Kevin Costner in San Francisco last Friday (July
19). He stars in "Swing Vote", which opens in the U.S. and Canada on
August 1. The film is released by Touchstone Pictures. (Photo: Omar
He's Got The Whole U.S. Election In His
Hands, He's Got The . . .
Kevin Costner's finger is on the
vote-casting trigger in the new film "Swing Vote"
Omar P.L. Moore/The
July 21, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO, California
Imagine having the U.S. presidential election this November determined by your
vote. Not by a state, or a county, a city, a precinct, but by you
-- your single vote alone.
Could you handle that kind of pressure?
Next month, Ernest "Bud" Johnson does his best to be unflappable under fire --
or at least Kevin Costner, who plays him, does -- in "Swing Vote", which opens
on the big screen across the U.S. and Canada on August 1. The Touchstone
Pictures film, directed by Joshua Michael Stern, also stars newcomer Madeline
Carroll as Molly, Bud's take-charge 12-year-old daughter, who has a large say in
Bud's predicament. Bud's home town of Texico, New Mexico, and the rest of
the country, is depending on Bud.
And this past Friday here at the Ritz Carlton Kevin Costner arrived, having
flown in earlier in the day. As he enters a boardroom suite he is in great
spirits and very talkative. An easy going smile flashes across his face as
he introduces himself to a quartet of Northern California journalists who have
waited patiently for him. And as the saying goes, good things come to
those who wait, and, by definition, good news.
"Well, sales are down," Mr. Costner says. "One of you will be leaving," he
continues to joke as his questioners laugh.
Mr. Costner, 53, is fit and trim, and every bit of his six feet-plus in height.
"We've all played the game very well," he adds. Then he smiles as he
offers the following aside: "It just makes my pits sweat to think that I'd be on
a show like that," said the actor and director of such films as "Dances With
Wolves", "The Postman" and "Open Range".
Many of the questions asked of Mr. Costner are politically-themed -- an
unavoidable necessity given the premise of "Swing Vote": a dead heat between two
presidential candidates in New Mexico and its electoral votes going to the
winner, a machine malfunction cancels out the recording of one vote. For
the presidency to be decided, the vote has to be recast.
The vote has to be recast, but, as one journalist asked Mr. Costner, could it be
cast with a hopeful outlook?
"There's always hope in a democracy that's protected itself. There's hope
-- why? Because we can still vote," the actor said. "It hasn't been
taken away from us. Whether we choose to vote is our own laziness, our own
unwillingness to think that we do matter. But the truth is there's hope,
and there should be because we can still vote, you know? They can't run
over us if we really want to stand up. So as long as we have our vote we
have some hope, okay? You lose that? There's the reality of what
will happen is people will run over us because that's human nature."
While the manipulation of voting machines has occurred for years in American
politics and notably over the last eight years or more, "Swing Vote" doesn't
spend much if any time on the subject. The film is about Mr. Costner's Bud
Johnson, an under-educated regular Joe who has long turned his back on the idea
of engagement in the American political process. In the here and now
though, Mr. Costner turns his thoughts to November 4, 2008 and the respective
party presumptive nominees John McCain and Barack Obama and deciding which of
them is best suited to be the next leader of the free world.
"The American public -- you, by virtue of being journalists -- bring us
information. Are we getting good information? I mean, I'm not
Solomon. I couldn't tell between these two guys. Well who's lying
here? Not that they're even lying, but how could you say, 'no you didn't,
I never said that,' and you go, 'no you did, you just said that'? That's
the American public. We're just so dependent on good information."
Mr. Costner was born in California into a Republican-voting household and had
fashioned his politics accordingly before beginning to shape his worldview and
politics on his own terms with independent thought. His politics, he said,
evolved, and over the years he has adopted a more moderate stance, and today
tends to be slightly left of center in his political outlook, although he said
that "I don't see any place in either party where I make sense, you know,
completely. Because look, I'm a hunter, I'm a fisherman, right? And
I have bird dogs. But I think there should be gun laws. So where
does that fit for me? And I absolutely don't want to give up my guns and I
want to go hunting and I do that . . . [and] I'm saying that I'm an outdoorsman,
but I think guns -- there's too many guns, you know? And I think that we
-- we should look at that differently. And I think that the NRA should do
it. Well I would be suddenly, you know, run out of town by them -- which I
don't really give a shit. So I know I don't fit there but I want to
protect my guns too . . . and maybe I don't see it clearly, but I'm saying
that's how I feel. And I believe in a woman's right to choose."
