August 3, 2008

Costner Steps Up to Bat and Takes a ‘Swing’

With a career spanning political sagas, thrillers, comedies, cowboy movies, science fiction, crime yarns, family dramas and action films, Kevin Costner is a hard man to pin down. And that's how he likes it.

His latest film, "Swing Vote," is a Frank Capra-style slice of Americana starring Costner as a likable oaf whose ballot will decide a deadlocked Presidential election. While it would have been a snap to find studio financing for a "Bodyguard II," this gentle comedy was a hard sell. So Costner stepped up with more than $20 million of his own to get it made. During a recent promotional tour, he explained why he dislikes repeating himself, the state of American politics and the importance of taking risks.

"I probably could have made a series of the same movie, but that's not my style," said the two-time Oscar winner. "My next is a horror movie. My hope is that it'll be really good but it's not a slam dunk, and I have a tendency to go for movies like that, like 'Field of Dreams.'

"In retrospect, a lot of people enjoyed 'Field of Dreams,' but that movie stood a good chance of not working. A big chance. The question is, can you ride the edge? With the horror movie, I think we have a chance of making a classic in that genre. Maybe we haven't, maybe we have, but that's more intriguing to me than just making something where we know how it works."

In truth, Costner said, he aims to make every project a potential classic. "I wouldn't think that would be that different than anybody else. They're so hard to make anyway. Why would you make a movie if you didn't think it had a chance to live beyond its opening weekend? I'm not immune to wanting my movies to make money because I do, my first instinct is, do I think people could like this?"

In "Swing Vote," his character is a goofball poultry-plant worker who must break the electoral tie, although he's unprepared for the awesome responsibility. Once the improbable premise is in place, Costner said, it was vital to give everything else in the film "a semblance of truth and honesty." The film balances weighty affairs of state against an intimate father-daughter relationship as Costner's precocious daughter, played by Madeline Carroll, tutors him on his civic responsibilities.

The script appealed to Costner because it allowed him to "bring a physical comedy to it that I don't often get to show" while making lighthearted (and serious) points about the process the star calls "our national four-year debacle."

Carroll informs her poor but oblivious dad that "neither party represents the interests of the working poor." Costner, who drove trucks and worked on fishing boats before his acting career took off, said he could sympathize.

"It's not hard to relate to someone like that," he explained. "When I graduated college and everyone knew what they wanted to be doing, getting their first job, their first house, a company car, I became a stage manager for $3.50 an hour. And I was happy to have that job. I worked those blue-collar jobs. Framed houses, stood walls. I didn't know this was going to happen, I just wanted to find my direction in life. I hit the jackpot, but I didn't make a check in this particular function for seven years."

Costner said he's pleased his film takes an evenhanded approach to satirizing both Democrats and Republicans. "I didn't want to apologize about the film reflecting my politics. It exposes human nature, not party. It's a message movie only in that it's a good comedy."


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