STORY WRITTEN BY AMY LONGSDORF
For Digital First Media
Even though he’s best known for his good-guy turns in “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “Dances With Wolves” and “JFK,” Kevin Costner has played his share of villains through the years.
Remember his performance as a kidnapper in “A Perfect World” or a serial killer in “Mr. Brooks”?
Now, he’s adding to his line-up of heavies with his latest role. In “Criminal,” Costner plays Jericho Stewart, a lawbreaker who’s drafted by a CIA chief (Gary Oldman) into a freaky experiment.
The spooks, with help from a neuroscientist (Tommy Lee Jones), inject into Jericho’s consciousness the memories and skill set of a dead CIA agent (Ryan Reynolds) in hopes of allowing Jericho to finish the dangerous job started by Reynolds.
Even though Jericho does some dastardly things in the movie, Costner is only half-joking when he defends his character as a man in a lot of pain.
“Bad? I wasn’t bad,” he says. “I just don’t think people understood my problem.
“What I wanted to do … is show the holes in my head and the scars in the back of my neck [from the implantation]. In old Hollywood, you wouldn’t have [shown] that. But I never played a moment without being in a kind of pain.”
Costner is the first to admit that bringing Jericho Stewart to life was one of the toughest challenges of his career.
“I have to tell you, I’ve never done to a part where I almost didn’t know how to play it,” says the actor, 61. “I had grown a big beard and really long hair, and I came to the set without any benefit of rehearsal and it was complicated for me.
“I’ve played a lot of characters where you can go, ‘Well, what’s so complicated?’ But this was a complicated character for me … I wasn’t even sure what my voice was going to be. I wasn’t sure about anything.”
Together with the make-up artist, Costner decided to cut off the beard and trim his hair. When he saw his new look, complete with crewcut and goatee, the character began to fall into place.
“I went into the makeup trailer and [they] created the look you see, probably 40 minutes before I walked on the set,” he recalls. “Then I found my voice for the character.”
Even though he’s been acting for more than 30 years, Costner still gets a charge out of what he does for a living, particularly when he’s involved behind-the-scenes, as he has been on assorted projects from “Dances With Wolves” to “Black Or White.”
“I do love it,” says the actor, a father of seven who has been married to second wife Christine Baumgartner for a dozen years. “I don’t know what it is [about the process] but you go off together with a friend and you start firing ideas back and forth, and when you can get paid to do it, then it really gets cool.
“I like story-telling. I like writing, I like editing, I really like rehearsal … The red carpet is probably six or seven on my list. The premiere is sixth or seventh on my list. It’s not that I don’t like to go. I like to see my children and my friends and my wife get dressed up … But it’s not my favorite part.”
For his next role in “Hidden Figures,” Costner plays the supporting role of a NASA chief. Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson star in the film as two engineers who contributed to the space race in the early 1960s.
“These women had a tremendous impact on NASA,” says Costner. “In fact, John Glenn wasn’t even going to go [to the moon] because the computer, the IBM, had broken down. John Glenn said, ‘I will go if this woman does the calculations.’ That’s moving to me. And that woman went on to have a 40-year career at NASA.
“She was touched by God with a gift. The other woman, really funny, comes home after work and has to fix a TV for her husband and has to fix the car. She actually fixes the IBM that’s not working.
“This is a celebration of people who had a big impact but [their contributions] have been lost to history. It happens all the time.”
“Hidden Figures” isn’t Costner’s first movie with a racially diverse cast. In fact, he prides himself on making a number of films which have tackled issues of racism, including “Dances With Wolves,” “The Bodyguard” and “Black Or White.”
“In ‘Black Or White,’ Octavia [Spencer] was really good,” recalls Costner. “I was pretty good in it, too. Nobody mentioned that movie at all [for awards]. No one talked about the fact that we were bringing up issues of [race].”
As for the controversy that surrounded the Oscars this year, in regards to all of the acting nominees being white, Costner, a two-time Academy Award winner, is in favor of changes being made to the organization’s voting body.
“I think the demographics of the voting body has to change but I never see overt racism myself,” says the actor. “Maybe it is there. I don’t know. If I catch it or I see it, I would put a stop to it.”
In addition to “Hidden Figures,” Costner is working on his next directorial outing, his first since 2003’s acclaimed “Open Range.”
In keeping with the spirit of the four-hour “Dances With Wolves” and the three-hour “The Postman,” the new movie is going to be very lengthy.
“It’s a Western and I’d like to direct it next spring,” says Costner. “I just came back from scouting it last week in New Mexico. It’s about 10 hours long and I’m not going to leave anything out.
“I haven’t figured out the configuration yet. It could be four movies. It could be released Memorial Day, Christmas, Fourth of July, every six months in a true serial fashion, as opposed to somebody making a movie and going, ‘Hey, it did all right. Let’s make another one.’
“It covers about 30 years and it’s really beautiful. It’s very harsh. It’s very woman-oriented, if you can believe that. Men are in it, and they drive the violence. But women are a very big part of it.”