LONDON, ENGLAND. Kevin Costner has powers. Eerie powers.
It’s October 2012 and a group of reporters is sitting huddle in a pub across the street from both London’s Liverpool Station and the building where “Jack Ryan” (later to be “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”) is shooting a scene. Because it’s meant to be Moscow, it’s appropriate how chilly it is, but the steady rain has left us unable to witness any filming with our own eyes.
Costner, who plays Jack Ryan’s CIA mentor William Harper, isn’t in the scene and he wasn’t supposed to be on set.
However, graciously eager to chat, Costner has shown up on his off-day and the second he gets out of his car, the rain stops.
The sun comes out for Kevin Costner.
“I tell ya, it’s one of those universal things sometimes when [the sun] comes out, I think everybody sometimes feels good,” Costner says, sitting down. “That’s one of the things, there’s like universal things, right, with people? Like even like a dick in life, even a really bad guy, I always think that even a bad guy recognizes a good idea. They might stay there and go, “That’s a f***ing really good idea,” but they know it when they hear it, you know what I mean? There’s just something. A good idea is something like an emotion, you just can’t keep it in. ‘Mmm, that’s a good idea, I really like that!'”
And then Kevin Costner does an impressive thing. He stays around to chat. After 15 or 20 minutes, Costner — prone to giving long answers, so that may have only been two or three questions — gets the wrap-up signal from his publicist, but he protests.
“I came a long way to talk to these people. Were you saying one more question? No, we can talk a little more!” Costner says.
That doesn’t happen often.
In all, Costner chatted with us for nearly 40 minutes. It turns out that the Tom Clancy franchise is close to his heart and that “Jack Ryan” brings him full circle.
“I might have been offered ‘Superman’ 25 years ago — Not that I was! — But you can tell 25 years have passed because then they offer you Superman’s dad,” Costner laughs, many months before the release of “Man of Steel.” “So, I was offered the Jack Ryan series back in the very beginning, and I couldn’t do it. I think it was ‘Hunt for Red October’ was the first one. I couldn’t do it because I had already postponed ‘Dances With Wolves’ for one year, and now I had a chance to do this ‘Red October’ but I had already assembled this crew and I’d put my money into it and then they offer me really a lot of money, more than I had ever seen, to do ‘Hunt for Red October,’ and I said, ‘You know, ‘No’ doesn’t mean ‘More,’ it’s just ‘No.'” And it was like, ‘Oh, that silly little Indian movie.’ And then I started to think it was this silly little Indian movie! But I went off and did that, and then never caught back up with the thing. It seemed like different people played Jack Ryan or something like that. I think Jack Ryan passed me. I have to be the guy who says, ‘You better hurry up, I mean it, she’s right behind you!”
Usually in Hollywood, stories like this have two versions — or three if you include The Truth — but “Hunt for Red October” and “Jack Ryan” producer Mace Neufeld agrees.
“I had done ‘No Way Out”‘ with Kevin,” Neufeld remembers. “And I had optioned the book, and I don’t remember the dates, but I called JJ Harris, who was, and still is, Kevin’s agent. And I got Kevin on the phone, and he was shooting a film in Mexico, and I asked him if he wanted to play Jack Ryan. And he said he was really occupied with trying to develop another script, a western. And I said, ‘Well, do you have financing for it?’ He said, ‘No, but I think some people will come.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ll help you with the financing.’ And he said, ‘Thank you, but I don’t think I’ll need that.’ And that was ‘Dances With Wolves'” So he made the right decision.”
So Costner is back in the Jack Ryan sphere, playing a character who producers insist isn’t just a mentor.
“He’s a guy of action, too,” Lorenzo di Bonaventura says. “He’s a field agent. He’s a little more senior. He carries more experience. But we’ve seen a lot of movies with the older mentor and the younger agent, and this movie doesn’t do that.”
