Kevin Costner goes West (again)


It may seem a safe assumption that most film actors love to play dress-up.

Not Kevin Costner.

The two-time Oscar winner certainly seems to on the surface. He’s done numerous westerns. He’s been at least two post-apocalyptic heroes, including one with gills and webbed feet. He’s even played a gun-toting Elvis impersonator.

And in his latest project, Costner sports some impressive scruff and adopts a believable Appalachian drawl to sink into the role of rough-and-tumble patriarch Devil Anse Hatfield in the three-part miniseries, . Dressing up is fine, Costner acknowledges. But it’s more of a means to an end.

“I’m not a guy who likes Halloween,” says Costner, during an interview with Canadian media to promote the six-hour series, which begins Monday on History Television (May 28). “So I’m a little at odds with what I’ve chosen to do with my life. I never liked going to a party dressed as a pirate because when you get past that initial ‘Oooh, you’re a pirate,’ then you feel a little silly (for) the rest of the party.

That said, he adds, “putting on the guns, letting the beard go and getting a pipe? That is fun. You look at everybody and wink and say, ‘Man, I have one of the great jobs in the world.’ Who wouldn’t want to be in front of the horses going as fast as you can go? I guess the answer is a lot of people. But I love riding that horse with a bunch coming behind me.”

As Devil Anse Hatfield, Costner gets to ride, shoot, spit, smoke his pipe and tussle in the mud in the fact-based series about America’s most famous blood feud, which may or may not have started over a stolen pig. But while the names Hatfields and McCoys have sunk into our public consciousness as shorthand for silly, long-simmering conflicts, this version offers an authentically dark look at the post-Civil War tale.

There’s no barefoot, overalls-sporting hillbillies blasting buckshot at each other. The setting is a fractured, hate-filled America full of grim-faced children, poverty, violence and stubborn family honour.

“Sometimes when we look at this period, we start to think of these as people with funny hats and funny beards and ‘Gosh, they had a feud that lasted into the next century over a pig,’ ” says Costner. “We can’t really understand the wounds that came with the Civil War. The Civil War, no matter how we try to distance ourselves from it, threw a veil over this entire story with the anger and how deep feelings ran and how people used it as an excuse for violence.”

Part 1 of Hatfields & McCoys chronicles the unravelling friendship between Devil Hatfield and Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton), which begins when the former deserts his fellow Confederates at the tail end of the Civil War. While McCoy is still out fighting, Devil’s belligerent uncle Jim Vance (Tom Berenger) guns down his brother.

Randall returns from the war as a jittery and God-fearing man forced to oversee a large and impoverished family. Things escalate further as the two families feud over perceived land swindles, the aforementioned stolen pig, more murders and, finally, a Romeo-and-Juliet-style romance between Devil’s son and Randall’s daughter. And that’s just in the first episode.

“We did our best to be faithful to both stories, both families, and try to go down the rabbit holes of subplots,” Costner explains.

In fact, beyond the human story, Costner says the miniseries gets high marks for historical accuracy. American history has always been a large part of the actor’s filmography: From the Cold War explorations of JFK and Thirteen Days; to revisionist portrayals of the American West in Wyatt Earp and Dances with Wolves; right up to his supporting role in 2010’s The Company Men, which looked at the human toll of America’s economic meltdown.

“I feel an affinity for my own country, for the history, and like to tell it in a robust way,” says Costner, who also acted as producer on Hatfields & McCoys. “If I see it told that way, I’m certainly not afraid to go after it. It doesn’t necessarily mean the subject is in vogue. My great joy has been to be a storyteller.”

Hatfields & McCoys was robust enough to require a gruelling four-month shoot in the hills of Romania, which subbed in for Kentucky and West Virginia due to budget concerns. Finding the locations, not to mention enough supporting actors who spoke the language, was among the problems that Costner had to address as a producer.

Which may suggest he might want to take a stab at something a little less ambitious and epic for his followup. But the actor says he has six or seven films on the back burner that he would like to direct if given the opportunity, freedom and budget. As an actor, the 57-year-old may seem to be leaning toward more character roles these days. Scheduling conflicts forced him to drop out of Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Django Unchained, where he was to play a villain in the 19th-century tale. He has a small part in the upcoming Superman reboot, Man of Steel, where he’ll play the adoptive father of Clark Kent.

But Costner says he realizes that the public still sees him as the strong, silent patriarch. In other words, someone like Devil Hatfield.

“If I could have chose, I might have chose Jim Vance’s part ” he says with a laugh. “(He is) very colourful. A lot of times the patriarchs have to anchor the story. I’m looking for a sports analogy here. You can take another part on just to prove you can act or sometimes you can understand that because you are 6-foot-10 you should play the centre, even though you think you’re a guard. So I have to put on my producer’s hat to understand where I provide the most value in the storytelling.”

The Hatfields & McCoys airs over three weeks in Canada on History Television: May 28, June 4, June 11

Source: Calgary Hearld