Costner costarred with Danny Glover, Kevin Kline, and Scott Glenn in the classic 1985 western.
During our recent conversation with Kevin Costner, we noted that 2020 marks the 35th anniversary of Silverado, director Lawrence Kasdan’s rousing 1985 western, in which he rode tall — and ran wild — as a member of a heroic quartet that also included Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, and Scott Glenn.
The movie — now available on various streaming platforms — showcased Costner in the attention-grabbing role of Jake, a skirt-chasing firebrand who draws guns and makes passes with the same exuberant gusto. And it offered Costner a golden opportunity just when he needed it to elevate his profile and launch his ascent to stardom.
“Being awarded that part was just a total gift,” Costner said. “It was a career-making role, a scene-stealing role. It’s like, you always take what you have and you try to stay on focus. But Larry wrote it so beautifully — along with his brother, Mark Kasdan — that the character was designed to just jump off the page.
“And I was happy almost every day of my life doing that film.”
“Well,” Costner replied with a chuckle, “except for one day that we were all riding up to the wagon train — and the wind blew my serape right over my head as soon as I got off my horse. And I was so mad, because it didn’t look very elegant to me — and I was really upset that Lawrence kept it in there.”
But not so upset that, 35 years, Costner can’t laugh at the memory.
“It’s still unnerving to this day,” he said, “but now I realize it looks kind of funny when Jake pulls right up to the wagon train, gets off his horse — and then this happens.
“The really funny thing is, we had to shoot the scene a lot of times, because we had to get everybody in sync together. See, there’s riding horses — and then there’s riding them to hit their marks. And the one time everybody else got in line, it was the one time the wind just blew and blew. And blew the serape over my head, so that I looked like a little girl. And, yes I was pissed about it.
“Otherwise, though, I was happy every day in my life out there. I was doing exactly what I knew I was going to be doing after reading the script. So it was just a fabulous time. And it was a fabulous role for me. And I knew what it was going to do for my career.”
For the benefit of those who tuned in late: Arriving smack dab in the middle of the 1980s, Silverado did its darnedest to keep the western alive at a time when the genre appeared headed for the last round-up. And now, more than three decades later, it still satisfies as an old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing horse opera that shoots straight, rings true, and moves quicker than a cowboy galloping off to the chuck wagon. No doubt about it: Lawrence Kasdan's perfectly cast, action-packed romp is an unpretentious, unadulterated delight blessed with just enough high-spirited humor to make it all the more entertaining and worthy of repeat viewings.
In tone and detail, the movie recalls the better Technicolor westerns turned out by Paramount during the '50s and '60s. Movies such as Rio Bravo and El Dorado come immediately to mind as Kasdan assembles a motley but honorable group of good guys: Emmett (Scott Glenn), a lean and leathery gunfighter who can polish off three ambushers before breakfast; Paden (Kevin Kline), an ex-outlaw often burdened by his rogue streak of decency; Mal (Danny Glover), a slow-burning Black man who won't take much guff from Wild West rednecks; and Jake (Costner), Emmett's rambunctious brother.
The four misfits are thrown together by chance, stay together by choice during their escape from a posse, and reunite in the boomtown of Silverado — where they lock horns with a ruthless land baron and his paid-off sheriff. The pace quickens as the plot thickens, but Kasdan always allows enough time for character development and idiosyncratic touches.
Among the more intriguing plot twists: Paden, determined to remain detached, nonetheless finds himself drawn toward Stella, a diminutive bar hostess gracefully played by Linda Hunt (an Oscar-winner for 1982’s The Year of Living Dangerously and current co-star of TV’s NCIS: Los Angeles). The relationship, though purely platonic, percolates with undercurrents of romantic attraction. A priceless moment: Hunt, suddenly realizing Kline's regard for her, silently registers surprise, then amusement. The smile that flickers across her lips is a beautiful sight. Another director, in another movie, might have overplayed his hand here, or — worse still — given the relationship a kinky edge. Kasdan plays it nonchalantly, as he does during much of Silverado, treating his audience like grown-ups who can understand something without being pounded over the head with it.
Kasdan's intelligence and restraint serve Silverado well. Rather than attempting some sort of hip homage to familiar western conventions, he treats every facet of his movie — yes, even the moldiest of cliches — as something newly minted and freshly served. There's no self-conscious evoking of myths, no smirking nudges in the ribs. When Kline and the crooked sheriff — robustly played by Brian Dennehy — square off for a final showdown, Kasdan pulls out all the stops; there's even a dust storm blowing tumbleweeds down the near-deserted street to provide a dramatic backdrop. Yet, even if you smile at the scene, you don't laugh. Kasdan plays it perfectly straight — and damned if it isn't suspenseful.
The strong ensemble cast here is every bit as impressive as the group Kasdan assembled back in 1982 for The Big Chill. True, Rosanna Arquette has too little to do as a spunky farmwife, and Jeff Goldblum has even less as a snaky card shark. But their contributions, though brief, are welcome. John Cleese of Monty Python fame has an amusing cameo bit as a stiff-backed lawman who finds racial epithets distasteful. And Ray Baker, though not quite intimidating enough, snarls effectively as the greedy land baron.
Glenn is authoritatively stoic and heroic as Emmett. (When he rips off a bandage, straps on his guns and rides off after the bad guys, you can't help but cheer.) Glover hits the right balance of proud self-assurance and impulsive compassion. Kline, obviously relishing the film’s best-written role, plays Paden as a sensitive, sensible man who only wants to be left in peace. Cross one of his friends, though, and you're in big, big trouble.
And Costner? A relative newcomer when Silverado first hit the silver screen, he gives an exciting and ingratiating performance that every so often subtly suggests there’s a heart of darkness beating beneath Jake’s jocular bravado. (Note how he doesn’t provide the beaming smile you might expect after he bests two foes at once in a shootout.) And yes, it’s a performance that immediately marked him for even bigger and better things. Indeed, there’s something at once exhilarating and melancholy about his final line — “We’ll be back!” — because, dang it, you can’t help wishing he and his costars actually had returned for a sequel. In more ways than one, Silverado was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.