The American leading man was becoming an endangered species. Where was the next Gary Cooper or Steve McQueen, the matinee idol who could sound smart and look tough at the same time? Paul Newman and Robert Redford were getting old. And audiences were left to choose between absurd extremes. The mastodon men—Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger—cornered the market on beef, but they cannot be trusted with more than a line of dialogue at a time. At the other extreme are the pretty-boy graduates of Hollywood’s Brat Pack. Audiences looking for a male sex symbol have had to resort to an Australian joker in a crocodile-skin vest. Then along came Kevin Costner.
Presence: Costner is hot. Physically, he has the sort of screen presence that makes married women forget they have husbands. Yet, unlike so many of his well-sculpted colleagues, he can act. At the ripe young age of 33, Costner has emerged from Hollywood’s horizon like a rising fastball. Last year, he stepped into the big time with starring roles in two thrillers—as a naïvely honest detective in The Untouchables and as a duplicitous naval officer in No Way Out. In the current romantic comedy Bull Durham, he portrays a selfpossessed catcher who gives lessons in baseball and sexual ethics.
Integrity: Now, he is in Iowa, filming Shoeless Joe, another movie linked to America’s national pastime, but based on a novel by Canadian author W. P. Kinsella. After spending time on the set in Iowa, Kinsella told Maclean’s.
“Costner has a tremendous presence about him. He engages you with his eyes.
Whether he’s in front of the camera or not, he can control any scene that he’s in without realizing it. It’s not something that he has worked at—he seems to have been born with it.”
Costner has all that is required of a major star. Be-
sides the good looks and the obvious talent, he has the air of casual integrity that is the hallmark of a down-home American hero. A throwback to a lost age of Hollywood idealism, he is often compared to Gary Cooper. Untouchables director Brian De Palma said that “his innate purity” made him ideal for the white-knight role of Eliot Ness. Added
De Palma, in a remark typical of the hyperbole that Costner attracts: “Kevin doesn’t have a phoney bone in his body.” Chicago crime fighter or minor-league catcher, Costner tends to portray men with strong beliefs. In an early scene of Bull Durham, his character, Crash Davis, explains his creed to baseball moll Annie (Susan Sarandon) in straightforward terms: “I believe in the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fibre, good scotch. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. And I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.” Now that is a leading man. The speech is intentionally comic, and it works only because Costner delivers his overwritten lines with deadserious conviction. It is the same sort of conviction that made Ness look almost gullibly honest in The Untouchables and that fooled audiences into believing the naval officer in No Way Out was a loyal American.
Goof: But behind Costner’s image of straight-arrow integrity, there is a hint of the goof, the boyish rascal who likes to take chances. That side was most visible in the 1985 western Silverado, in which he played a volatile, gun-twirling rake with a silly grin who wore his cowboy hat sideways.
Six feet, 170 lb., he is an athletic actor. He insists on doing as many of his own stunts as producers will allow. For Silverado, he rode bareback. For Bull Durham’s baseball scenes, he did all his own throwing, catching and sliding. In No Way Out, he per-
formed a scene where he runs into a moving car, bounces off the hood and lands on the road—all without a stunt man.
And in The Untouchables, he flirted with danger six inches from the edge of a rooftop 120 feet above the ground on a windy day in Chicago.
Recalled De Palma: “He’s incredibly agile, which is very rare in a contemporary movie star. He moves like a dancer.”
Passion: Off camera,
Costner’s real life seems to mirror the rugged image that he projects onscreen. Hobbies include baseball, basketball, golf, volleyball, running, skiing, swimming, hunting and fishing. He once built his own canoe. And before succeeding as an actor, he worked as a carpenter. He rides a four-wheel-drive Bronco around the suburban hills outside Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife, Cindy—his college sweetheart—and their three children. “You know Kevin has worked with his hands,” said Hollywood screenwriter Steve Tesich. “You know he has been in sports by the way he walks, the way his body moves, the way he can relax. You know there is a wonderful appreciation of women that is not lecherous or neurotic.”
Born in a Los Angeles suburb, Costner is the son of a blue-collar worker who started out climbing telephone poles for the Edison Co. and rose to the executive ranks. As a youngster, Costner was shy and had a passion for baseball. He says now that he “probably had only one date in my entire high-school life.” While studying marketing at California State University, he married Cindy, a student who worked summers playing Snow White at Disneyland. After graduating, he worked for a marketing firm, then resigned after six weeks to devote himself to acting.
Serious: His first efforts met with frustration. He starred in 1985’s Vietnam-era drama Fandango, but it flopped.
And when he landed what looked like a pivotal role in 1983’s The Big Chill—the suicide victim whose death reunites the other characters—all his scenes were cut from the
picture. But then Big Chill director Lawrence Kasdan gave Costner the extroverted cowboy role in Silverado. And after his dramatic double play in The Untouchables and No Way Out, American theatre owners in 1987 voted him “Star of Tomorrow.” Critics suddenly proclaimed him the first serious American actor to become a matinee idol since Harrison Ford. Before The Untouchables, “Kevin wasn’t famous,” said its producer Art Linson. “So what we did was surround him with people who were.” In fact, Costner’s name was billed above Robert de Niro and Sean Connery.
Steamy: With fame came notoriety. Costner is still answering questions about No Way Out’s steamy love scene, in which he undresses actress Sean Young in the back of a moving limousine. But he was nervous filming the scene, telling Young, “Now everybody’s
going to see how I kiss.” Young, who is shooting a movie in Vancouver this week, said: “I think he is a little embarrassed by all this sex symbol stuff. It is sort of a necessary evil. But outside his work, his life is really centred on his family.” When asked how his wife reacted to the love scenes with Sarandon in Bull Durham, Costner said: “She can hear these I comments about what an interesting onscreen coui pie we make, but eventu| ally she says bull to that. I Her own response is that | she and I are an interest| ing couple ourselves.” 9 However, Costner candidly admitted that he could not tolerate seeing his wife in the same position. “If the shoe was reversed,” he said, “I couldn’t deal with it. Not if it was similar to the way Susan and I rassle around on the screen.”
Natural: Honesty seems to be Costner’s stock-in-trade. Being believable onscreen, he says, means “trying to be as honorable to the character as you can.” He works hard at it, does his homework and pesters directors with questions. Costner hesitates to talk about the secrets of his craft, his “medicine,” as he calls it. But he relies heavily on intuition. “I know I can act,” he said. “It’s the only thing besides baseball that I understand very deeply. Everything about it—the camera, the angle, pace, motion, character—has always come naturally to me.”
Like a natural athlete, Costner relies on skills that he does not stop to analyse. “I have high survival instincts,” he said. “I can see something coming, feel the temperature, see movements, shifts in people. Those feelers are always out.” Now that he has proven himself as an actor, Costner says that he wonders if he could have become a majorleague ball player instead. As it is, he will have to settle for being a movie star, the fairy-tale prince who reawakens the romance of Hollywood with a brave kiss— and a swing of the bat.
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