Where his beliefs are concerned Mr. Costner says that he's a "mixed bag, so
where do I fit?". When it comes to choosing between Senator McCain
and Senator Obama Mr. Costner declared that "I don't think bad about any of them
but I don't feel like I fit. So I have to choose ultimately between two
men who we're thinking are the cream of the crop. The world is -- whether
they're laughing or whether they're doing anything -- the assumption is that the
cream is now at the top. Right? These are the two best guys in
America. That's what our system is telling us. And I have to choose
between them, and I'm telling you that it's probably going to be a feeling."
Due to what he would later agree was information "overload" Mr. Costner
conjectured that he would decide to cast his vote for the next U.S. president
based on intuition. He expounds further on this. "I can only vote
based on a feeling. I can't vote based on being right about either one of
these two guys! And that's gonna seem really weak to somebody.
'You're voting based on a feeling? Well no wonder you're from
Hollywood. You can't -- why don't you read the issues? Why don't
you bone up on your stuff, and then you won't be going on your
'feeling'?", mused Mr. Costner, who himself seemed to epitomize the very
definition of undecided voter.
Lately, and after the 2004 presidential election in America some of the domestic
mainstream media's punditry suggested that youth of Generation Y were slackers,
supposedly not showing up in large numbers to vote (which later turned out to be
untrue.) With Senator Obama credited with cultivating a renewed youth
interest in U.S. politics for this November's presidential election, and with
many teenagers of voting age flocking this past weekend to theaters to "The Dark
Knight", Mr. Costner and Touchstone Pictures no doubt hope that those same teens
see "Swing Vote" when it opens on August 1. The youth play a significant
role in "Swing Vote" and are a constituency that Mr. Costner presumably agrees
will play a huge part in the electoral process. He laughs as the word
"slacker" is thrown out. For the actor-director getting the attention of
short-attention span youth is straightforward.
"When it comes to youth I think you just have to talk to them. And then
they have to see that you went and voted. Or that you care about politics
and that will carry forth. But . . . I don't know that it's being taught
with any depth at all in early school what your civic responsibilities are, why
you should (vote). You know, let's face it, voting's kind of hard, too.
They don't make it easy. I've got to go in a neighborhood that I've never
been? That I don't know how to get to exactly?" The director wonders
whether elections should be less of a hassle. "It just, it all seems like
it should be easier. It shouldn't be that we should be running for two
years for the job. There's something wrong with that," said Mr. Costner,
who produced "Swing Vote" along with long-time producing partner Jim Wilson.
Undecided and disengaged: Kevin Costner as
Bud Johnson and newcomer Madeline Carroll as Molly Johnson in "Swing Vote",
directed by Joshua Michael Stern. The film opens on August 1 in the U.S.
and Canada. (Photo: Ben Glass/Touchstone Pictures)
"Swing Vote" had not been intended as a coincidence in its release in proximity
to November's presidential election. "I'd tried to get it made for six
months before . . . when I couldn't make it for six months I decided to finance
it myself. I knew it'd come out in the election year," said Mr. Costner,
who wore a dark navy blue shirt with a tiny white dotted pattern and sported
blue jeans. "There's a lot of drama right now . . . there's a lot of
people that's saying, 'it tastes great, less filling, tastes great, less
filling'. There's a big rift right now about who should be the president .
. . so there's a lot of drama there, you know. I can't use the word
'exciting' . . . I worry about all this . . . Some people talk about
["Swing Vote" being] good timing. I sometimes even question if maybe we're
dealing with voter fatigue. Maybe it's not good timing at all."
Kevin Costner's resume is as diverse as any other A-list actor's in Hollywood.
