Kevin Cosner is one of the best, a Hollywood legend who had time to sit with us and discuss politics in Spain, culture and books. During the promotion of his last movie, Criminal, Costner detailed how difficult is to succeed and maintain his status.
As a criminal psychopath implanted with CIA agent Ryan Reynold’s memories, Costner delivers his most energetic performance since Silverado. Kevin Costner’s newest bid for Liam Neeson--style late-career action significance proves to be one of his most solid. He’s the central figure in “Criminal,” a mind-meld espionage yarn featuring the 61-year-old as Jerico, a violent psychopath implanted with a dead CIA spy’s valuable memories.
Q: I've never seen you this evil. I couldn't believe you were cast for this role.
Kevin Costner: I don't know why they cast me. I wouldn't have cast me. I wouldn't have thought that I would be cast because the movie they saw me in was Draft Day. So I said I was a pancake eating motherfucker. So, it's like, was that enough to do it? So, it was an odd thing. But I have to tell you I went to London in a way that I didn't like. Number one I didn't know how I was going to play it. I really didn't. I didn't have a clue because I just didn't. I'm flying over there and I'm not sure. I'd grown my hair long. I'd grown a long beard. And I land there and I get my hotel room and I go to the set and I'm supposed to rape Gal Godot the first day, and I'm like, "Hi Gal. How are you?" You know, “I'm just going to rape you, right?” You know that? And so, then the next thing I know I have to cut my hair because that was the look that was supposed to happen in prison. So, I had to go in the makeup thing without the director, because he's shooting, I'm going, "What am I going to look like? What am I going to do?" And I just started really slow. And I just said, "Look. We know he has an operation." And I saw what the thing was going to look like and I said, "Let's just go like they didn't care about this man." And they just went-- zip, zip, and left him a hamburger patty on the top and then I started taking my beard down. Really that's-- once you go too far you can't get it back either so it was like that, thin it, that, thin it, that, thin it. There was another makeup person who was reading a magazine going, "That, thin it. That, thin it." It was not easy. And I actually didn't know what my voice was going to be so when I say I didn't know how I was going to play it I was being incredibly sincere, but man I started to see it come alive and it looked like a pretty fierce look to me. And then I said, let's out the stuff on the holes, and big stitches. And leave the strings because this is a big concept we are getting people to believe. This is a popcorn movie. I mean come on, I'm taking the slice of this guy, so at least we can make it look vicious. At least we can make it look like that's what they did. And they don't care if I live or die. You know. They'd like me to live, but they're willing to take a chance on me. So, let's not make it cosmetically beautiful and I said, "And also you can't film it that way. You can't try to avoid it." I'm not saying you have to do a close up on it, but you can't avoid it. That's got to be a part of me being in pain. And then I tried to figure out-- I'd go, "What's my voice going to be?" And that's really everything I'm telling you to be quite honest. Not trying to be a pansy. It's not fair. You're supposed to be able to rehearse two or three weeks and try to find these things. And so, the look was done and the makeup and then I had to decide what voice I was going to do here. And then I started thinking about being choked all the time by that thing. And I thought that even though if it's not choking me, if I go too far, it hurts me. So, I thought, "What if that's affecting my voice?" And as soon as I knew that I knew I could rape Gal. What I'm telling you is letter perfect. On the plane I don't know how to play it. I'm off book with my lines. I know what my lines are. I was able to do that. But I could never tie in to this fierceness and the evil. Then I started to get to that pretty easily. And the sense of wonder and fun with certain things. To have a nice coffee. Wow that was nice to say something in another language that I don't even know. I was really pleased with that, and then have some fuck take that away from me. Because when I said motherfucker to him I wasn't being mean to him. I was going, "I'm speaking Spanish motherfucker." And then he says in his English way, "It's whatever motherfucker." And he took the fun away from me. So, now I'm not Ryan Reynolds anymore. Now I'm I don't know. But now quickly as soon as he's-- I really liked that I did all that sugar. He goes back and forth. That kind of thing, so--
Q: So, when you first read the script what was it that resonated with you that you were like, "I've got to play this role."