He continues, “And Kevin, carrying all of the heroism that he has done in his career… Often, the mentor character feels like the arm-chair guy. Kevin can’t feel that way. We put him out in the field so that he’s not sitting in the arm chair. He’s just not that guy. We also get two generations of stars, as a result. It gives the movie a nice sense of energy, as well.”
For his part, Costner explains, “Some guys are born for management and some guys can straddle it, can go back and forth. Some guys were never meant to be out in the field at all. And I think he’s a person that can straddle, that can go in and sometimes there’s places where you just have get information, you have to know how to do it. I think that he straddles that line.”
There has already been talk that Costner’s character could be the centerpiece of a spinoff franchise, but he wants no part of that. For now.
“I’ve heard that. I really, sincerely did not go into that,” Costner admits. “Call it superstition, call it whatever you want, I have not sat down with anyone and gone, ‘How is this going to work? How would this work?’ I’ve really tried to support Chris Pine in this one the very best that I can, I’m a bit of his handler, you know, you could use the word mentor, you could use whatever it is. As you know, he doesn’t start off carrying a gun, he’s a financial guy who has military experience, military background. And the deeper it goes, he has to come up with the right movie stuff, so to speak, the guy who can defend himself and stuff like that. I think the idea is that there would be several agents under his purview that he is able to manage. And when I say, ‘I think,’ that’s sincerely what I mean, I haven’t really talked to anybody about how that would play out. The part would have to continue to get more interesting and more interesting, more involved, more pro-active if you will.”
That doesn’t mean that Costner hasn’t been able to serve as a mentor to “Jack Ryan” star Pine.
“For someone who’s done it for so long, there’s just such a comfort in the knowledge of what he’s able to do and how to do it and how to sell a moment and just a comfort in front of the camera,” Pine says. “Look, with a close-up and the camera’s right there and it’s a 15-hour-day and it’s all about you, sometimes it’s not the best feeling to have in the world, that kind of responsibility. But man, he’s a cool cat. He’s just a really knowledgeable guy and he’s got his hands in so many different things. He’s writing all the time and the way he talks to Ken about a shot or how that’s going to move into the next sequence, I love listening to it, because watching my director, who’s, you know, Kenneth Branagh, and then I’m watching my fellow actor, who’s Kevin Costner, and I’m learning an incredible amount just by kinda being there.”
Costner notes that the mentorship has been of a specific kind.
“[H]e doesn’t lean over to me and ask for advice,” Costner says. “He’ll want to lean over and ask about someone like Gene Hackman or something. ‘Have you met him?’ So those will be the kind of sidebars just before we’re acting and I’ll think, ‘Hmm, I’m glad he wants to know about who these people are.’ You knew him, you met him, you’ve worked with him, and then maybe a little story will come out. I can see that he appreciates the history of movies and the people in them.”
An Oscar winner for “Dances with Wolves,” and the admired director of “Open Range,” Costner is a man of opinions, but he knows how much input he should be giving into the shaping of his character.
“Because I’ve made movies, I have to understand that this is not the [William] Harper movie, this is the Jack Ryan movie, so you have to understand what you’re doing. That’s what this is and that’s being set-up. If we think a couple of lines explains this better, Kenneth has allowed that input and he knows that I’ve stayed inside the lines of the movie that he wants to make, so there have been little moments.”
He adds, “Actors all think that it’s their story and you go ‘No, this is the story. This is how you fit, this is how you succeed.’ So, it’s important with the small parts that there’s a moment that their mom’s going to like them in the role.”
Costner has had success with supporting roles, whether in “The Company Men” or “Man of Steel” and he seems to understand what it takes to inhabit the capacity of a character actor, but that doesn’t mean that’s where he sees his career as going exclusively.
“It’s nice in a sense, but I like to take people through a story so I don’t… you know, it’s nice to have days off, to see the sun come out!” Costner says. “But I will continue to be leads, but I’m not afraid to play a supporting part, I don’t feel like that diminishes me, I don’t feel like ‘Oh, that’s a sign of the times now,’ you know what I mean? I still get the girl! If it’s written!”
