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Kevin Costner | At Home on the Range - Kinda
an emily blunt interview

 

Kevin Costner has made a helluva film in his Open Range folks. I admit to being a big ol' Western loving chickbabe. Frankly, who doesn't love manly men all gruffed up in leather hats and chaps frolicking about on horses playing with guns? Heck, even Blazing Saddles stands proudly amid my "collection."

And yes....yes...Kev's is a bit of pure uncut man snuff to boot— he's not too shabby in his worn-out lean mean jeans neither [she said with an eyebrow raised in devilish delight]. But Open Range goes beyond the fantasy cowboy images that one's mind conjures up to distract oneself during heavier traffic delays. It brings to life a vibrant authentic portrait of America's rough defining past. The minute details are truly superb.

When he showed up for our little chewing of the fat session, he was beaming; as he should be. See, Kevin stars in, and also worked as director behind, this masterpiece. He told me he even took the measly "scale" pay to ensure the piece would make its budget…

Of course it helped that he had a great script, one of the world's greatest talents aboard (Mr. Robert "Sparkle Eyes" Duvall) and the ever-stunning Annette Bening mixed into the cattleman's stew! How could it fail? Oh, in-oh-so-many-ways. But Kevlaboo kept his vision and worked his yummy little buttocks off to create, in my opinion, a modern Western classic.


Emily: What a great great film you've made Kevin. It's just beautiful.

Kev: Thanks!

Emily: What's it like to again direct and act? And a Western?

Kev: Well, it seemed harder than the other two times. I don't know why, but it was difficult to get mounted at first. It was a movie that wasn't going to sell overseas and I wasn't terribly high on anybody's list. So, the difficulty then in picking a genre that can't, in your own mind, sell overseas or even in this country is questionable. I still believe in the movie experience. I mean, I'm not a rube, but I do have a certain naïve feeling about- - naïve is not the right word, but I'm still not afraid of the idea: What's wrong with a movie that you think can't appeal? A western that can't appeal to women, that can't appeal to young people? I happen to know why they don't, at least in my mind, because they haven't appealed to me lately. They've been kind of lazy, they've been stupid, they've been predictable, they've been simple, and they've been essentially costume parties. If you put on a hat and you wear a gun, that's a western, right? Well, it is to a lot of people and that's why to a fairly sophisticated audience, or for that matter, you don't even have to be sophisticated, they're just not good movies. They don't include women and they don't include. So, I know why they haven't worked. I wanted to direct this because I always believe that the things that work most for westerns for me were little things. The big things have to be there obviously. You have the obligatory shootout. If you don't, then you don't have a western. You probably shouldn't make a western. You need that. There's nothing wrong with the formula of westerns. What happens is in the obligatory scenes, people elect to do them in a cliché. And a cliché is what always kills everything. It bores us. It doesn't break any ground. It's not fresh air and so I wanted to direct this because I felt like I do believe in the little things and I believe that in the obligatory things, you want to try to throw them a little bit on their ear, to just break convention and also challenge yourself to do something original.

Emily: Did you have an emotional process to direct again?

Kev: Well, I wasn't afraid to direct again, I just didn't want to because it's so hard; the hours that it takes. And directing the way I do, I mean, I guess it's kind of like sex a little bit. I don't like to watch anybody else make love, so I'm not sure if I'm doing it the right way. I direct in my own way, which seems to be like 24 hours a day. It's how I think about it; it's what I think about, so it takes a lot out of me. I had to go through that process, but it actually was easy for me because what I was in love with in Open Range were the little things and I felt that conventional filmmaking these days such that it is, I felt that those little things would be absolute candidates to be lopped off the movie. Those moments that I really respond to would have been the first casualties, I'm almost positive about that, sure about that.

Emily: [ Did he just say sex? SEX? Okay...focus..he's about to be married - hands off...focus] How about going the Independent financing route for you?

Well, it makes a big difference because it made a difference where we had to shoot the movie, which was in Calgary. We made the movie for just over $20 million and all the money goes up on the screen. In this instance, I didn't take a salary for directing. I took minimum. You have to take minimum because that's what is required. But nobody else did. I mean, Robert made as much as he's ever made and all the other actors. I don't like everybody to work under that banner of labor of love. I don't believe that people have to work that way. I work that way because it's what I wanted to do. But I don't have that translate through the rest of the crew. For instance, Dances we made for 16 million and everybody made as much money, if not more than they'd ever made in terms of salary. I come from a low budget world so I kind of know how to use my money, work with my money. In fact, that's always been kind of the painful thing about Waterworld. If I was producing that movie, it would have been done in a different way money-wise. It still would have been really expected, but I watch my money. So, sometimes movies I produce them in different ways meaning you try to stay on track with the script or you're a nuts and bolts kind of producer where you're watching your money. But this project started- - it was not going to go and I put up about $750,000 money. And my producer, David Valdez, put up $100,000. That's a lot of money for a producer to be doing that. And then Jake Eberts of course is a very famous guy and really a true film guy. He put up $400,000 Grand. So what happened was our movie looked more real [laughter]. But, it was really going to stop had they not put their money up. These guys are true producers. [laughter]

Emily: So you've gone with a less then box office baby, is critical or financial success more important to you?

