Nationality: American. Born: Compton, near Los Angeles, 18 January 1955. Education: Studied business at the University of California, Fullerton; studied acting at the South Coast Actors Co-op. Family: Married Cindy Silva, 1978 (divorced 1994), three children: Annie, Lily, and Joe. Career: Worked in marketing for six weeks, left
Films as Actor:
Stacey's Knights ( Winning Steak ) (Wilson) (as Will Bonner); Shadows Run Black (Heard) (as Jimmy Scott); Chasing Dreams (Roche and Conte) (as Ed)
Frances (Clifford) (as Man in Alley); Night Shift (Ron Howard) (as Frat Boy #1)
The Big Chill (Kasdan) (as Alex; scenes deleted); Testament (Littman) (as Phil Pitkin); Table for Five (Lieberman) (as Newlywed Husband)
American Flyers (Badham) (as Marcus Sommers)
Silverado (Kasdan) (as Jake); Fandango (Reynolds) (as Gardner Barnes)
Sizzle Beach U.S.A. (Malibu Hot Summer) (Brander—produced in 1974) (as John Logan)
The Untouchables (De Palma) (as Eliot Ness); No Way Out (Donaldson) (as Lt. Cmdr. Tom Farrell)
Bull Durham (Shelton) (as Crash Davis)
Field of Dreams (Robinson) (as Ray Kinsella); The Gunrunner (Castillo—produced in 1983) (as Ted Beaubien)
Revenge (Scott) (as Cochran, + co-pr)
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Reynolds) (title ro, + co-pr); JFK (Stone) (as Jim Garrison); Truth or Dare (Keshishian—doc) (as Himself)
The Bodyguard (Jackson) (as Frank Farmer, + co-pr); Beyond 'JFK': A Question of Conspiracy (Kopple, Schechter—doc) (as Interviewee); John Barry-Moviola (Brien—doc) (as Himself)
A Perfect World (Eastwood) (as Butch Haynes)
The War (Avnet) (as Stephen); Wyatt Earp (Kasdan) (title role, + pr)
Waterworld (Reynolds) (as the Mariner, + co-pr)
Tin Cup (Shelton) (as Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy)
Message in a Bottle (Mandoki) (as Garret Blake); For Love of the Game (Raimi) (as Billy Chapel)
Play It to the Bone (Shelton) (cameo appearance); Thirteen Days (Donaldson) (as Kenny O'Donnell); 3,000 Miles to Graceland (Lichtenstein)
Beyond Borders (Stone)
Films as Director:
Dances with Wolves (+ pr, ro)
The Postman (+ ro)
Films as Producer:
Rapa Nui (Reynolds)
Head Above Water (Wilson) (co-pr)
By COSTNER: book—
Dances with Wolves: The Illustrated Story of the Epic Film , with Michael Blake and Jim Wilson, New York, 1990.
By COSTNER: articles—
Biskind, Peter, "Kevin Costner: The Untouchables ' New Ness," in American Film (Hollywood), vol. 12, no. 8, 1987.
Interview in Time Out (London), 6 January 1988.
Andrew, Geoff, "Indian Bravery," interview in Time Out (London), 9 January 1991.
Winnert, Derek, "Untouchable Costner," interview in Radio Times (London), 2 February 1991.
Case, Brian, "The Men Who Shot J.F.K.," interview in Time Out (London), 8 January 1992.
Charity, Tom, "Hell and High Water," interview in Time Out (London), 26 July 1995.
Graham, Alison, "Will Costner Sink or Swim?" interview in Radio Times (London), 12 August 1995.
On COSTNER: books—
Hamilton, Sue L., Kevin Costner: Award-Winning Actor/Director , Edina, Minnesota, 1991.
Keith, Todd, Kevin Costner: The Unauthorized Biography , London, 1991.
Wright, Adrian, Kevin Costner: A Life on Film , London, 1992.
Caddies, Kelvin, Kevin Costner: Prince of Hollywood , 1994.
Edelman, Rob, Great Baseball Films , New York, 1994.
Fournier, Roland, Kevin Costner , Monaco, 1995.
On COSTNER: articles—
McGillivray, David, "Kevin Costner," in Films and Filming (Lon-don), July 1987.
"Pursuing the Dream," in Time (New York), 26 August 1989.
Current Biography 1990 , New York, 1990.
Morais, R. C., "Kevin Costner Journeys to a New Frontier," in New York Times , 4 November 1990.
Schruers, Fred, "Kevin Costner," in Rolling Stone (New York), 29 November 1990.
