Have you been able to have creative input on your character?
Kevin Costner: Yeah, and because I’ve made movies, I have to understand that this is not the Thomas Harper movie, this is the Jack Ryan movie.
You have to understand what you’re doing. That’s what this is and that’s being set-up. If we think a couple of lines explains this better, Kenneth has allowed that input and he knows that I’ve stayed inside the lines of the movie that he wants to make, so there have been little moments. There’s going to be that, especially if there’s no rehearsal, because if you don’t have rehearsals, you haven’t tested the movie in a way. As an actor, you haven’t tested it. So, when somebody says to you, ‘here’s the script’ and you go, ‘I think it needs a couple of things here’ – you either have somebody who is willing to hear that or not willing to hear that.
A lot of times you’ve done your work with a script, like when I do my work with a script – if I’m doing Open Range, I can hear Annette Bening talking. I know as an actress she can get from here to here with those lines, and if she can’t, then I’m going to make the lines so she can. So, when Annette Bening gets a script she’s not telling me she can’t get there. I already know she can’t get there – you know what I mean? If Duvall’s there, I already know he can’t make that thing unless we do this thing. So, I try and sand the script before the actors get there because actors are usually panicked. They’re going, ‘isn’t this the Tom Harper story?’, or ‘isn’t this Catherine Muller story?’ Actors all think that it’s their story and you go ‘no, this is the story. This is how you fit, this is how you succeed’. So, it’s important with the small parts that there’s a moment that their mom’s going to like them in the role.
With Hatfields and McCoys you guys took an apparently major risk that paid-off in a big way and it proved to people that something they said couldn’t be done could be done. Has this opened any doors for things that people were skeptical about?
Oh yeah. We’re a whole business of perception. Now that suddenly works, we can all do it. There was no risk in doing Hatfields and McCoys. The risk was when I told them that I would not do it unless they did the whole story. What it was going to be was two nights, and that wasn’t the story. I could tell in my mind it was three nights – it was six hours, five and a half – whatever it is. And so, if I was going to be involved then they were going to have to do that. That forced them out of the conventions that they seem to think works, which is two nights. This was like, ‘whoooaaa! They don’t work anymore. They haven’t worked since Roots’. (Laughter). They didn’t really say that, I thought, ‘Gee, isn’t this the story that you want the other actors to do?’ I said, ‘I can look at this and you can’t get it into two nights’.
So, the risk for me was to do something which would have fallen into conventional wisdom. I didn’t want to have the fight later – I had it right then, sitting right as close as you are to me, with the head of that channel. I said, ‘I’ll do this if you promise to do the whole story. Now, I’m not making you do that, but I’m not doing it unless that. So what do you want to do?’ We made our agreement across the table and she lived up to it. That doesn’t make me a genius, that only makes me certain of what I believe is a complete story. I was certain that if they made it two nights – that would have been the risk. The risk was thinking you have a great story, then figuring out what you are going to lose. That’s the risk. You know, there’s a lot of actors in this town that were in that movie that would have not made the final cut.
I’m curious about your process as an actor and as a director. Some people prefer two takes, the way Clint Eastwood does it, while some people prefer 50 takes like David Fincher. As an actor I’m curious what you prefer and as a director I’m curious what you prefer?
David does 50 takes? That’s Kubrick. That’s Kubrick. He’s a very talented guy. You know, I go until I think I have it.
As an actor or as a director?
As a director. As an actor you have to throw yourself on. Somebody goes, ‘I’ve got it’, so if it was two takes then, or three takes then and they want to move on, it doesn’t I think that we’ve got it. I have to trust them, or I fight for one more. When I’m directing, I’m calling the shots. I have a tendency to short-change myself. I don’t short-change other actors, but I have a tendency, when I’m directing myself to go, ‘okay, I got it’. And once in a while somebody close to me will go, ‘why don’t you do another take? Why are you rushing yourself? Cause you’re always rushing to help the other actors and then you go, ‘I’ve got it’. So, no Kevin take some time with your performance. Just take some more time.’ You know what? It’s good advice.
I’ve seen takes where the camera is back here and I’m talking to you, the actor and I’m thinking, it’s good, good, good and I finally look back at the dailies and I go, why the f**k am I going ‘that’s good’? Somebody tells me I’m on camera. ‘So that really good take’s not good anymore?’ and they go, ‘yeah’.
It’s true though. Do you have children? I have seven – okay. If you ever have a child sometimes you go to their little school, or maybe you’ve had the experience with your own parents. When they’re singing a song and you go, ‘Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer’ like we practiced at home. You’re helping them. You do that as a director – you love your actors – you want them to be great. I’m watching Michael Gambon and he is great and I’m thinking, ‘I can’t direct this f***er. He’s good! He’s just really good. Like a Cadillac, how did he just get in there. He just got out of there’. He’s really good and you’re just thinking, ‘I’I’ve just directed Michael!’.
You’ve been talking about having more westerns in you. What is it about the genre which keeps you coming back for more?
You could say the same thing about people who do space, or do CIA movies – it’s like, don’t put me in a box. I like to visit it because when they’re done right, I think they’re really beautiful pieces of film. They highlight how difficult it was for your ancestors who found their way to America to make a life for themselves.
If you do them really right, you actually create these really interesting dilemmas where you go, ‘Woa! I don’t know if I was that tough’. I’m not talking about Spaghetti Westerns where you kill a lot of people – and people like those. I’m talking about one that orchestrates it down to how do you protect your wife from two or three guys who say they want water but might take whatever they want. The west was very scary. This town is like, like one ancient civilizations, but in terms of modern, America had nothing until 200 years ago. and the shit we built 200 years ago, we don’t even have. It got replaced by modern stuff. It was like the Garden of Eden there for 800 years.
Their stories are of people who made their way out west, had to wait for seven, eight days for just the buffalo to pass in front of them because – we’re talking about over a million. They were afraid, so the wagon train just waited. You don’t conceive of that, you can’t conceive of that – and that’s real. If you make a really good western, it’s not just about the shoot-out, it’s not. It’s about, ‘how did I get in such a bad spot here? How did it come down to me against these guys?’ If you do it thoughtfully, it’s our Shakespeare. If you do it crappy, it sets the genre back.
I like to revisit it, I hope when I do it each time I’m advancing it in some way. I just like it, I like the idea of a guy, who all the possessions he owns are on his back. There’s something kind of cool about that. Look at the s**t we have. Some guy, just free to go wherever he wants and makes-up his own life.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit opens in theaters on January 17, 2013.
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