Kevin Costner: Pursuing The Dream

Sexy, straight-on and ambitious, Kevin Costner is a grownup hero with brains

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It would be a tortuous road to prominence, potholed with the usual odd jobs and rejections -- and films he rejected. He auditioned three times for the role Nicolas Cage snagged in Raising Arizona; he said no to the Jeff Bridges part in Jagged Edge and the Mel Gibson role in Mrs. Soffel. But Costner knew he was destined to do the work he loves doing well. "The doubt of success crept in -- I was the kid in the backseat asking, 'When are we going to get there?' -- but I never questioned being on the right road. That's the fun part. If you're obsessed with your destination, you miss 80% of the point of acting: the ride there, the people you meet along the way. Mind you, I'm still not 'there,' because I've never been sure what I was after. I'm the rat going forward on the treadmill. From the outside, it might look like I'm going in circles, but I feel I'm going like hell."

By 1987 his career was going full blaze too. In The Untouchables and No Way Out, both released that summer, Costner was the young man on the move, trying to show his elders that he was as smart as he looked. In the first film, he was as pure as Galahad and got shouldered off the screen by Robert De Niro and Sean Connery; in the second, he was as devious as Kim Philby and held his own. But in both, he suggested a steely, all-American ambition that synced smartly with the mid-'80s American work ethic: get it done, whatever the cost. And there is a cost. To beat Al Capone, Ness must match the gangster's brutal efficiency. In No Way Out, his character is brilliantly compromised: good guy, bad guy; our spy, their spy. It is a film about acting on the global scale, about convincing the world that you are what you are not.

In Bull Durham, Costner is a catcher trying to stave off retirement while he snarls baseball wisdom into the ear of an A-ball phenom. In this fable about the triumph of star quality over talent, the nice thing is that the movie is on the side of the losers; the funny thing is that Costner's Crash Davis, in baseball terms, is the loser, but he wears his grievances stylishly. And for all its locker-room ribaldry, Bull Durham was Costner's kind of movie. "The common thread in each of my films is poignance," he says, " 'narrative' in a movie world that thinks audiences won't sit still for it. All the camerawork in the world can't disguise that there's no story. The cards of narrative have to keep flopping. There must be tremendously careful construction and attention to detail. My movies can't be salvaged by a car chase."

Enter director Robinson with Field of Dreams, a movie with plenty of narrative and poignance, about baseball as the tree house of the American male. "To grow up male in this country," Robinson says, "is to have a special place in your heart for playing catch with Dad. It's a longing for a more innocent time, for easy connections that grew complicated with the years. We live in cynical times. We're all jaded. A lot of our heroes have turned out to have clay feet. I don't believe in astrology, crystals, reincarnation, heaven, hell. I don't believe dreams come true. But it's a primal emotion to want to make the bad good -- to hope things will work out in the end."

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