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INT: Kevin Costner


As most movie fans know, “playing against type” refers to when actors portray characters dramatically different from those they’ve played before. In the case of Kevin Costner, it means playing something other than a baseball player or cowboy.

With his latest project, MR. BROOKS, Costner plays arguably his darkest character yet: a typical family man who happens to enjoy murdering random people, just for the fun of it. He’s good at it, too -- aided only by his imaginary pal Marshall (played by William Hurt), he’s sent more than a few unfortunate folks to early graves without coming close to being caught.

Not exactly FIELD OF DREAMS, huh? Costner deserves props for consciously seeking out more challenging roles now that he’s no longer an A-list talent, even if he did give us that dreadful flick DRAGONFLY. But hey, at least he’s not pulling a Stallone and reviving long-dead franchises in an effort to stay relevant. Last week Costner stopped by Le Meriden Hotel in Beverly Hills to talk about his experience making MR. BROOKS. Check it out.

Kevin Costner

What made you decide to play such a dark character?

The decision was pretty simple. The movie, I thought, was the star. I thought the writing was the star of the movie. While I didn't see myself like that person, I thought, "I could do this." When I make up my mind, first and foremost…even though you have to professionally cover movies, I'm sure deep down you do love movies and probably love movies when they surprise you. On paper, I thought (this movie) had all of those moments -- if we embraced them and went for them. I understood that it would be seen as a departure. I understood all of the things that would come with it, but I still felt like, if I'm going to make a life of making movies, then I should try to make different kind of movies. And this seemed to fit in a positive way.

Did it occur to you that you might also want to direct this?

I thought about that, but when I realized what the pedigree of the project was -- that the writers who wrote it wanted to direct it -- we had a discussion about that. I could've done that, but in this instance it was important for (Bruce Evans) to direct. I've worked with a lot of first-time directors, writer-directors, and I thought, "I'll give this a chance.”

Did you always know you were going to produce?

I knew without a doubt that I would have to do that. I also knew that I would have to have final cut on it, because if you like the movie odd – the odd things about it -- I knew those things that would be cut first. If you don't like blood, blood would be gone. If you don't like this, that would be gone. They ask audiences, "What do you like?" "I don't like this." But I thought that this piece was dark. It's insidious, even though we ashamably find ourselves laughing at some moments, the oddity of it. I felt that it needed to be true to itself. If no one else wanted to make this movie and I wanted to make it, why would I let anybody try to flatten in out and make it more generic? So while I know some longtime people who've enjoyed my movies might be offended by this, might think it's too harsh, I get that, and I accept that. But I don't want to cater to my audience; I just want to feed it. Take it or not take it. It's an honest effort.

Were you at all familiar with Dane Cook's standup work before joined the cast?

I wasn't familiar with his standup, and I'm actually glad because I don't completely understand his standup all the time. But I understand him, and I understand his desire to not be pigeonholed, be conformed. He read for me. He read for this movie. He did all the things that someone who has a bigger idea about their career does. They want to be a part of something unique. He did, and that's why he got the part. And he was sensational in it.

Did you see a little bit of Mr. Brooks inside yourself?

The thing that we all see in Mr. Brooks is that we would all go defend our daughter, that we would go kill for them. Mr. Brooks isn't looking for forgiveness. "Don't you see that I'm a nice guy?" No, he's not. He has a disease. When that disease isn't working, he is a nice guy. But the families that he's dismantled, both the ones that have died and the boat wake that comes after, that kind of thing that families are destroyed forever -- mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters -- we don't really deal with that. We have to know in our hearts that’s what it is. That's why we can't ever forgive him.

But what Brooks is successful at, I think, is that it creates a certain kind of empathy. And empathy always comes in our life when we have a level of understanding. You may not like the serial killer, can never forgive him, destroyed your girlfriend's life forever, blah blah blah, I hate him, I wish he never was born. You might know him, and know that he was assaulted and abused since he was three-years-old. You can't forgive him either, and you can't say anything to her, but in your heart you go, "That poor fucker never had a chance.” You have empathy because you have a level of understanding of him.

And so in movies, we can create a level of understanding if we choose to invest in the character, and that's what made Mr. Brooks stand out to me as a serial killer movie, because I don't like serial killer movies. I don't like scary movies. I get scared. I’m uncomfortable. I don't like roller coasters and shit like that. I don't like being scared. It's not an adrenaline rush for me. So Mr. Brooks really had to pass a lot of things for me to even want to be a part of it. And it did.

Were you disturbed at all when you first read the script?

