Costner | At Home on the Range - Kinda
an emily blunt interview
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.
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
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.
What's it like to again direct and act? And a Western?
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.
Did you have an emotional process to direct again?
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.
[ 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?
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.
So you've gone with a less then box office baby, is critical or
financial success more important to you?
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.
Oh, yeah. So do you sympathize with Ben and J-Lo and this Gigli
stampede of thesaurus bashings?
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.
What western movies influenced you for Open Range?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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
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!?
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
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."
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.
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
What about the sports film with Michelle Pfeiffer you're trying
to get made?
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?
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.
I understand Mr. Costner
you handsome manly man
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.