Kevin Costner Biography

Kevin Costner (actor). Having apparently peaked at the age of 35 by directing and starring in Dances With Wolves, snapping up two major Oscars for his efforts, Kevin Costner would spend the next two decades on a professional rollercoaster. His ups have been giddying, and his downs, well, few in Hollywood can rightfully claim to have gone lower. The man's a genuine maverick, a loose cannon. Like Spielberg he's obsessive in his attempts to create new screen legends. And sometimes, sometimes, he manages to pull off that magical stunt.

He was born Kevin Michael Costner on the 18th of January, 1955 in Lynwood, California. His father, Bill, was a ditch-digger who was later to service electricity lines for Edison of Southern California. His mother, Sharon, bore two other boys - Dan, who was born in 1950, and another who died at birth three years later. Bill's work made family life somewhat nomadic and, denied a settled upbringing, Kevin became a dreamer, writing poetry. He also possessed a great interest in and affection for American history and the natural wilderness, which would later bring about Dances With Wolves, and which saw him, at 18, construct his own canoe and follow Lewis and Clark's river-route out to the Pacific.

In his teens Costner sang in the Baptist school choir and attended writing classes, specialising in poetry. Also, despite only being 5' 2" when he graduated from Villa Park High School (he later sprouted to a hefty 6' 1"), he was keen and adept at most sports, starring at basketball, baseball and football. Again, this early penchant for sport, with all its mythologies and internal and external conflicts, would fuel his later work - like Bull Durham, Tin Cup, Field Of Dreams and For The Love Of The Game.

In 1973, Costner attended the California State University at Fullerton, eventually graduating with a business degree. He immediately married his college belle, Cindy Silva (she would bear him three children - Annie, Lily and Joe), and took a marketing job in Orange County. Throughout his college career though, he'd been studying acting, five nights a week, and he continued to pursue his Hollywood dream in his spare time. Then came a life-changing moment. On a plane returning from Mexico, he found himself chatting to screen legend Richard Burton who advised him that his best chance lay in giving up all other distractions and concentrating on acting full-time. Costner followed his promptings, upped sticks and moved to Los Angeles where, in order to feed himself and his wife, he worked as a truck-driver, a deep sea fisherman and as a guide on bus-tours round the homes of the rich and famous.
He also captained the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, where Cindy would play Snow White.

Roles were hard to come by. He'd earlier, in 1974, performed in Malibu Hot Summer, a softcore romp that would be renamed Sizzle Beach USA and relaunched in 1986, after his initial success, despite the fact that he was only in it for five minutes, as a stud in a cowboy hat. He'd then made a return in 1981, appearing very briefly (as Man In Alley) in Frances, the fraught Jessica Lange-starring biopic of actress Frances Farmer, released the following year. Amazingly, but very revealingly, although he only had one line to say, a line which would give him his all-important SAG union card, for an age he refused to say it, being unconvinced that Man In Alley would say such a thing. Eventually he was persuaded to back down and speak up, but to this day he believes it was the wrong thing to do. That is the kind of stubbornness and attention to detail that would see him long labouring under a reputation for being "difficult".

After his pop-up spot on Frances, he moved on to Shadows Run Black where a killer dubbed The Black Angel is slaughtering small town teens. Costner would play the snotty, arrogant boyfriend of one of the victims, who's suspected of her murder. Unfortunately, though cheap horror films were doing good business and providing an entry route into the industry for many young actors, Shadows Run Black was considered an absolute dud, indeed it was once described as "the Plan 9 From Outer Space of slasher movies". It would not see the light of day till 1984. As with Sizzle Beach USA, he would do more for it than it did for him.

Now he was after more serious work. His first major part came in Stacy's Knights, where Andra Millian played a young girl with a talent for blackjack. Kevin would play her mentor and supporter, whose violent death at the hands of casino heavies causes her to seek hefty financial vengeance. Following this would come a brief appearance (though you wouldn't think it was brief from the video sleeve) in Chasing Dreams. This, concerning a young kid who finds relief from family-, school- and farm-life in the world of baseball, would be his first experience of sports movies.

With his career progressing slowly, he got a very minor part as a frat boy in Ron Howard's Night Shift, a black morgue-set sex comedy that marked the screen debut of Michael Keaton and Shannen Doherty, and also the first time Howard would work with long-time producer Brian Grazer. Financing himself with ad work, he appeared on TV plugging Apple's Lisa computer. Then, at last, came the big break. Director Lawrence Kasdan cast him in The Big Chill, as the poor fellow whose suicide reunites a bunch of radicals from the Sixties. With the film also starring the weighty likes of Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum and William Hurt, Costner was in prestigious company.
BUT, horrifyingly, at the very last moment Kasdan decided that the flashback sequences didn't work with the rest of the movie and cut them, meaning Costner only appeared as a briefly-glimpsed corpse.

This was a blow which might have crushed Costner's confidence, particularly as he'd turned down the lead in WarGames (consequently a career-launcher for Matthew Broderick) to do The Big Chill. But Kevin, dedicated to the point of bloodymindedness, persisted. His next appearance was in Testament, a grim, emotionally-charged movie showing the slowly disastrous effect on a small Californian town when a nuke is dropped on San Francisco. As radiation sickness seeps amongst them, the townsfolk can either help each other through this torment, or selfishly seek survival. With Rebecca De Mornay (who broke through that same year opposite Tom Cruise in Risky Business) as his wife, Costner was a young man frustrated by and fearful of this creeping death.

Testament was a thoughtful and intimate portrayal of nuclear catastrophe, so well made that even though it was made for TV its producers decided to give it a cinema run. However, it would be overshadowed by The Day After which, starring Jason Robards and exploring the aftermath of a nuclear strike on a mid-western city, seized the nation's imagination and rode a wave of controversy to become an enormous TV hit. Again Costner persisted, this time taking a small role in Table For Five, as a newly wed on the same cruise-ship as Jon Voight when he attempts to rekindle a relationship with the children he previously abandoned.

Now, at last, he turned the corner. Taking the lead role in The Gunrunner, he played a liquor-smuggling mobster in 1920's Montreal who, being at root a kind-hearted socialist, begins to provide arms for revolutionaries in China. Next came Fandango, where he played one of five Texan college buddies who take a road trip before returning to face the Vietnam draft and all the other goodies 1971 had to offer. The film would mark the breakthrough of director Kevin Reynolds, who'd impressed Steven Spielberg with one of his student shorts and been brought in by the great man to expand it into this Amblin production. Costner and Reynolds would later enjoy/endure one of the most turbulent actor-director relationships of recent times. Actually, they might have begun it earlier as, back in 1982, when Costner was working as a stage manager, he auditioned for another of Reynolds' student films - Proof. It had come down to a shortlist of three, and Costner had lost out.


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