Kevin Costner: I turned it down two or three times. I said, "I don't even know why you'd come after me for this." But when I looked in the mirror I thought, "You're not in Fandango anymore." When I looked at it I thought, "I can play this guy. I can play this guy." I can play this high level of violence. The way I have to play it is in a very unfancy way. When I fight those four guys in a van there's a strategy in that. These guys are hooligans. I couldn't take on four guys coming at me. But I could if I go this way. And this guy thinks he's coming this way. And I go this way. Then I go that way, and I take that lunch box and I hit him. And I throw it. This thing, I just did. I don't know why I did it. I was like happy that I'd won. And the director liked it. But it was an adrenaline rush. But if you can take on a logic I can see him winning that fight with that level of strategy that was made up on the fly.
Q: Is it somewhat therapeutic to play a guy who just can let out that anger on set since you can't do it at home?
Kevin Costner: I've heard people say that. I didn't. I try to keep it all about animal instinct to survive. Not like I get a chance to let loose. In the back of that car-- the writer writes something, but they don't know that I want to rip that metal off with my teeth. Everything he can do to survive, he's going to survive. If he can. Even the poor guy he hit in the car in the head on, he looks at him and takes a cigarette and thinks some more, and some more. It's not whatever it is. But if you tie into it you almost know what to say. When I'm writing or doing something like that you almost can't take credit for your writing when somebody goes, "Oh that was really good writing." You go, "I don't know how good it was because I actually saw it come out of a person's mouth." So, it's like I copied what I saw in my head. You know, it just comes out. People who try to play a genius. I think it's a little bit disingenuous because it's almost like tracing. It just comes to you and you go, "Oh. That's what he says. That's what he does. That's how you do it. You see the vision of it." So, you can't really take credit for it, or you can and you can create that little vibe of being a genius.
Q: Do you think on politics when you play these kinds of characters and the villain is a Spanish anarchist?
Kevin Costner: No. I just thought that guy-- I've seen guys like that. That guy survives by being a leader of guys, but he doesn't survive individually. And I showed him when I threw that hatchet at him. It was like usually when somebody is holding a girl nobody throws the hatchet. Usually when you do that you know he's for real. Whatever he has in his hands is a weapon. In fact in that fight in the van it got cut out, but one of their friends was still in that store. And he came out to fight. He looks down to see all these guys and he sees me and he breaks a bottle. And I look at him and I look at that van and there's an antennae and I rip that antennae right off. It's a long piece of metal and I look at him, and it's like he doesn't want anything to do with that street fighting thing. So, there's a thing where you try to be inventive on the street, and I just point that thing at him like a bull fighter like I'm going to take your eye out like this and beat you and he goes the other way which makes sense he chose not to keep that. That was like, "Okay. So you've written a guy who comes out with a bottle. What am I supposed to do, take his hand out of the way? How about I just rip his hands out and see how much he really wants to fight? And then if he doesn't want to fight it make him highly intelligent.
Q: Do you speak Spanish?
Kevin Costner: Just a little bit. Not much, but I’m very interested in what is going on in Spain. I find is a fascinated country
Q: Any author from our country that you read?
Kevin Costner: I read Carlos Ruiz Zafón, I just don’t remember the title of his book.
Q: Kevin, did you have any of this self doubt back when you did Graceland?
Kevin Costner: No. I didn't. I depend on the writing. That guy was written really well. And so, sometimes when it's written really well you just have to embrace it. You go for it. You know what I mean? I really liked playing that character too. I really liked doing that guy. So, I hope my characters are written really well and then that helps me. I depend on good writing.
Q; The writer and director came in before and said you had quite a few notes.
Kevin Costner: I did.
Q: How do you go about those? Was it on the spot?
Kevin Costner: First off what you have to say to them before you join a movie-- I've worked on about ten or eleven scripts where I never changed a line. So, that's not an MO of me to come in and put my thumb print on things because I really love writing. But sometimes writing is mixed up and it doesn't make sense and sometimes they understand other characters better than other characters. And so, my first question to people before I sign on is, "I'm going to have to have some things changed." As opposed to saying, "I love it." And then getting to set and saying you wanted to change it. And that really fucks everybody up. It's not fair. So, really my approach is I usually tell people the bad news first. It's not necessarily bad news. I just think this needs some work to find a level of humor in this that's not winking at itself. I said he has to have some good moments. He has to be pleased with some things that happen. That he wouldn't normally be pleased with. Like the music in the car. It's got a good thump to it. It does. It's got a good thing to it.
Q: Like Sugarpuss. I loved the Sugarpuss line. I also loved the emotional signs.
