Throwing Heat

In Sam Raimi's "For Love of the Game," Kevin Costner plays Billy Chapel, a legendary Detroit Tiger about to go on the mound for the last game of the season--and possibly the last game of his career. Chapel has just learned he's going to be traded after 20 years, and that the woman he loves (Kelly Preston) wants to leave him. It's a classic Costner role, showcasing his athleticism, his diffident heroism and his time-tested romantic appeal. Editing the movie, though, was a battle. Costner spoke to NEWSWEEK's Mark Miller about the damage he believes Universal Pictures did by cutting scenes and bowing to the ratings board. The actor is especially frustrated because he waived an upfront, $20 million salary, and felt the studio had a duty to trust his vision. Excerpts:

MILLER: Why another baseball movie now?

COSTNER: I liked the story. It wasn't about going back to something that had worked well in the past. I don't plan my career like that. I did "Field of Dreams" and "Bull Durham" back to back--that wasn't what you would call an obvious career decision.

Baseball is important to you.

I learned how to behave on the playground. I learned about standing up to someone who doesn't play fair.

Speaking of which, you're frustrated with the finished film and with Universal.

Listen, I don't want to pout on a national level. I just feel like they hurt the movie.

You're upset that the studio shortened the movie and dropped some adult dialogue so it'd be given a PG-13 rating instead of an R.

Yes. [For Universal], this movie has always been about the length and the rating. It's never been about the content. And you feel a studio would want to release the best version of the movie, not the one they think appeals to the biggest common denominator. Just because you open up the demographic doesn't mean they will come.

Did you tell Universal that you were going to speak your mind in interviews?

Oh, the studio and I don't even talk. They don't want to talk to me... Maybe they think my considerations are just purely narcissistic. But the truth is, these aren't even my lines or my scenes [that were cut].

Well, there was the nude shower scene you did that got cut out as well.

[Laughs] Well, that's hurting you. But Universal wasn't even willing to try [to fight the ratings board]. They said it wouldn't do any good... The love of the movies, I believe, is waning [in Hollywood]. And it's given over to commercial instincts. I think the crime is that executives are not training any young executives under them about what real courage is. Ten years from now, when the younger exec is in charge and they have a tough decision, they won't be able to say, "I remember how Arthur Krim behaved with 'Midnight Cowboy.' When they said it was an X, he said, 'Well, then it's an X!' "

Isn't this the sort of fight that makes people in Hollywood say you're not a "team player"?

I'm not a team player? I'll live with that, because I am always going to come down on the side of the movie and the people who pay eight bucks.

You have this straight-arrow American image, and yet you're polarizing. There are people in the audience who don't like you. Do you notice that?

No, I don't. But I accept what you say. You mean they don't like me in "Tin Cup," and they don't like me in "Bull Durham"?

No, they liked you in those, I think.

But they don't like me in "Waterworld" or "Perfect World"? I don't know how to change that or fix that.

It's who you are.

Yeah, I haven't made enough sequels. Maybe they'd get used to me. [Laughs]

But so many of your contemporaries make sequels. Do you ever want to?

No, I'd rather be polaring--polarizing. [Laughs] You should print that, even though I didn't pronounce it correctly.

Hollywood's attitude seems to be that the story's not important.

But it is to me. And it's worth fighting for. It's worth protecting. I mean, I always feel like these scripts and these movies are almost like patients that are in comas. And there's no one to talk for them. There's no one to go, "Don't pull the plug on me!" I feel like sometimes I'm talking for the movie, you know?... I actually know how to make a movie go faster, too. I just don't want to. I mean, I know how to cut scenes in half. I know how to cut down Kelly [Preston]'s lines. I know how to do it. But why?

You said you don't have a plan. You're going to hate me for this, but "The Postman" felt like "Waterworld" on land.

That's what it felt like to you. It didn't to me. I feel like it's a great modern fairy tale. I love it to this day. And I got incredibly passionate letters over that movie. I mean, I've had people come up, unsolicited, and really want to talk about it. So should we discount them? Is the measure of a movie in its box office? Clearly, it's not for me.

Is there a script for a "Bodyguard" sequel?

Well, we're working on one. It's pretty good, but I won't do it unless it's great.

Who would be the client you protect?

[Princess] Diana was going to be.

Do you think she was serious about that?

Yeah, she was serious about looking at it. I think I could have talked her into it. I would have protected her.

Let's talk about the way you view women--

I think I bring women great roles in most of my movies. From Mary McDonnell and Sean Young in "No Way Out" to Susan Sarandon and Rene Russo. I hear women complain about how there aren't good roles, but not about my movies, generally.

Do you think you understand women?

I think I have an appreciation of women, and a desire to understand them. [Laughs] The fact that I don't makes me like every other guy in the world. I trust women, you know? I trust how--when they feel protected--how fiercely you get their loyalty.

At dinner, all those women were sending notes to you. I was kind of amazed.

[Dryly] It adds to my reading. Sometimes those notes are really surprising. Sometimes I'll open one and I'll think it'll be a bit of an offer. But it'll be, "My dad passed away, and the last movie he saw was your movie, and we saw it together. Thank you." And you just swallow. Or they'll point out some [little detail] that you fought for instead of being a "team player." Because that's what I believe people latch on to--those unconventional things. They may not drive the plot forward, but they make you see yourself so honestly that you go boom. I swear to God, sometimes I feel like studios go through with a fine-tooth comb and take that stuff out.

Do you think you'll get married again?

I could get married again.

Do you want to?

Uh, I don't want to be divorced again.

Given your value system, divorce must have felt like a terrible failure.

Well, I've failed before, and failing, I think, is an underrated experience in America. People are so afraid of failing they don't want to even try. I never felt that way.

Will you work with Universal again?

They probably don't want to make movies with me, and I certainly don't want to make movies with them... I think "Love of the Game" is a really good movie. It's as good a performance as I have in me. But I'll never forgive or forget what they've done.

One thing you've captured in your movies is bullheaded male behavior. In "Tin Cup," you hit one shot over and over just to prove you can do it. Are you like that in real life?

I don't really give up very easily. If I think my aim is true. I don't think Tin Cup thought he was hurting anybody. For everybody in the crowd, he was wrong, but for him, he wasn't. Even though he was going to lose, he was going to do it on his terms. And I do think I'm like that. I don't like to take other people down with me. But, for myself, I don't mind swinging for the fences.