Kevin Costner has often been compared to Gary Cooper. Even Cooper’s widow, Rocky, once told me she saw the similarities: “They both act with their eyes.” Now 30-plus years into his career, Costner still radiates the all-American appeal and casual glamour that helped make him a star.
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.
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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. “Don’t let me be a preacher!” I wanted to impart a bit of the Whitney that I knew, and maybe people could think about her in a different way.
You held off filming The Bodyguard for a year to wait for her.
You don’t do that for everybody. And it was a pretty seminal moment for Whitney. I was told that the movie made a big impression on the black community because I took Whitney in my arms and kissed her, not as a black woman but as a beautiful woman. That’s how I saw her.
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You and Whitney were both raised Baptist. Do you still pray?
Yes, because I realize I have been very lucky. I feel that there has been a hand over my life. I haven’t lived a perfect life. I have regrets. But that’s from a lifetime of taking chances, making decisions, and trying not to be frozen. The only thing that I can do with my regrets is understand them. When I see my children, and when I see the people who value me, I know how lucky I am. I think, “Where did that luck come from?” And so I give thanks for the life I’ve lived.
I want to live forever, and I know I won’t. I’m not afraid of dying. I’m only afraid of one thing: not being able to raise my kids. When I pray, that’s what I pray for—that I be the one who raises Grace, Hayes, and Cayden.
How are your older kids?
My son Joe just got his first job out of college—he’s a sound engineer at a music studio. I’m so proud of Joe, Lily, and Annie. Annie told me something that I found really moving. When she went away to college in Chile, we changed her last name because we thought it’d be better for her down there not to have any connection [to me]. Then Annie called and said, “I’ve spent my whole life not wanting to lean on my name. But the minute it was taken away from me, it really bothered me. I miss our name.” What she said was so beautiful.
Your second wife, Christine, badly wanted children, and you didn’t want more, right?
Yes. She said, “I’m going to wait for you, but not long. When you come to your senses, come back to me.” [laughs] And I did.
What makes your marriage work?
Maybe it’s the ability to say you’re sorry. I know that sounds so simple. If you’re willing to tell somebody that you love them, are you also willing to say you’re sorry? You need to, even when you think you’re in the right.
When The Untouchables was released in 1987, did you know that you had become a big movie star?
I was aware that good things were happening to me. It was a big moment. But I never wanted to be the No. 1 person. That comes and goes. I just wanted to be in the room where the decision was made, so that when I wanted to make a film, I made it.
Why did you want to make Hatfields & McCoys?
As we get further and further removed from history, people start to think these stories weren’t true—that the Hatfields and McCoys were a comic. But no—these were people who came out of the Civil War, which was the root of so many problems. So to give authenticity and perspective to that story was interesting to me.
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You know, these are very easy people to make fun of. They have beards; they’re ultra-religious; they talk funny. But these people and their descendants were judges and senators. It’s like what started the feud—one of the reasons was a pig trial. It’s easy for us to laugh at that, right? But a pig could feed a family for 30 days. And today people will go to court if their view in Malibu is obstructed.
Anybody who watches [the miniseries] will know that the Hatfields and the McCoys are part of the American fabric.
Have you ever thought about running for office?
I would never do it. Ego has slipped so far into the political landscape that it’s usurped the idea of public service. A good idea for one party is a bad idea for another—it has to be defeated. Do I have the mentality to govern? I think I do, but not in the system that exists. I would be frustrated.
What do you love about the career you’ve chosen?
I’ve always felt performance-oriented. If you compare acting to a sports moment, where you’re down to the last shot or pitch, a lot of people wouldn’t want to be in that situation. I’ve always liked it. I’ve never thought as much about the things that could go wrong as what can possibly go right.
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