Kevin Costner: That was a little thing. I'm not sure if that was written. At a certain point I don't remember who's what, and it doesn't matter to me. But there was a certain point-- even in Black and White the little girl does that to me. But the difference of that is I don't know what that is at first because I haven't been driving her to school. My wife who's passed away-- I don't know if you saw the movie. That's different. That's a play on it. But it's a very different way to go about that but he knows about that because he's Ryan Reynolds at that moment. He knows about that. The writers did a good job with that and they embraced the things that I wanted to do a little bit.
Q: Earlier the writer David Weisberg was talking about how important the scenes between you and Gal were and how the rest of the movie fell in line after that. After you got over the initial first meeting that you had mentioned, how did you sort of collaborate an approach?
Kevin Costner: I'm always forcing, "Let's go do the lines. Let's go do the lines." Whenever we can. Come over to the room and let's do the lines. Come over to the trailer and let's do the lines. It's like I'm a rehearsal guy. I need repetition. I need trying. And those scenes down in that basement scene-- there's a lot of basement to that scene, but at first there's no movement at all. But I go, "Look this is a guy that's on the move. He doesn't want to stay with his family so I have to make every line work for me down there. How I move. How I go. How I end up in the thing. And the thing keeps calling me back, so they were all very patient with me because I have to find it. Because I'm playing a bullshit character and I have to make it real. I'm playing a guy that's taking on a guy's memory. We can't do that. We know we're doing it with animals. But I'm trying to make it real. So, that means I don't always know the answer, so if you're trying to make me do this scene faster you're taking away a level of my intelligence which is, I don't know what the answer is. I just know that they put something in my head and it's made me feel things. And when people settle in with the thing everybody seems to act better because the movement is real. You know? She pulls a gun on me. One of the most telling lines in that scene is when I say, "Look. Billy could never hurt you, so I can't either." And It's like, that's weird because I could hurt anybody. It's a really powerful line and that's a David line. That's not my line, so I appreciate that.
Q: It's also a turning point in the entire film.
Kevin Costner: Yeah. It has a to be a turning point for her. What she does with that information, she can do. It's not a turning point for me. It's just like, "Look you don't have to point that fucking gun at me because I'm not going to hurt you." But for her that has to be a turning point.
Q: it is for us, too, watching it.
Kevin Costner: Yeah. But it's not for me. You have to understand when your turning points are, but they can be for other characters, so it's really character how you deliver that so they can have that moment.
Q: At this stage in your life, I know you're working on an eight hour western--
Kevin Costner: It's hard because a lot of people think, "You get to do anything you want." It's not true because I'm a bit out of step.
Q: So, I know you said you like to sit and write and construct this, but stuff like this takes you away from that. How do you choose to go off for a couple months to shoot something? What has to happen for you to choose that?
Kevin Costner: Yeah. I know what you mean. Look. I have swung for the fences with certain types of investments that I think could really change the world. Oil and water separation. I never let go of that. Right now I'm on the verge of taking water out of oil and letting it go back into agricultural because of membranes and things. I have put an enormous amount of money in technologies. I try to do electric batteries and magnetic batteries. I have never been about trying to make my pile grow bigger. I never thought that I would have money, so I have a level of money and fame, but I do still have to work because some of the thing that I have and tried to do. I haven't been somebody who's going to make their pile bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. No. I don't have to do anything for the rest of my life. Probably even now I don't have to do anything the rest of my life. But it might mean I might lose some of the things I really care about. And I don't want to lose them. So, I have a level of obligation, but I try to serve myself more. And I have to at a certain point if I'm not going to be able to do the things I want to do. I have always been a storyteller. That's why I invested so much time into the explorer's guild. I haven't worked for a year and a half. You might not think that, but I've probably done that four times in my career. I have not amassed the amount of movie that other people that you would put in my category have. I've stopped, and I just do what I want to do.
Q: What's the state of the western?
Kevin Costner: It's pretty great. It was as strong as anything I've ever been a part of. I think I'm going to figure out somebody to do it. It's just really good.
Q: To do it you mean the lead actor?
Kevin Costner: I'm an actor in it. I'm not the lead actor in it. It's just beautiful.
Q: Working title?
Kevin Costner: It's called Horizon.
Q: Are you done?
Kevin Costner: I haven't been able to shoot it. I have to get--
Q: But are you done writing it?
