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Kevin Costner says 'Draft Day' transcends sports

Gene Triplett Published: April 11, 2014
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Kevin Costner
Kevin Costner

BY GENE TRIPLETT

LOS ANGELES — Kevin Costner had to walk through the Four Seasons patio area
where the breakfast buffet for the press was laid out before he could get to the
Orchid Room where all the reporters were waiting for him.
“I saw all the food and I thought this is the place to be,” he said as he came
in out of the sunshine. “And then I saw all the cameras and I thought, maybe
not.”
That brought him his first laugh from his audience of interviewers. He was
wearing sunglasses — which he politely removed — a gray vest from a
three-piece suit over a white dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves, brown designer
jeans, and a thick moustache and goatee that made him look every inch the
all-American star who’s had enough successes to dress any way he wants and maybe
show up a little late and still be forgiven.
Except he wasn’t all that late, and he proved interesting, philosophical and
often very funny as he talked of movies in general and his new film in
particular — “Draft Day.”
Everyone was aware of the star’s growing list of sports-themed movies, including
three baseball yarns (“Bull Durham,” 1988; “Field of Dreams,” 1989; “For Love of
the Game,” 1999), one bicycle-racing drama (“American Flyers,” 1985) and a
romantic comedy-drama set in the world of professional golf (“Tin Cup,” 1996).
“Draft Day,” directed by Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”), is Costner’s first
football movie. In it he plays Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager of the
Cleveland Browns. Personal and professional lives reach a critical turning point
on the first day of the NFL draft. Sonny is faced with bartering for the number
one pick that will allow him to rebuild his team, and at the same time figuring
how to do the right thing by his pregnant girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner), who
is also his colleague, in charge of salary caps for the Browns.
He’s also working under pressures brought to bear by a contentious coach (Denis
Leary), an overbearing team owner (Frank Langella), a disapproving mother (Ellen
Burstyn), the harsh court of public opinion, and the high bar set by his
recently deceased father, the beloved former head coach of the Browns.
So, why should a non-football fan buy a ticket to this movie, especially someone
who has zero knowledge of — or interest in — the workings of the NFL draft?
“This movie didn’t have a lot of homes,” Costner said. “Lionsgate was the one
that saw the potential and protected it. ‘Ah, I don’t know. One day of the
draft?’ But it’s not. It’s really about the human element. It’s about boy and
girl. It’s about, ‘Could we not talk about this on my most important day of the
year?’ No. She says, ‘No, we’re gonna talk about it now.’
“That is such a woman. Jesus Christ. It’s like, ‘Wow, could we pick a better
day?’ ‘No. We’re talkin’ about it now.’ And then what does she do? She drives
off in a huff. I still have my day to go through. I see her in the hall. She
acts like everything is all right.
“And we laugh,” he said. “And that’s what the movies, when they’re working their
very best, are about. Moments like that, where we see ourselves. We chuckle.
When we’re in the middle of our own life it’s not very funny. And we’re
confused.
“But, you know, this movie, it’s not about football. It is about that age-old
thing of people who love each other who just can’t seem to get it together for a
while and then finally do. And we adore that. We want that. And we make amends
with my mom. And we want that, too.”
Costner said one of his favorite moments in the film is when he finally cusses
out the manager of a rival team who’s been gloating all day about having the
upper hand in the wheeling and dealing for number one pick.
“And I tell that guy who’s been mean to me, ‘You pancake-eating mother——.’
And you know what? We kinda wish we were Sonny right then. We’re kinda glad what
he says to that guy, vulgarity aside. He almost needed the vulgarity, because
the guy was such a bad winner. Right? Don’cha hate bad winners? The guy was a
bad winner all day. And I had to nail ‘im right there at the end. And I’m glad
that that single line didn’t spin this movie into an R (rating). Because we see
what R’s really are out there. But this was a moment that needed all the salt
and pepper. Needed everything, to let this guy know that I basically said it for
everybody in the audience. That’s what needed to be said to that p—k at that
moment.
“And movies can do that,” Costner said. “And the difference between movies and
our own life is that sometimes in these heated moments we don’t know what to
say. And we wish somebody wrote our own script for us. And it doesn’t always
work that way. We fumble.”
But more than providing such vicarious satisfactions, movies can teach important
life lessons and even shape one’s character by example, Costner believes. He
certainly credits a pair of loving parents, who always came to his high school
football, basketball and baseball games, for shaping him as a person, but his
favorite films had their influence as well.
“The movies helped define how I should be as a person,” Costner said. “That may
sound funny, but there’s a lot for us to learn at the movies. I remember
watching ‘Giant’ as a boy. And I saw Rock Hudson and James Dean and Elizabeth
Taylor. But Rock Hudson starts out a bit of a bigot, a bit of a racist. His
boy’s gonna marry a little Chicano girl. And in Texas that just ain’t gonna
happen, because of the Alamo, because of everything. It ain’t gonna happen. And
so he starts off as a racist.
“And I also love the movie ’cause it’s like over three hours long. Duh,” he
added, making a joking reference to his own three-hour epics (“Dances with
Wolves,” “Waterworld,” “The Postman”).
Costner recalled the final scene in “Giant,” when Hudson’s character stops at a
Texas roadside diner with his wife, his Chicano daughter-in-law and grandchild.
When the hulking redneck proprietor refuses to serve them because of the color
of the daughter-in-law’s and baby’s skins, the outraged Hudson character gets
into a brutal fist fight with the cafe owner while “The Yellow Rose of Texas”
plays on the soundtrack.
“And the guy defeats Rock Hudson, which, number one, in the movies doesn’t
happen all the time,” Costner said. “The leading man doesn’t lose, the leading
man wins. But not in this fight. And he takes a terrible beating … And
Elizabeth Taylor is in tears, his daughter-in-law’s in tears and the baby’s
crying and glass is breaking, and at the end, Rock Hudson is laying in a pile
over there. But Elizabeth goes over to him and says, ‘You’ve never stood
taller.’
“And I thought to myself, that’s who I wanna be. The guy on the floor. And he
lost. So, a long story to say I’ve never been afraid of things not working. I
think it’s an underrated experience in life. I’ve had some wild, wild successes
and I try to clean up the oceans and I try to do things. I’m not afraid to be on
the floor. As long as I got my girl to come say, ‘I saw what you’re trying to
do.’ And so, we can learn a lot from the movies.”
And this brings Costner back to sports movies, and the formula for making good
ones.
“If you wanna make a good sports movie, you gotta cut down on the sports,” he
said. “You know, you have to make it about people. You can’t try to impress
people with your knowledge and the X-and-O’s and all the details and the
technicalities. We know about this sport. Ya gotta know that people are gonna
sit down, they’ve gotten babysitters. And then what happens is you have to
conduct scenes that can speak to this person that said, ‘Why’d you bring me to
this movie? Don’t we watch enough football already, now we’ve got to see it on
the big screen?’
“And so the lights go out and the movie starts and women start to see
themselves. And men start to see themselves. And, yes, there’s this backdrop of
the NFL but he wants to tell his mom that they’re gonna have a baby. There’s a
lot goin’ on in the movie. And that’s when movies are always going to be at
their best, is when they are about moments and, I’ve said before, the smallest
gesture that maybe you never ever forget.”
Travel and accommodations provided by Summit Entertainment.