Click through to Page 2 for Costner’s thoughts on Kenneth Branagh, the aftermath of “Hatfields & McCoys” and more…
Other highlights from the Q&A with Sun-Bringer Kevin Costner and reporters:
Question: So what got you on the road to join the Jack Ryan family?
Kevin Costner: I don’t really know what is going to happen with this thing. I have a tendency to make one movie at a time, I always have. I wanted to work with Kenneth, I wasn’t thinking far down the road because you never know, about the time you get caught doing that, the franchise doesn’t work out or something like that. I tend to do one at a time and see if people like it, that’s really what you have to do. I think that’s what executives do, they look down the line, and I think you need to keep your eye on the ball and see what that can be.
Question: How much do you have the Clancy books in your head when you’re playing a role like this?
Kevin Costner: I don’t have the Clancy books in my head. I have the script in my head. You know, I could say it four different ways but I really have not invested yet in what would come after this. I have some things I would like to direct, I have more cowboy movies I’d like to make someday. I spent the last five years really writing a lot and acquiring material. I have three babies under five and so I’m going to start to work right now, I haven’t worked that much. I’m coming out with “Hatfields” and “Superman” and now I’m going to start working a little bit. I’m going to Paris after this and work and then hopefully I’ll be directing this summer something that I’ve written.
Question: Working with Kenneth was one of the attractions, you said?
Kevin Costner: It is! It’s really good, he’s very thoughtful. He makes a point like a coach sometimes. Maybe even if you’re not very good he says, “You were really good!” as opposed to directors who just go, “Jesus!” And you walk home and think, “Aren’t you going to say something about today?” You know, Kenneth makes a real point to say, “It was good,” he writes you a little note. It’s nice, actually, it’s kind of thoughtful if you get down to it. He’ll say, “It was very smart today, it had a good crackle to it,” or something like that. And I look at him and I’m thinking, “Really?” I just love that he’s that way, and I like a director who’s enthused, and then when he turns around and looks at somebody he says, “I’m going to have to fix it with a scissors.”
Question: With Hatfields and McCoys you guys took an apparently major risk that paid-off in a big way and it proved to people that something they said couldn’t be done could be done. Has this opened any doors for things that people were sceptical about?
Kevin Costner: Oh yeah. We’re a whole business of perception. Now that suddenly works, we can all do it. There was no risk in doing “Hatfields and McCoys.” The risk was when I told them that I would not do it unless they did the whole story. What it was going to be was two nights, and that wasn’t the story. I could tell in my mind it was three nights — it was six hours, five and a half, whatever it is. And so, if I was going to be involved then they were going to have to do that. That forced them out of the conventions that they seem to think works, which is two nights. This was like, “Whoooaaa! They don’t work anymore. They haven’t worked since ‘Roots’.” They didn’t really say that, I thought, “Gee, isn’t this the story that you want the other actors to do?” I said, “I can look at this and you can’t get it into two nights.”
So, the risk for me was to do something which would have fallen into conventional wisdom. I didn’t want to have the fight later – I had it right then, sitting right as close as you are to me, with the head of that channel. I said, ‘I’ll do this if you promise to do the whole story. Now, I’m not making you do that, but I’m not doing it unless that. So what do you want to do?’ We made our agreement across the table and she lived up to it. That doesn’t make me a genius, that only makes me certain of what I believe is a complete story. I was certain that if they made it two nights – that would have been the risk. The risk was thinking you have a great story, then figuring out what you are going to lose. That’s the risk. You know, there’s a lot of actors in this town that were in that movie that would have not made the final cut.
Question: I’m curious about your process as an actor and as a director. Some people prefer two takes, the way Clint Eastwood does it, while some people prefer 50 takes like David Fincher. As an actor I’m curious what you prefer and as a director I’m curious what you prefer?