Kevin Costner: Yes, I am for the most part. I'm formatting a little bit. But I could shoot it as four movies, meaning wouldn't you like to watch a movie every six months that was building. Memorial Day. Thanksgiving. Fourth of July. Christmas. And go, "I just saw four movies that were all the same movie and they're beautiful." I could do that. But everybody goes, "What?" This is what they say, "What if the first one doesn't work? Now we have three others?" And I go, "I understand how you're thinking." But it's really hard It's hard when you have something in your mind that you want to do. I feel like people will go on my ride. Hatfield's and McCoy's was supposed to be two nights and I made it three nights because I wouldn't allow anything to be cut. Simply because it's how it made it work. It wasn't genius-- because a lot of people go, "You brought the big long miniseries back." And I go, "Really? No. I just said it should be what it is." So, if you're making a long one and it's not any good, it probably shouldn't have been made. So, I don't think there's a great mystery to what we do. The hard part is the writing. You guys are writers. Writing is hard. It's really hard. And it's really hard to write a movie. It's really hard to write a eulogy. It's really hard to write a speech. It's not hard to do Q and A. We can be clever with each other. We can be whatever. But to actually control a room with an arc, a story, an emotion-- that's an art form and it's the same as a movie. It's really an art form and if you don't think so just know there's not a lot of great movies. There's good movies. Great movies. There's not a lot of them because it's hard to do. That's about as simple of math as I could say it. If it was easy to do everybody could do it. We have everybody doing it to a certain extent, but it's really hard to make a crafted movie.
Q: Could you talk about the water cleaning and if it gave you a lifestyle change?
Kevin Costner: I'm a big what if guy. I've been watching oil spills as long as you have. And they all look the fucking same. You wake up and there's this water lapping on the beach. And there's people with rubber boots and straw. And I've been watching that since like '68 or '69. And I was really stoned I think in the '90s and I saw another one. And I saw the Exxon Valdez. And I thought, "Why can't we separate oil from water at really high speeds?" And so I bought technology and put $20 million in it and figured out how to do it. And oil companies wouldn't buy it for 20 years. It was called Sink.
Q: Why not buy it?
Kevin Costner: Because they're a publicly traded company and a publicly traded company has a mandate which is to increase profits. And anything that doesn't increase profits you're not supposed to do. So, when you're a publicly traded company what happens is you have a stockholders meeting at the end of the year. And thousands of people come and somebody stands up and says, "You just paid a billion dollars for cleanup equipment. Why would you do that?" And the CEO would say, "Because we're going to continue to have oil spills.
And when we have them we always get these big fines and these big public black eyes." And so I decided here's a piece of technology where we can actually do it, and not pretend to do it. Right now they pretend to do it. They put nets out there. They pretend to do it. But they're hoping it will sink or now they know how to make it sink. So, what happens is that CEO who might be very evolved says he thinks it will be good for the company to avoid these future things and avoid these PR problems at least be proactive in this world. And then that person says, "You know what? That was my dividend. And did anybody tell you, you had to do that? Did the government tell you, you had to do that. Did the state tell you, you had to do that?" And so that guy is out because he just spent a billion dollars that could've gone to dividend people who also care about the environment. So that's why. Until they are mandated to do something. They're supposed to have equipment out there to clean. They do. Guess what? It's their stuff and it doesn't work. It's called the MSRC. And so everybody has this warm fuzzy feeling that in every harbor there's somebody who's making 300 grand a year and that boat sits there. But it doesn't mean it works. You have to extract it out of the environment. And I knew how to do that. Well, I'm still in the business and I'm actually working with the oil industry now to do things. I'm probably not living as large as you might think because of that. Because it's gone to a lot of things that are what if's. I kind of like that and I'm not that smart about stuff, but I love engineers and scientists just like I love writers. I like to work with people. I like to collaborate. And I support them and encourage them. We can do this, but you have to work harder.
Q: So, you're a man of the future?
Kevin Costner: Yeah, but I'm always drawn to the west.
Q: One last five second anecdote for you. I once asked the great actor Armin Mueller- Stahl how he creates a character and he says, "I start with the shoes." I thought of that when you started talking about how your face brought you into this character.
Kevin Costner: It makes sense that everybody has something different. But you have to get it somehow. And I didn't have it til the day and that is no way to run a railroad. And a lot of people take the wrong thing from that thinking, "Oh on the next movie. I'll just show up on the day." We do that all the time in Hollywood when we get away with something-- instead of going, "I got away with that. Let's never do that again." They go, "That's the new blueprint. We don't need that rehearsal. We don't need that. We don't need this. We just go up and somehow this is going to work." And people sometimes take getting away with if you're not disciplined as a child you take the wrong lesson. It catches up to you.