JUST AS HIS CAREER HAS BEEN HOLLYWOOD BASED YET REJECTING OF ITS DIRT AND SCANDAL, KEVIN COSTNER, IN THE NEW PARAMOUNT NETWORK SERIES YELLOWSTONE, PLAYS A MAN MANAGING INHERENT CONFLICTS IN THIS CASE BETWEEN THE WEST’S PAST AND PRESENT
BY SUSAN HORNIK
Kevin Costner’s name gets bandied about quite a bit in association with square jawed and iron horse actors of the Gilded Age, including Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Henry Fonda. Like them, he has had the good fortune, canny PR representation, and adroitness to stay clear of controversy. In fact, the closest thing to criticism that’s offered about the 63 year old is that he has frustrated gossip mongers for decades, and is certainly among the least likely to appear on any year’s “Biggest Meltdowns!” Issue. That might vex the fourth estate, but it’s made for a fantastically durable career, and the ability precisely because of the absence of public histrionics to blend into the roles he tackles. From his breakthrough in that classic piece of cinematic baseball poetry, Field of Dreams (1989), to his Oscar nominated turn as an army officer forced to confront the predations of his own people in Dances with Wolves (1990) from his recurring turn as Superman’s dad in the Man of Steel franchise to playing a high school track couch inspiring underserved youth in McFarland, USA (2015), his best roles have been men of steadiness and uncluttered conviction.
And the offers keep coming.
“People say, ‘Man, this should be the moment in time where you’re pulling back and catching some waves,” he told AARP The Magazine for a cover story in 2015. “I don’t think they’re wrong [laughs]. But it’s not my way.”
Starring and executive producing in a new series for Paramount Network, Yellowstone, premiering on June 20, the Lynwood, California born actor actually breaks that decency mold, at least somewhat, in his character of John Dutton, a man who controls the largest ranch in the U.S., one under sustained attack by land developers, a bordering Native American reservation, and the federal government. Described by Paramount as “an intense study of a violent world far from media scrutiny where land grabs make developers billions and politicians are bought and sold by the world’s largest oil and lumber corporations,” its characters, the studio further detailed, “live in a new frontier. [The plotline] is the best and worst of America seen through the eyes of a family that represents both.”
The drama was shot in Utah and Montana, locations Costner feels add necessary grit to the production. “Actors are able to kind of make things real, even on a stage and without all the trappings of what you want, but when you…look over at a barn that’s not fake and look at horses that are truly running free…” he explained at an INDUSTRY attended Television Critics Press Tour critics panel, adding that his character is a “complicated guy with modern problems.”
“He’s a fourth generation man who’s grown this ranch, that probably started off itty bitty, to now the size of Rhode Island,” said Costner. “So he’s half in the Western world and half modern day CEO,” adding that while Dutton may live in the 21st century, he’s often confused by it.
“Meth, for example…it’s confusing to him. ‘Why would somebody put that stuff in your vein?’ he wonders. He’s half dinosaur, but, I think, pretty proud of it. He’s satisfied with what’s around him but not what’s pressing in against him. He’s also a single father, and a lot of things fall through the cracks when you’re a single parent.” Asked about the prominence of one o roles in his career one that’s seemingly avoidant of sequels Costner explained his appetite for variety.
“I’m drawn to writing,” he said, “and I’ve tried to conduct my career based on writing. That’s why you haven’t often seen me do the same movie twice. Because even though sequels are worth a lot of money to studios, they’re often not written well. So, while it may have been a better business decision for me to make the same movie over and over…writing is what led me to [the 2012 History Channel miniseries] Hat fields & McCoysand to Yellowstone.” Of the latter production, the actor said that he found real synergy working with Taylor Sheridan, who wrote, directed and also co-executive produced the series. “You don’t often get the writer and the director. Taylor has such a good feel and he loves this way of life,” then pointed to a circumstance when writing made the difference in a lm that could have turned out much differently: 1998’s Bull Durham, and its writer/director, Ron Shelton.
“Ron loved baseball, but he also loved the vulgarity of it. He realized you couldn’t find the poetry without that vulgarity…without roughness. And I think Taylor…this life that he loves so much, this modern day ranching, this kind of salt of the earth person that was all reflected in the writing.”
Costner also asserted that he doesn’t care whether he works in lm or TV, as long as the script is good. “You dance with the prettiest girl, and you go to the best script,” he said. “ e best script was Yellowstone, and that was obvious. It was right there for me. I like long movies, so I like the whole idea of this. I like the world that Taylor created. It was an easy decision for me.”
Since Dances with Wolves, the actor has had a decades long fascination with the West.
“It’s certainly a part of American history. It’s a big chapter. I’m kind of haunted about how I might have fared in the West, because it was a place of drama and random violence. There were winners and losers. And you got lucky. You lived by your wits…all set against this natural, raw beauty. So I’ve always been drawn to it. It was real drama that happened here not too long ago.”
Besides acting, producing, and funding movies, Costner headlines Kevin Costner & Modern West, a rock/country band founded after his wife, Christine Baumgartner, inspired him to reconnect with songwriter John Coinman. Its first album, Untold Truths, was released in 2008, and there have been three more since.
“I wasn’t sure how it might work,” Costner wrote of the band on social media. “I wasn’t really sure what to say. But if life has taught me anything, it was to not be stopped by the question or the unknown. F*** it, what did I have to lose but maybe some of the best times of my life?”
Costner’s next movie, currently in production by Netflix and scheduled for October release, is the crime drama the Highwaymen, alongside Woody Harrelson.