Dressed in a beige sweater over a white T-shirt, ivory chinos, and spotless canvas sneakers, he relaxes in an armchair in the living room of his oceanfront house outside Santa Barbara, Calif. It is a modest home by movie star standards: four bedrooms on a suburban lot close to the neighbors. But Costner is at ease here, talking about his family, his career, the people he has loved. At 57, he is deeply tanned, his hair now grayish-blond, his voice soft and soothing. He is still sexy, and he knows it.
See photos of Kevin Costner through the years
He lives with his second wife, handbag designer Christine Baumgartner, 38, and their children, daughter Grace, almost 2, and sons Hayes, 3, and Cayden, 5. As we talk through the afternoon, we can hear the kids playing in other rooms. Costner says he needs a bigger house and is planning to build it on 10 waterfront acres nearby. His brood also includes three adult children with his first wife and college sweetheart, Cindy Silva, from whom he was divorced in 1994, and a teenage son from a brief post-divorce affair with Pittsburgh football heiress Bridget Rooney. “You never stop raising kids,” he tells me.
Costner grew up far from beachfront wealth, in a conservative, hardworking Baptist family in Southern California. He studied business at Cal State Fullerton, married, and landed a job in marketing after graduation. But he quit after a month to become an actor. “The dialogue in my head was ‘You’ve got to live your life for yourself,’ ” recalls Costner. He went on to appear in over 40 films, including The Untouchables, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and Dances With Wolves, winning Oscars for the latter for directing and Best Picture.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the famous post-Civil War clans portrayed in Costner’s Hatfields & McCoys
His latest project is the miniseries Hatfields & McCoys, about the post–Civil War clans who famously feuded; it airs May 28, 29, and 30 on the History channel. He’ll also play Clark Kent’s dad in the 2013 Superman reboot, Man of Steel. It was a different type of performance, however, that recently won him attention and praise: In February it fell to Kevin Costner, Whitney Houston’s costar in The Bodyguard, to deliver a eulogy for his friend at her funeral in her childhood church in Newark, N.J.
PARADE Why did you want to speak at Whitney Houston’s service?
When [Whitney died], immediately people were on the airwaves talking about it. It’s unusual to watch the world talking about someone that you have a fairly unique relationship with. It’s almost surreal. This little drumbeat began: “You need to say something.” Did you feel like you wanted to hear from me?
Yes. I also thought—and I think it’s in the film—that lots of people have the idea that the two of you were lovers. That they were thinking, “This is the only guy who ever really loved her, and why doesn’t he say something?”
Well, I began to feel that. ... You know, I didn’t feel the need to tell people I knew her. A couple of times over the years I called radio stations that were on her pretty hard, asking the deejay to look at it in a different light. And at a couple of critical moments in her life, I was asked by a close friend to write her a letter. And I did. I don’t know if she ever read them.
Did Whitney’s Hollywood celebrity contribute to her substance abuse?
There’s an epidemic of drugs everywhere. Hollywood is a very small part of it.
Did you sense her vulnerability?
Oh, yes. I tried to identify it in my eulogy. ... I think about Whitney a little bit the way I think about the Kennedys. I know there’s trouble, but I choose to think about a lot of other stuff. The trouble is as real as the achievement, but it does not tarnish it. [Costner starred in two films about the Kennedys, JFK and Thirteen Days.]
Who invited you to speak at her funeral?
Dionne Warwick. My wife and I flew into New York on a Friday night, and the next day we went to the funeral. I was writing [my eulogy] on the plane, in the limo, in bed. It was important. When I first walked into that church, it was electric, man. The band was going, the people were moving. I started [speaking] with the idea that sometimes what you think life will be it won’t be at all, and about what was real between Whitney and me, what we talked about—being in church when we were little, both getting in trouble, about our not wanting to be preachers.