Hubler, Eric, "The Way You Were," in Premiere (New York), January 1991.
Deitch, Mark, "Kevin Costner: Screen of Dreams," in National Film Theatre Booklet (London), February 1991.
Pearce, Garth, " Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ," in Empire (Lon-don), August 1991.
Mills, Bart, "Kevin Costner: A Modest Superstar," in Saturday Evening Post , September/October 1991.
Klein, Edward, "Costner in Control," in Vanity Fair (New York), January 1992.
Janos, Leo, "Kevin Costner: The Prince Who Would Be King (of Hollywood)," in Cosmopolitan (New York), March 1992.
Weinraub, Bernard, "The Name Costner Acquires a Question Mark," in New York Times , 21 February 1995.
Bellafante, G., "Broken Peace," in Time (New York), 31 July 1995.
Brown, C., "Water Torture," in Premiere (New York), August 95.
Vollers, M., "Costner's Last Stand," in Esquire (New York), June 1996.
Millea, Holly, "Imperfect World," in Premiere (New York), Janu-ary 1998.
Angell, Roger, "Kevin Costner Takes the Mound at Yankee Sta-dium," in New Yorker , 7–14 December 1998.
* * *
At the beginning of his career, Kevin Costner spent several years knocking around the edges of the film industry. Some of his roles were so small that his presence was barely noticed. Others were bigger parts in dreadful low-budget potboilers that later came back to haunt him when they ingloriously appeared in video stores. He caught the attention of critics and audiences with his scene-stealing, star-making supporting performance as Jake, a roguish gunslinging cowboy, in the Lawrence Kasdan Western Silverado . The plum role was a payback of sorts from Kasdan; Costner earlier had played Alex, whose suicide sparks the chain of events which unfolds in The Big Chill , but the director decided to cut the character from the film's final edit. All that remains of Costner in The Big Chill are his feet in the opening sequence, as Alex is being prepared for his funeral. Costner similarly had been cut from Frances , a biography of Frances Farmer, appearing on-screen ever so briefly in a scene in an alley in which he has one line.
Costner was to solidify his stardom playing square-jawed, true-blue all-American heroes. He specialized in such character types early on, playing Eliot Ness in The Untouchables , a remake of the classic television series, and a stalwart naval officer who uncovers corruption in No Way Out . Both these characters are generic Hollywood good guys who remain uncorrupted as they take on the scenario's villains. Around this time, Costner expressed his desire to be linked to the Frank Capra-Jimmy Stewart tradition, playing boyish and stable leads, and he did just that in the baseball films Bull Durham and Field of Dreams . In the former, he is aging catcher Crash Davis, a ballyard purist who understands and loves the game, but whose limited talent has kept him in the minor leagues for most of his career, with only brief appearances in "The Show." In the latter, by far his most Capraesque film, he is Ray Kinsella, a Midwest farmer who is told by a divine voice to replace his corn stalks with a baseball field. Both these heroes are in the classic Hollywood tradition. In an earlier era, each might have been played by Stewart; indeed, during its publicity tour, Costner touted Field of Dreams as "our generation's It's a Wonderful Life ." Furthermore, Costner's Jim Garrison in JFK may lack the outright innocence of Stewart's Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington , but they remain linked in their idealism and vigor. As Costner orates in court on how the facts of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have been concealed from the American public, he becomes reminiscent of Stewart filibustering on the Senate floor and exposing venal Washington politicians.
Nevertheless, the appealing boyishness of Costner's characters was not always Capraesque. It may be in Field of Dreams , where Ray Kinsella's true-blue idealism becomes one of the scenario's overriding factors. But in Silverado , that innocence is portrayed as outright immaturity, as his character acts recklessly (and easily might have come to be known as "Jake the Kid"). At the same time, Costner has more than adequately played the contemporary male sex symbol. His characters are anything but boyish when tangling with their female counterparts. In No Way Out , he and Sean Young share a headline-making rendezvous in the back seat of a limousine, and his between-the-sheets antics with Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham are no less erotically charged.
Costner's heroes also are contemporary in that they are alienated souls who occasionally take on subversive edges. His Lt. John Dunbar, the Civil War soldier in Dances with Wolves , is anything but the traditional American Western hero in that he is as deeply troubled as highly principled, and he goes on to renounce western civilization and join (rather than fight) a Lakota Sioux Indian tribe. Overall, in the first section of his career, Costner embodied the traditional Hollywood hero. The actors surrounding him may be cast in the juicier and more colorful roles: Robert De Niro and Sean Connery in The Untouchables ; Gene Hackman in No Way Out ; Tim Robbins in Bull Durham ; Graham Greene and Rodney A. Grant in Dances with Wolves ; and, later on, Alan Rickman and Morgan Freeman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves . But Costner's presence in each film is essential, as it serves as a consistent calming and stabilizing force at the scenario's center.
