just yet. And don’t write off 3 Days as a morose thriller. It’s got laughs. Ethan Renner is so out of his depth with his daughter that he interrupts “enhanced interrogations” to question family men from the terrorist underworld for child-rearing advice.
“I try to get my hammer without winking,” Costner says. “I try to get the laugh with my physical movement, in those scenes with [the terrorists]. By making it quiet, you make it work. And asking parenting questions of those guys? It’s already funny.”
McG, who has a Terminator movie and the emotional sports film We Are Marshall in his credits, wanted “a partner” on this venture in writer-producer Luc Besson’s Paris, with Besson’s French crew, French stunt drivers and French sensibilities.
“Costner’s got an Oscar [for directing Dances With Wolves], so he’s a pretty good director himself,” McG (Joseph McGinty Nichol) says. “So I wanted a collaborator, somebody I could listen to. We’re two American filmmakers, standing on Montmartre with an all-French crew, trying to find our way in a French-style action film — two fish out of water making a fish-out-of-water story.”
The director and his star rewrote some scenes, giving a more tolerant American sensibility to Besson’s bemused shots at French immigration policy, turning would-be torture scenes into low comedy. Again, these scenes don’t play out the way you expect.
Costner’s love for the unconventional continues with his next film, a dramedy shot extensively in Cleveland about the general manager of the Browns trying to get through NFL Draft Day.
“If somebody said, ‘Make a movie about a single day in the NFL Draft,’ you’d laugh,” he says. “But it’s the same thing as saying ‘These guys are walking out of a cornfield and onto a diamond wanting to play baseball. And they’re dead. Make a movie about that.’ ”
In a career that has had as many near classics as misses, the man who will be remembered for Field of Dreams and Bull Durham, No Way Out and The Untouchables is not about to stop gambling. Nobody saw Swing Vote? Maybe you should have. Missed his earthy working-man turn in The Company Men? Netflix it.
“Movies are supposed to make you glad you made them,” Costner says, “because they’re not what anybody expects.”