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Costner is something else: a grownup hero with brains. He's modern and classic. He thinks fast and shoots straight. He has city reflexes that help him beat the big boys at hardball. Yet he stokes memories of the lone man on a horse, silhouetted against the craggy horizon and setting sun of Old West values. He has the requisite danger for big-screen stardom -- the stubbornness in pursuit of ideals, the slow anger when pushed, the threat in a face that can mask its intentions -- even as his actions inspire trust. He could be a husband, a lover, a chief of state. And now Costner is poised to tote the ten commandments of frontier heroism into an anxious new decade. He is the hard- riding scout bearing the movies' message of what America thinks it was and hopes it can be again.
Of course, that's just casting. And acting. As well as any performer, Costner knows that his eminence is a happy fortuity of timing and talent. And he doesn't mind being this year's hot ticket. The $5 million salary he could command for each picture is a perk. Nor has Costner complained about making movie love to Susan Sarandon in a bathtub (Bull Durham) or Sean Young in the No Way Out limo -- the window-steaming sex scene that earned Costner his first priapic appeal. And for an outdoorsman who was a fine athlete in school, there can be few tangier pleasures than playing baseball in Bull Durham and Field of Dreams or playing a cowboy in Silverado. Even in the Nitti-gritty Untouchables, where he earned his first star billing as Eliot Ness, Costner got to lead a posse to a varmint's hideout.
Now he is wielding his clout and testing his fans' expectations. In his next movie, Revenge, he plays an unlikable cuckolder. Last week he began scouting locations for Dances with Wolves, a drama about the Sioux nation, in which he will star and make his debut as a director. Still, it makes him itch that his recent roles have earned him a Hunk-of-the-Month label. "I have the same problem with stardom that I have with royalty," he says. "They're judged not by the quality of their ideas but by their birthright. I didn't set out to be a star. If you do, you engage in manipulation. You do stuff to be liked. I didn't want to be endorsed; I wanted to be listened to. I had ideas about things."
To be a new star in Hollywood is to be pegged as the reincarnation of some old star, and Costner watchers have their candidates. "Kevin fulfills many of the same ideals that a Jimmy Stewart or a Gary Cooper did for their generation: the little guy against the system, the pure guy vs. evil, the strong man in a time of trouble," says Tom Pollock, chairman of the MCA Motion Picture Group. "It's hard to think of any other leading man in his 30s who can play this variety of roles -- action hero, romantic lead and family man."
James Earl Jones, who co-stars in Field of Dreams, was at first skeptical of Cooping up Costner. "But watching Kevin on the monitor on location," he says, "I had to admit: it was Gary Cooper. For one thing, Gary Cooper was always looking to spit. He and Kevin have the same pucker in the mouth." For his part, Costner wouldn't mind going back in time to get back in the saddle. "I'd have loved to spend five or six years in the studio system," he says, "doing all those cowboy pictures. I was born 30 years too late for the kind of cinema I'd like to do."