The Epic Western Still Affects Costner Like Manifest Destiny


'`ID like to think my life can add up to more than movies,'' Kevin Costner says. ``I'm taking a year off after my next film, to have time to rethink some things and maybe even reinvent myself.''

Mr. Costner, looking far from weary, says, ``It's the first time I've ever done so many films in a row in my life.'' He calls his current Warner Bros. release, ``Wyatt Earp,'' not just a western, but ``the big meal,'' a full-blown epic.

``I had this idea about three-and-a-half years ago,'' Costner explains. ``We all seem to love this narrow 40-year window in history. Wyatt Earp lived in the middle of it - he saw the buffalo disappear, the cow towns appear, wagon trains, railroad, freight, a new frontier. He became one of the West's legends.

``When my partner, Jim Wilson, and I first started talking about a movie on the life of Wyatt Earp, we saw it as a six-hour miniseries.''

In 1992, they approached writer-director-producer Lawrence Kasdan about this idea, but he wasn't interested. Mr. Kasdan had written and directed ``The Big Chill'' and gave Costner his first break in 1983 with a small role. But Costner's scenes were cut from the finished picture. When Kasdan told the young actor his part was out, Costner didn't make a big fuss. The director was so impressed by his lack of ego or anger, that he wrote Costner into his next movie - the 1985 western, ``Silverado.'' He also wrote ``The Bodyguard'' (1992) in which Costner starred.

Although Kasdan had no interest in a miniseries, he did make a counteroffer. `` `Instead of six hours of TV, why not let me write a different script that could develop into a three-hour movie?' '' Costner recalls Kasdan saying.

The result? An epic of a western that Mr. Wilson, Costner, and Kasdan produced, and Kasdan also directed.

``We didn't want Wyatt to be one-note; we exposed his dark side, his flaws. Early in the script, Gene Hackman, who plays Wyatt's father, drills into his four sons - `stick together, for there's nothing thicker than blood.' So when you see them walking shoulder to shoulder to the OK Corral, not knowing if they'll be dead in a few minutes, I wanted the audience to feel that family thing. To know there was someone walking next to you who would take a bullet for you.''

Costner, who won an Oscar for directing ``Dances With Wolves,'' doesn't plan to direct until after his year off. Even when he isn't directing or producing, he still offers advice.

``If I have an idea, or disagree with the director, I want to have a conversation about it.... If someone says, `Kevin, wait a second, think about it this way.' And `ding' a little light goes on and I agree. It gets to be - you can hear an idea, and know it will work.''

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