Dances with Wolves is to date the summit of Costner's career, if only because he directed as well as starred in the film—and won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. As a film, it is deeply flawed. With the exception of Dunbar, the whites all are depicted as grungy, crazy, sadistic, or (in the case of the Civil War general who travels with his own personal surgeon) products of a class system. Meanwhile, the Lakota Sioux are, to a person, attractive, squeaky-clean models of reason. Dances with Wolves is almost laughable in its superficial political correctness. And why so much graphic, stomach-churning violence? Perhaps Costner was trying to contrast the harsh reality of life on the American frontier with its breathtaking natural beauty. This could have been accomplished in one poignant, cleverly directed sequence. In Dances with Wolves , there is a distasteful overdose of blood and pain.
Costner slipped somewhat in his immediate post- Dances with Wolves career, in that he was unable to find an interesting role in a commercially successful film. By far his two best mid-1990s parts came in A Perfect World and The War . In each, he plays a character with a deeply troubled past who attempts to be a positive role model to children. Costner may have given an excellent performance—arguably the best of his career—in A Perfect World , playing Butch Haynes, a sympathetic prison escapee who takes a young boy hostage. The film's director, Clint Eastwood, has the standard hero role, that of the Texas Ranger who sets out on Haynes's trail. But audiences rejected Costner in A Perfect World , and the film was a financial failure. He also is fine in The War , playing an unstable but well-intentioned Vietnam veteran. Moviegoers did not flock to see the film, however, preferring him instead in The Bodyguard , in which he stars as an icy-cold professional bodyguard who falls for the superstar singer he has been hired to protect. Aside from its wide popularity, The Bodyguard is an overripe exercise in Hollywood corn.
In spite of the prominence of his role in JFK , that film is a star vehicle for its director, Oliver Stone, rather than any of the actors in its cast. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (despite a delightfully campy performance from Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham) pales in comparison to similar films of an earlier era; the same might be said for Wyatt Earp , featuring Costner in the title role, in which he is reteamed with Silverado director Kasdan.
In Waterworld , Costner attempted to enter Stallone-Schwarzenegger territory as a cartoon hero in a special effects-laden action movie extravaganza. But the film will be remembered not for its entertainment value but for the reams of negative publicity it earned as the costliest movie made to date. While not the fiasco of a Heaven's Gate or Ishtar , Waterworld did nothing to enhance Costner's career. Yet the film was the equal of Star Wars when contrasted to his career nadir: The Postman , a laughably ludicrous post-apocalyptic allegory that was a critically skewered box office disaster. Costner directed as well as starred, playing a drifter-loner who impersonates a postman and becomes the savior of a war-ravaged populace.
If he is to remain a bankable movie personality, Costner would be advised to seek out roles that are aging versions of the ones that firmed up his stardom. This is precisely what he did in two of his late 1990s releases, both reminiscent of Bull Durham and Field of Dreams in that their scenarios reflect on sports as a metaphor for life. The first is Tin Cup , in which he was reunited with Bull Durham director Ron Shelton. Costner exudes charm as a broken-down golf pro who operates a dinky driving range and sets out to qualify for the United States Open, but is done in by his lack of discipline and obsession with hitting the perfect golf ball. Adding to his appeal is his romantic pairing and verbal sparring with a talented and attractive co-star, Rene Russo. In For Love of the Game, the final installment in what may be considered Costner's baseball trilogy, the actor plays an aging Detroit Tigers pitcher and future Hall of Famer who hurls a perfect game in Yankee Stadium. While not in the same league as Bull Durham and Field of Dreams , For Love of the Game is a fine companion piece that is a knowing story of baseball and baseball psychology, of team effort, time passing, and bonds between fathers and sons. Off the field, when the scenario spotlights Costner's character and his girlfriend, played by Kelly Preston, the film works as a love story featuring fully fleshed-out characters in a believable relationship.
In between Tin Cup and For Love of the Game , Costner faltered in the less-successful Message in a Bottle , a contrived tearjerker casting him as a grieving widower who tentatively becomes involved in a new romantic relationship. So in addition to finding good roles, he also must look for good scripts.
—Mark Walker, updated by Rob Edelman