Kevin Costner plays the mentor to lead Chris Pine in "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit." Credit: Getty Images
If you’re Kevin Costner, you have to deal with journalists confessing to you that, as a kid, the ghostly father-son catch at the end of “Field of Dreams” made them cry. But there are worse things than being reminded of big triumphs.
“It’s a pretty big fraternity, that movie,” Costner says. “It’s probably our generation’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’”
If that’s a big claim (if one some might feel is dead-on) in person he remains modest, friendly, funny and approachable — more approachable than anyone who was once the biggest actor in the world.
Nearly 60, Costner presently has five films slated for 2014 — a big uptick in recent years. Thanks to a variety of factors — including fatherhood — he’s laid low over the last decade, popping up in well-received supporting roles in “The Upside of Anger,” “The Company Men” and, most guttingly, Superman’s earthbound dad in “Man of Steel.” Four of these roles are leads — as was his role in The History Channel’s “Hatfields & McCoys,” which won him an Emmy and a Golden Globe.
But in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” he’s a mere mentor to its young star (Chris Pine). “It was certainly a supporting part,” he says, suggesting that’s not ideal for him. “I was attracted to it because Kenneth [Branagh, the director and his co-star] represented so much in our industry.” He was originally reluctant to play an aging agent. “I said, ‘Look, I don’t know that I can sit down at a desk and make phone calls.’ He said, ‘No, that’s why I’m asking you, because this character does get out from behind the phone and at certain moments has to be proactive.’”
Costner first made his name in smaller parts. When he popped up in a small but key role in the 1985 neo-western “Silverado,” it was a “Who’s that guy?” moment. Costner crossed over to lead before coming back to the other side. “Sometimes lead actors are afraid of supporting actors,” he says, laughing. “They can steal the movie. My character certainly doesn’t do that. I’m more of a presence. A lot of people could have played this role, to be sincere.”
Being directed by Branagh could be odd, being that Costner is a director himself. (Although his last picture was “Open Range,” in 2003, a more modest Western than either “Dances with Wolves” or “The Postman,” the latter one of the massive projects — along with “Wyatt Earp” and “Waterworld” — that damaged his A-list status.) But he says that’s a good thing. “It was interesting to watch him direct,” he says, chuckling. “I wanted to see how he does it. Because I’m usually directing horses and gunfights.” Compared to Branagh, who he says his “calm and composed,” Costner likes to get in there and show the actors what they’re doing, especially “if they’re taking too long to die.”
Learning from others is something he likes to do. “Unless you’re a complete narcissist, you look at other people and you like what they do better than what you do,” he says. “I like making music. But I always love other people’s music more than mine. I like what we do and I sign off on it, but the minute I hear someone else’s music, I’m like, ‘Man, we should be doing something like that.’”
Costner would like to get back behind the camera. “I would like to play the second half of my career directing,” he states. He says he’s been hard at work with a friend on a series of adventure novels, which he describes as “old-fashioned,” saying it’s consciously in the vein of Jules Verne and Rudyard Kipling. (The books are slated to be released next year by Simon & Schuster.)
No matter how popular Costner has been, he’s always been attracted to older, even outmoded genres. No one was making Westerns when “Dances with Wolves” came out in 1990. No one’s making them now, especially thanks to “Cowboys & Aliens” and “The Lone Ranger.” And yet one of the other Costner films this year — including “Draft Day” and “3 Days to Kill” — is “Black and White,” a Western with Gillian Jacobs and Octavia Spencer, directed by “The Upside of Anger”’s Mike Binder.
He also says he has a 12-hour Western he’s been working on. “It’s very epic,” he says, laughing at the insanity of it. “It kind of debunks a theory about how towns came to be. I really want to make it, because I love that world — as you know.”