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Kevin Costner: On The Comeback Trail

Kevin Costner now finds his star ascendant again

Kevin Costner is back in the saddle. After the hit romance Message in a Bottle and the eagerly-awaited For the Love of the Game, the star who single-handedly revived the Hollywood Western is once again on the rise.

Kevin Michael Costner was born in Lynnwood, California, on January 18, 1955. Costner's father endured frequent transfers as part of his job. "I was a loner," Costner remembers, "always the new kid on the block because we moved so damn much."

His father gave him a BB gun and taught him to shoot at age 5. Soon young Kevin was fashioning his own home-made bows and arrows, playing both cowboy and Indian. "I can remember watching How the West was Won, and certain moments made me tingle. ... I believe in the magic of movies."

As a young man, Costner enrolled at California State University at Fullerton where he met a girl named Cindy Silva. "She was so beautiful, so decent," Costner remembers, "there was such a glow about her." Kevin and Cindy were married in 1978.

One day in his accounting class, Costner saw an audition ad for a community theater production. "It was the moment I decided to be an actor. I never looked back."

Costner worked a month at a construction job after graduation, then quit. While taking acting classes, he worked as a stage manager at a movie studio, vying with thousands of other actors trying to break into Hollywood.

Costner's big break came when he landed a one-line speaking role in the movie Frances, starring Jessica Lange. Costner uttered his line in a scene that was eventually cut from the film.

Being cut from the film became Costner's specialty--five of his earliest movie roles were edited out, including a choice part in Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill. But Costner's career took an upturn when he landed lead roles in two projects for Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment--an Amazing Stories episode and a small coming-of-age film set in Texas called Fandango.

Meanwhile, Lawrence Kasdan was planning Silverado, a big-budget Western, and had Costner in mind for a wild young gunfighter named Jake. Costner reveled in the opportunity to play cowboy again. "To be on horses, to be with a bunch of guys, and to shoot guns. It was great fun." But Costner was about to discover that baseball diamonds are a star's best friend.

Costner's smart, sexy minor league catcher in Bull Durham scored with audiences and critics alike. As co-star Susan Sarandon puts it, "When some of those guys play heroes, you believe their anger, you believe their violence, but you can't believe it when they love somebody. Kevin can do all three." The ethereal and sentimental Field of Dreams was also a hit.

The unexpected success of the baseball movies gave Costner the power to produce the sprawling Western — Dances With Wolves. Costner's deliberate and compelling epic was a daunting task for a first-time director and producer, especially when he is also a star who insists on doing his own stunts. Particularly memorable was the buffalo hunt sequence.

Dances With Wolves won seven Academy Awards, including best picture, director, and screenplay. To honor his sympathetic representation of the Lakota Sioux, Costner was adopted by the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Nation.

When Costner returned home after filming Robin Hood--Prince of Thieves, long-running rumors of the star's infidelity culminated with revelations in the press of his affairs with a London nightclub hostess and an American actress. Cindy Costner had long endured such painful reports, and now demanded a renewed commitment from her husband. The Costners agreed to make a concerted effort to save their marriage.

Following Prince of Thieves was a series of very different roles: the crusading district attorney in Oliver Stone's controversial JFK; a lead role in the romantic thriller The Bodyguard; and a brooding and thoughtful ex-con in A Perfect World.

Costner returned to the West with Wyatt Earp. Costner was fascinated by the character of the frontier marshal. "If you were in Tombstone ... you either lined up with him or you lined up against him." Unfortunately, audiences lined up instead for Tombstone, starring Kurt Russell.

Next, Costner's 16-year marriage to Cindy ended with a reported $80 million divorce settlement. Meanwhile, his intention to build, along with his brother Dan Costner, a $100 million resort near Deadwood, South Dakota, alienated him from local Native Americans.

Following the disappointing Wyatt Earp was the seagoing post-apocalyptic Waterworld in 1995, the favorably reviewed Tin Cup in 1996, and The Postman in 1997. None found a wide audience, It seemed Costner's reign was over.

But Message in a Bottle proved that Costner could still draw a crowd. Still to come this summer is For the Love of the Game.

Costner has achieved admirable successes and suffered costly failures over the course of his career, and his future remains unpredictable. But Costner isn't a quitter as he illustrated after a stunt collision during the filming of Dances With Wolves. Dazed but uninjured, Costner got up, asked for another horse, and kept filming. Nothing is going to keep this cowboy out of the saddle.


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