Kev: Criticism is hard to take sometimes. Constructive criticism is something that all of us can do well from. Cute criticism, cynical criticism, skepticism, you know, is very difficult for me to deal with because I take myself, not overly serious, but I don't need for you to make fun of me or the effort that I give, whether something works financially or not. I don't need for somebody to take that kind of shot at me, but when they do, they do, so that kind of hurts. I think criticism is under assault the same way good movies are under assault. I think criticism has to find a better way to be launched. Right now it's just strictly entertainment. It's just how low can you go, how funny can you be? The elitists of the world have problems with people like myself. I can't tell you why, but they do. If I thought criticism was somethin g- - I've already judged the movie myself for me. I know that there's flaws in it. I know what they are. I know what caused them. Either lack of money, lack of talent, the sun went out - I couldn't do anything about it. It's flawed. But I'm satisfied with this movie. So in truth, financially it would be better because then I could go on and make another western. [smiles broadly - and reminds me how handsome he truly is...]That would be better really, because I don't need to have to be told something that I already like or know that I don't like.

Emily: Oh, yeah. So do you sympathize with Ben and J-Lo and this Gigli stampede of thesaurus bashings?

Kev: I think it's probably hard on those two people and whatever criticism they have, I hope it's leveled towards the movie and not towards their personalities. But some people can't draw that line and so it's not easy to be a target, but they are right now. It's not a comfortable place for them, I'm sure.

Emily: What western movies influenced you for Open Range?

Kev: How the West Was Won was influential to me both because it fell in that line of movies that I like which is long narrative. I like narrative, I always have. This movie doesn't fall in that line in a sense. It's not an epic movie that way. But Liberty Valance was a very important movie to me and The Searchers, Red River. And I like The Magnificent Seven because it was a marquee western. It was taking great actors, which sometimes we do now, we take packages like Young Guns or Four Women blah blah blah, but those guys were world-class actors and had really well written parts. It's not enough to just get all your buddies to go together and go make a movie and you're sure the audience will show up. If you're sure the audience will show up, then it's your obligation to even more write scenes that will live, scenes that have like a value.

Emily: It's nice to see Annette [Bening] beside you. You know, a mature real looking woman. You seem to cast age appropriate love interests. How come?

Kev: Well, I think the truth is just as entertaining as the lie, and I think Annette Bening is as attractive and as interesting in that role as any woman you could have put 20 years younger than her. The thing is she fit better and so that is not en vogue, but it seemed right fro the movie and I didn't want to spit on the movie in order to actually have financial success which I'd like to do. Somebody might say, "That will ensure your financial success if you have her." I said, "Yeah, but I want her because she makes the movie better." And so it doesn't seem that hard to do to put her in the movie and just avoid that other thing. I appreciate what you're saying. I have tried to do that, with Mary McDonnell, and Sean Young and Susan Sarandon and Rene Russo. I would do a movie that paired me with a younger woman if it made sense to the text. What we are dealing with is conventional wisdom of moviemaking today and the simple answer to that is what if everybody's wrong? You do need to break ground for yourself and you do need to keep your audience in mind. And I keep my audience in mind because Annette was right. Annette was right. I could be wrong in the conventions of moviemaking. I have no doubt that I am. I'm not necessarily en vogue, but that's okay. I think she's beautiful and I like the lines in her face. And I think it's really important that people understand how brave she was to do it that way. She not only took a supporting part, but she took it in a western. And it's a powerful performance and it shouldn't be lost because it's in a western and that's what I feel about my girl.

Emily: The flooding and raining scenes are intense and obviously quite elaborate and important in Open Range. This is a low budget film [ a mere 20 million folks]. Why not just pooh-pooh the rain, take the easy way out?

Kev: It was a producerial decision because in the original writing there's that flooding of the town, and like I said we didn't have a lot of money. The first casualty is going to be something like that because it would cost us about $250,000 to $300, 000 to create that water and be able to do it repeatedly there was machinery involved. The real question was, "Let's get rid of that. That's a no brainier Kevin. We can get something else going on." I thought about that because you know, in a collaborative process you do think about these things. And I've been accused sometimes of not being collaborative. And I 'd just like to say it's simply not true. I am very Collaborative. People have a different idea of collaboration. One is, "If you don't take my idea, you're not collaborating with me.' That's not collaboration because someone has to run things. Someone has to make a fundamental decision we're going to take that idea we are not going to take that idea. What you do is, to be collaborative in my mind you have to create an environment for collaboration. You can't be afraid to come up to me with an idea. And you can't be afraid to come up and tell me an idea everyday - even if I reject it. I have to make you feel good that you contributed, that you're trying. And then I go, " That's it. We are going to use that!" It might be a very good idea but a picture can't absorb a thousand ideas. So in thewaterthing I had to make a decision it's part of how I'm going to slow things down. Slow the audience down. I needed to let the wagons move really slow and they get stuck and the cattle run away. Without knowing it - our story turns on that. Because what happens is the cattle go away the wagons stuck and we say, "We should get supplies, because we are going to be here for five days." At that moment whether you know it or not it changes the story because Mose goes away [spoilers left out of discussion] so we would have been going - this way had the rain gone away. So the rain just accentuated that life was not easy, that wagons have got to be dug out. The rain became a character in the town because I wanted to show that number one, you might have to be clever enough to just get a cup of coffee, you've got to go get a board to walk across. And the next day, you see there's this big rut in the town, because these towns weren't perfect. They were built in the wrong places. They were burnt down and they were rebuilt, and that was the west. And so while you don't dwell on those moments, I think if you create those elements you slowly begin to bring people into a movie. That was my hope and so I made a producorial thing, " We'll spend the $300,000 because I want the rain to be a part of this movie."