Kevin Costner: As an actor you have to throw yourself on. Somebody goes, “I’ve got it,” so if it was two takes then, or three takes then and they want to move on, it doesn’t I think that we’ve got it. I have to trust them, or I fight for one more. When I’m directing, I’m calling the shots. I have a tendency to short-change myself. I don’t short-change other actors, but I have a tendency, when I’m directing myself to go, “Okay, I got it.” And once in a while somebody close to me will go, “Why don’t you do another take? Why are you rushing yourself? Cause you’re always rushing to help the other actors and then you go, ‘I’ve got it.’ So, no Kevin take some time with your performance. Just take some more time.” You know what? It’s good advice.
Question: You’ve been talking about having more westerns in you. What is it about the genre which keeps you coming back for more?
Kevin Costner: You could say the same thing about people who do space, or do CIA movies. It’s like, “Don’t put me in a box.” I like to visit it because when they’re done right, I think they’re really beautiful pieces of film. They highlight how difficult it was for your ancestors who found their way to America to make a life for themselves. If you do them really right, you actually create these really interesting dilemmas where you go, “Woah! I don’t know if I was that tough.” I’m not talking about Spaghetti Westerns where you kill a lot of people, and people like those. I’m talking about one that orchestrates it down to how do you protect your wife from two or three guys who say they want water but might take whatever they want. The West was very scary. This town is like one of our ancient civilizations, but in terms of modern, America had nothing until 200 years ago. And the s*** we built 200 years ago, we don’t even have. It got replaced by modern stuff. It was like the Garden of Eden there for 800 years.
Their stories are of people who made their way out West, had to wait for seven, eight days for just the buffalo to pass in front of them because — we’re talking about over a million — they were afraid, so the wagon train just waited. You don’t conceive of that, you can’t conceive of that, and that’s real. If you make a really good Western, it’s not just about the shoot-out, it’s not. It’s about, “How did I get in such a bad spot here? How did it come down to me against these guys?” If you do it thoughtfully, it’s our Shakespeare. If you do it crappy, it sets the genre back. I like to revisit it, I hope when I do it each time I’m advancing it in some way. I just like it, I like the idea of a guy, who all the possessions he owns are on his back. There’s something kind of cool about that. Look at the s*** we have. Some guy, just free to go wherever he wants and makes-up his own life.
Question: You’ve always taken risks when you could have made “The Bodyguard 2” or “Robin Hood 2.” What is it that keeps you wanting to move forward and try different things?
Kevin Costner: I always feel like I’m done with those movies. They stood a chance to get remade. I miss the era of remaking all those. I think that frustrated people – that I wouldn’t go ahead and do that. I did however, on “The Bodyguard.” I was going to make that for a moment. Princess Diana was being really considered for that part. You know, people have asked me to make “Tin Cup,” “Bull Durham,” “Dances,” you know those things. I was just always interested in what I could do next. I would have made any one of those had the script been really good. So I’m not above the idea.
Question: Do you notice any difference between working with British actors or American actors? Is there a different process?
Kevin Costner: Here’s the thing – the accent is cool. I know that sounds what it is. It’s like a girl with big breasts – they get your attention first. I remember really early on in acting class and I saw a couple of British actors who were beginning too. They were beginning, they were beginners and they just thought that they would like to do this and they would read the same scene as other beginning actors, but the accent was hypnotic. They weren’t better actors, but easier to listen to. They sounded more elegant. I thought, “F***, he’s really good. Is it his accent, or what is it?”
Every British actor I’ve worked with has been very disciplined. I think they understand the notion of rehearsal, actually appreciate it more appropriately, a little more than American actors do. I think it’s probably because of their training. That’s a general statement. I know American actors who like rehearsal the way I do, but all in all people are like, “Hey, just tell me where to stand.” You go, “Really? Right out there it’s about 40 degrees. When you come back in you should know your lines.”
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” opens on Friday, January 17.