No. I was in the safety of my own little couch; I knew no one was going to get me. Look, I like writers. And I like protecting writing. And I like seeing writing find its way to the screen. If I was going to be scared at all about Mr. Brooks, I would have been scared if somebody else had final cut.

Were you worried that the character of Marshall might overshadow your own performance?

I knew it was a really flashy role, and I very often take movies that have scene-stealing roles all around me. I relish that; I think that’s important for movies. I don't get scared by that stuff. I encourage the actors to be really good around me. I want that to happen, and I want them to do it inside the lines of the movie. So when I see a great role, I want to go for a great actor. A great actor recognizes a great role. It just raises the whole level of the movie. It is a pleasing role and sometimes the temptation in American movies now, the conventional wisdom is they'll ask you what scenes you liked the worst, what seen did you hate the most.

And you’ll tell them. “What scenes did you like the most?” In modern day filmmaking, that scene you hated the most just goes flying out of the movie But that doesn't mean it should have. It gives the movie a balance. They might ask you about characters and you say, "Well, I really like Marshall the most." Then the executives go, "Let's write some more scenes for Marshall ." I think Marshall is in there just perfectly. Just perfectly.

What was it like working with William Hurt?

It was fun. I've known William because of The Big Chill. We both are rehearsal-oriented actors, and writer-driven actors. So it fit into our game really nicely.

Was Marshall based on anyone Mr. Brooks' knew in his past?

[Speaking from his character’s perspective] Yes. I found Marshall when I was twelve years old in a book of children's dreams, and he would play the black knight, an evil person. But I liked him in the book because he was kind of cool. I liked him so much that I was afraid he was going to die in the book, so I never finished it. And my father used to discipline me with the idea that, if I wasn't good, the black knight would come and get me, that he actually hid in my closet. And like any young man, I eventually challenged my dad's theory and opened that closet, and there was my imaginary friend. And he was not scary at all to me. So he's been with me as my alter-ego. And that began when I was twelve years old.

Did you look at Bruce Evans’s previous film before signing on?

Well, I didn't look at his other movie. I didn't want to because, once I committed to him as a director, I wanted to try to support him, and I didn't want to get panicked. I mean, I'd heard different things, but I didn't want to jade that. Once I gave him my word that he would get a chance to direct it, I wanted to back that up. But I also wanted to protect the movie by keeping final cut.

What do you typically look for when someone sends you a script?

Just fresh air. Just something that seems highly original. I would never do this movie it was pitched to me. But I would never have done Field of Dreams if it was pitched to me. It takes a writer that really has his muse working on his shoulder, and you go wow, this is an incredible window they've found into this subject. Thirteen Days, for instance, the window into that story was through Kenny O'Donnell, not Jack's point of view or Bobby's point of view. It's hard, writing. It’s not easy. It's an art form.

When you write, where do you get ideas? Do they just come to you?

It just comes to me. I don't consider myself a great writer, but I feel like I recognize a great idea, and I that I protect great writing. I think that's my talent.

You don’t think that writing is respected by Hollywood ?

I don't think it is. The minute you're willing to ask an audience what they think about the movie, then nobody cares about the writing; you care what they think. And I think that’s foolish. But unlike conventional wisdom, I don't go out and make a movie when the script is 60% just because I got the actor now and the director and I think the job's done. I'm anal. I don't even go out to actors until my script is 100% done, and I don't want anybody changing it. Annette Bening and Robert Duvall didn't change a line on Open Range . Why? Because I was sure that it worked. We didn’t change any lines -- William Hurt, Dane Cook and I -- in our half of the movie. Not a line.

Because I was positive it worked. Yeah, there's blood. There's a lot of blood. But that's what this movie was about. But there's a lot of tenderness in it, too. I just…what is everybody so afraid of? Not being number one at the box office? Well, we ain't going to be. We're not even going to come close. But we can be a movie that's so true to itself that you might want to take a friend back to it. Or you might not ever want to see it again, because of what it is. I’m not saying it’s an easy thing. But somebody else it might speak so loudly to -- "I want you to see this movie." And I'm proud that those moments are in there that would drive you back to it. I think it has classicness.

Can you say anything about the western you're working on now? Will you be using the same editor from Open Range ?

I'll probably use the same guy, yeah. It's just a good cowboy movie about friendship. There's a code. It’s done. It's written. It's 100% done. I'm not sure… people aren't dying to make ‘em. I'll just have to figure out how to make it. I'll have to mortgage something else.

What do you think about Brian De Palma’s making an Untouchables prequel?

No. I don't think about it at all. I mean, I think about it now because you brought it up.

Because it was an important film for you.

It was a very important film to me. It was very important to Brian. I'm not surprised that they've circled back to it to squeeze some more out of it.

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at [email protected].




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