Emily: There's a great scene were Boss [Robert Duvall] explains the anger the men have faced on the range. He added the dog to accent the evil of the men that attacked them. Was this a deliberate play on human emotion? We can take human being harmed - shot up - but not the dog!?

Kev: There's something innocent about an animal [being harmed] that bothers us. Because sometimes if a movie's been orchestrated on a very real level there's a certain fair play between you and me. You might be bad guy, I'm the good guy or visa versa and there's a certain kind of defense. But, an animal? It bothers us. Humans should bothers us too - but animals bother us because they're in a defenseless mode. The killing of Tig was about meanness. The goal always should be that the human life has some kind of consequence too and that was one of the things I tried to do in the movie, without hitting you over the head with it, which is to show that at the end of violence there's a lot of things that get hurt. Animals get hurt; horses
get shot, like a small child maybe sees a fight. And so her dad's going to have to talk to her, and maybe talk to her for a lot of years about that. I can't dwell on it, but I also don't like to
just brush past it. It's not thought of as streamlined storytelling but I do believe in the
aftermath of violence.

Emily: Yes and Charley [ Kevin's character in the film] is kind of a contradictory fellow in his moral beliefs

Kev: I believe in people talking sweet to each other, and I believe in people trying to kill each other. It's an ugly business, killing. And Charley is not politically correct. He draws first. He shoots a man in the foot. He goes to kill a guy who is clearly mortally wounded, and he's one of our heroes. But I think that if you set things up right, those things will not bother you. You'll begin to even understand. Sue understands it, at one point. He says, "I'm going to kill men, you understand that?" And she says, "Yes I understand." Forty-eight hours earlier, I would suggest she wouldn't have said, "Yes, I understand." But she understands at that moment. It takes an actress like Annette to make that line work - "Yes, I understand."

Emily: We also got to learn this man Charley [Costner's role] was a loyalist - he was not just a random killer - he had a soul.

Kev: He did have a soul. And Charley tries to say at the end of the movie, he gives Boss a real big compliment, because Charley's kind of like an alcoholic, only his sickness is, he has violence in his life. And just like an alcoholic doesn't need to have a friend who takes him into a bar, who drinks around him, Charley says to Boss at the end, he says, "Uh, I have a lot of respect for you because of the way you treated me and you were the kind of person that never looked for violence, and that kept me out of violence." See, he got lucky in his life. He got to be around a man who wasn't a braggart, who wasn't a bully. And so for ten years he could exist. And I think it's a tender moment, even though it's not written as a tender moment, when he says, "Thank you." But then the very next line he says, "This is going to happen fast once I start." There's a shift in the movie right at that moment, and he deals with it.

Emily: What about the sports film with Michelle Pfeiffer you're trying to get made?

Kev: This is funny no one has stepped forward to finance that movie. It's very typical of my career. I go find a film piece of matter that's kind of good - it's not in the studio system - and I say, "This could be a very good movie. It's a romantic comedy." Yeah, she's my age. There's been some talk and some people suggested to me. You probably now the names that have been suggested to me better then I because you interviewed them. I said, "Doesn't Michelle make more sense for the movie?" And they say, "NO!" Ya know? I go, "Oh, fuck. Okay. Shoot. No wonder it's not getting financed!" [laughter] It doesn't make any sense. I happen to believe that movies are for our generation, too. And I don't think you can make movies for everybody. And when you do make movies for everybody, you sometimes miss the mark. But they're going to and when something's a little bit off or something's edgy, and the movies that I've done in the past that have had the edges in the writing -- your a writer, I'm sure you've been re-edited, and it's kind of painful?

Emily: Yes - that's true.

Kev: The movies that I've had, they've been well written. But, they haven't always been well protected in the end, because people go after the edges, they go after the subplot, and they go after the things that they think makes the audience feel the most uncomfortable, and I think that's a mistake. I think a movie doesn't always have to have a happy ending; it just has to have an ending that you understand.

END

Oh, I understand Mr. Costner…you handsome manly man…purr. You have created a stunning film chock full of believable strong jawed fellas (and dames) that reaches back in time and brings us all into a small world of folks that would die for their beliefs without a second thought. Open Range is ultimately sweet, moving and positively grand to watch. Not to mention it's got one helluva showdown scene - which took over two weeks to coordinate! This is one western film that'll be added to the collection instantaneously. For now? Run and see this if you're into grit and character with a natural backdrop as much a character as its human counterparts. Breath taking.

 

 

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