Kevin Costner's voice is immediately recognizable in a "Kevin Costner" sort of way. So much so that when Costner called for our interview and asked for me by name, I felt stupid playing along by responding "This is Mike," as opposed to just blurting out, "I know you are Kevin Costner and I have a million things that I want to ask you about."
Costner plays Jonathan Kent, the Earth-bound father to Clark Kent, a.k.a Kal-El a.k.a Superman, in the new film "Man of Steel." The 58-year-old star has been acting now for close to 35 years, and he is exactly what you would expect and hope for: polite, engaging and, at this point in his career, a straight shooter. Ahead, our longer-than-expected conversation fluctuates from refection on two of his bigger career disappointments -- "Waterworld" and "The Postman" -- to highlights that include "Bull Durham," "The Untouchables" and the time he called parents to tell them he got paid a million dollars.
No actor has the ability to make me cry more than you do. You did it to me again in "Man of Steel."
Oh, no! [Laughs]
I mean that as a compliment.
Well, you know, somebody told me once that only another man can make another man cry. It takes another man to make another man cry -- something he says where you relate so strongly to what you think he's actually going through. And then you kind of absorb that as your own idea. So, thanks.
It's interesting because both examples I'm thinking of -- this movie and "Field of Dreams" -- involves a father and son.
Well, you're alive and you have feelings and even though we bury them to do our jobs, no matter how cynical a world we're operating in -- no matter how cynical we can become -- you're still a part of what's going on out there in the world. You can feel emotions pretty deep. You can feel them. And the movies, if they have the right architecture, can surprise us sometimes that it's right there.
Are you a comic book guy?
Because in a different time or place, something like "Waterworld" has a comic book vibe to it.
Yeah, I'm not tied into them. I wasn't a comic book person. You know, I loved making "Waterworld." I like that it's tied into, you know, where you have to use your wits about you. You're not able to kind of wink -- you're not able to do that. I like living by your wits. That's not to say I wouldn't do one, but I've never been asked to do one.
Did you have to be convinced to do "Man of Steel"?
I was unsure. But I was very sure that [Director] Zack [Snyder] would make something really original. I really felt that he wouldn't be making another version -- he would be making something that stood on its own. I was really hoping that was the case ... I'm taking a little bit off of what you're saying and what a few other people said. So, I wanted it to be original, I wanted it to stand alone -- those are the kinds of things you want to try to be a part of.
The original "Superman" movie is a big part of my childhood. "Man of Steel" is a very different interpretation.
And I felt that it would be, just from the color palate. I mean, he didn't run away from any of the mythology of it, but he put an absolute direct spin on it. That's for sure.
You've won an Oscar for directing. When you're an actor in a movie, can you turn your director instincts off?
Well, I really am able to divorce myself of it. Because, one, I'm glad that they have the pressure. But if a director is able to embrace me, I can just sit back there and look to make sure he doesn't step on the line. And that doesn't even mean he has, but if he would spin and asked me something, I'd say something to him. But not in the vein of, "I think he's doing it wrong." It's more of a, "I watch and I look out for my director." If they want input from me, they can get it. I won't always know what to do about a certain situation or certain problem ... I'm out there every day with them, if I think they're overwhelmed, or whatever, if they look to me, I might say something -- but I don't feel the need to.
You have a lot of big projects coming up -- "Man of Steel," "Jack Ryan," "Draft Day" -- and, admittedly, I'm probably over-thinking it, but can something like the success of "Hatfield & McCoys" lead to these huge movies after a few years where you weren't doing huge movies?
Yeah, well, I just had three kids, so I sat out for about three years. Listen, no one knew that "Hatfield & McCoys" was going to be successful, believe me. Everybody saw that as a little hillbilly movie. I wanted to be a part of it -- I wasn't trying to resurrect anything.
It killed the Brad Pitt theatrical version.
Yeah, to be sure about things, the town works in a way that perception is a really important thing in Hollywood. It's never informed me. For instance, if I thought an actor was really good and he was either out of favor or didn't seem to be box office, or whatever, that wouldn't faze me at all. I don't ever let that affect me. Now, I do think that other people do feel that way. But if I wanted somebody to be my lead because he was the very best person for it, I wouldn't give a shit about what his box office was because the story is still the thing and who fills those shoes is really important.
