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The safe bet is that no matter how suicidal his selection of projects may seem on paper, Hollywood will go on believing in Costner. "Everyone respects power in this business," says James Earl Jones, "and Kevin's is a unique brand of power. It's not predictable. He's not after megamillions or making sure his ego is fulfilled. He isn't macho; he's pure male. If you press the wrong buttons, the man is dangerous. He won't explode -- that's counterproductive -- but he will set you straight real fast. He's got away with things that a lot of up-and-comers couldn't have." And how long will the system let Costner get away with it? "Hard to say," Jones says. "It has to figure him out first."
With Costner, that shouldn't be hard. "If you say what you mean in this town," he once noted, "you're an outlaw." Now he's the sheriff but still living proof of director Kasdan's law: "You know you're on the right track if Hollywood finds you an enigma." And Costner is pleased to fold that aura into his current radiance. "People look at me and think they see everything," he says. "But what they see is one moment frozen in time. I've come from somewhere to get to that point. There's stuff in my back pockets, up my sleeve that they don't know anything about. I don't offer up everything there is, onscreen or in life. It's not guile. But conversation is supposed to be a two- way thing, and generally people want to know more about me than they want to reveal about themselves. So of course I hold back. I'm not dying to tell people my story."
In some ways, he has already told it, in cinema code. The adventure hero, the family man, the tenacious idealist are aspects of Costner -- sportsman, husband and father, daredevil careerist -- enlarged and illuminated on the big screen. Unlike the sabermetrician or the grouchy critic, moviegoers do not sit in the dark and gaze at the light in search of documentary; they want mundane facts transformed into pulp poetry. They may not be looking for a fax of an old-time movie hero either. No Kevin Cooper, thank you. Kevin Costner suits them fine. They hope to follow the fellow who follows the dream. And they will be curious to see if he follows Field of Dreams as scrupulously as he has observed the commandments of movie heroism. Now he has the power to create his own dreams.