You have nothing else to prove at this point, but I did wonder if, during that time period, if you were going to give up acting and just play in your band. Was that ever a thought?
No ... there was no plan. It amuses me if someone thinks I'm trying to reinvent myself. Everything I do in my life, whether it's trying to solve a oil spill or something like that, it's just because I feel like it. It's just because I feel like it. People have zero idea about even what my logic is, of how I do things. About a month ago I realized that I played at the Kremlin with my band -- who would have thought that that would have come out of this thing? It wasn't trying to be relevant. It wasn't trying to reinvent myself. It was just making original music with my friends.
I never thought that you were trying to reinvent yourself. I was just getting the impression that you were enjoying music more than acting and I'm glad to see you back in movies. Selfishly, I'll admit.
I did a lot of writing -- I have about five or six movies I'd like to make. I worked on five or six movies writing that I'd like to direct as I play out the second half of my career. I will do them, but none of them link up with each other except, hopefully, in the story department -- that they're all engaging stories. So, in the second half of my career, I'd like to direct a little bit more, but people don't always have a real appetite for the kind of movie that I would direct. So, we'll just see.
I have a theory. If "The Postman" came out today instead of 1997, more people would like it.
[Laughs] Well, I always thought it was a really good movie! I always thought I probably started it wrong. I should have said something like "once upon a time." Because it was just like a modern-day fairy tale -- it wraps itself up with a storybook ending with the statue. You know, I thought it was a pretty funny movie set against the idea of a Superman -- somebody stepping up. But in this case, it's a very humble guy whose nothing but a liar [laughs] -- delivers mail and burns half of it just to stay alive. So, I like the movie.
It just seems that kind of thing would go over better today. It's a theory, I have no idea if I'm right.
I don't know either. I know that if you revisit the movie, that's a good thing to do. You can go back and revisit some movies that made well over $100 million and you might not care anything about them. And you can go back and maybe review a movie like that -- you know, it was a pretty big, epic movie.
It annoys me when I see "Waterworld" mentioned in those box office bombs lists, because it's not true. It made money. Do you ever want to speak up or write in when you see that?
Yeah, I've probably said it ad nauseum, but people don't give a shit [laughs], so, it doesn't really matter. It just is what it is. But it stands up as a really exotic, cool movie. I mean, it was flawed -- for sure. But, overall, it's a very inventive, cool movie. It's pretty robust.
I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up that we're approaching the 25th anniversary of "Bull Durham." What do you feel is its legacy?
Well, the truth is, when you have a career, you know the forensics of it. And I've had a pretty interesting career, I guess, because I've done a variety of movies. Most of these movies, people try to make the second and third one and I never made a second one. The legacy of certain things is sometimes I forgot how beloved those movies are and then understand all the people in charge, how they passed on these movies. They said, "Look, I'll make it for a couple of million dollars" -- and they were saying they didn't want to make it. And Ron [Shelton] and I basically said that we needed a little more than that. So, they made a beloved movie for $6 million. You know, not a horror film that became a cult favorite -- we made a mainstream movie for that amount of money, a boy-girl movie. And, you know, those are the movies that I'm attracted to. So, some of them are going to work and some of them are not. I've never tried to stick myself into studio blockbusters -- it's nice to be a part of them, but it's never been a strategy to just work with A-list directors, period. No. I've worked with a lot of first time writers and directors -- you know, that's what I've done.
You may not have inserted yourself into blockbusters, but you had to realize at a certain point that you had become a movie star.
I guess when you make a million dollars, you feel like you want to tell somebody. And, you know, it's kind of gross with the background that you don't ask a person what they make or how much they got paid for it. But, you know [laughs], you make a million dollars and you kind of go, "Holy shit!"
I would imagine.
And it's like, I guess, does that define it? No. But you kind of went, "God, I'm able to do this. I'm able to really do this." "The Untouchables," I remember I got that [amount] for the first time. And I remember they were only going to pay me $800,000 -- I say "only," that's not "only," they're going to spend $800,000. I made $750,000 for "No Way Out" and they came to me for "The Untouchables" and they said they'd offer me $800,000. And I said, "It's got to be a million." And they said, "We can't do it." And I said, "Yes, you can." I got the remaining $200,000 deferred at the point the movie came out, so I got to my million. And I was able to tell my parents, "Your son, the fuck up, finally did it. It worked out OK."
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.