At one point in the late 1980's and through the early 1990's, he was America's
most popular actor, in such films as "The Untouchables" (1987), "No Way Out"
(1987), "Bull Durham" (1988), "Field Of Dreams" (1989), "Robin Hood: Prince Of
Thieves" (1991), "JFK" (1991), "The Bodyguard" (1992), all of which were
commercial or critical successes. Mr. Costner's "Dances With Wolves",
winner of seven Academy Awards in 1991, was the high-point of his career, the
first of four films he has directed (he also directed parts of "Waterworld" --
he had uncredited billing after Mr. Reynolds reportedly discontinued his
direction of the $200 million film due to creative differences with Mr.
Costner.) "Waterworld", released by Universal Pictures, received something
of a critical hiding upon its debut in the U.S. and Canada in 1995, and Mr.
Costner was asked about the film that was reportedly the cause of a rumored
split between himself and the film's credited director Kevin Reynolds, whom Mr.
Costner worked with four years earlier on "Robin Hood".
Asked how his relationship was with Mr. Reynolds these days, Mr. Costner
expressed mild surprise at the inquiry. "Kevin and I are fine. We're
always looking for things to do. You know, Kevin and I -- and you should
think about this -- Kevin and I made two movies that weren't sequels in the
nineties that made $800 million. Each of those films made 400 million
bucks -- Robin Hood and Waterworld. I don't know any director combination
like that that's not dealing with a sequel -- and that's 1990 dollars. We
should be making movies together, you know. But the myth is, people, the
difference -- the thing about Kevin and I is we're both artists, we're both
stubborn. And in the world of studio, that pits us against each other
because we don't settle. And studios are all about compromise and all
about blah, blah, blah. And those movies, one of the reasons they are as
good as they are -- flawed, make no mistake all movies are flawed -- is because
of Kevin Reynolds. So we recognize each other. People try to
politicize us. Basically you go, "Waterworld" -- the studios start running
for cover. That movie is so monetarily successful for them, you never --
can't believe it. It's still the most popular ride at Universal Studios.
I'm reminded about Waterworld wherever I go in the world."
Now a little laughter breaks out among several of the roundtable journalists.
"No -- in a positive way. They should re-release Waterworld. They
should make a sequel about Waterworld. They made a sequel about Hellboy
and it did 50 million, the first one. We made -- but they don't want to
admit any of it. So what am I supposed to do with you journalists?"
As he half-jokes here, the room fills with laughter.
"What am I supposed to do? Kevin and I are fine! We made Fandango.
You know, it's a classic movie."
In the intervening years since "Waterworld" -- specifically ten years after, Mr.
Costner has enjoyed something of a resurgence, with acclaimed performances in
"The Upside Of Anger" (2005) and last year's "Mr. Brooks", in which he played a
serial killer in suburban Washington state. He had said that the studio
(MGM) was in a difficult position with the latter film because it was losing
money in the millions of dollars, so that "Mr. Brooks", a film that might have
received Academy Awards consideration (for William Hurt's performance) by being
released in the fall of 2007 was instead released in early June last year, in
between blockbuster smash hits like "Spider-Man 3", "Shrek The Third" and
"Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End". Not surprisingly the film died
a quick death at the North American box office. One of the moments that
Mr. Costner relishes the most in any of his films is in "For Love Of The Game",
in which he pitches as a member of the Detroit Tigers baseball team at Yankee
Stadium, where he said he looked at his parents watching him in the stands.
As for being a parent himself, following the conclusion of the current interview
Mr. Costner offers an anecdote about his eldest daughter, who at 13 was underage
yet wanted to see her father's R-rated film "A Perfect World" (1993), directed
by Clint Eastwood. She was adamant about wanting to see it and eventually
wore down her father, who relented after initial "no" responses. The
agreement was that she cover her eyes whenever Mr. Costner told her to do so.
His eldest daughter pulled a sleight of hand trick however, because no sooner
had she been granted permission to watch than her two siblings were standing
right behind her. "I completely got trapped," the father of three said.
"So we get all the way to the end (of "A Perfect World") and at some point in
time my son is lying on my chest watching, and I die in the end. And I'm
shot. And now the movie -- and I can hear kind of some sniffling -- and
the lights come up. And my son, all he does is he turns over on my chest.
And he was really young . . . he started feeling my face. And he's just
looking right in my eyes, touching me to see if I'm alive. And I realize,
you know, about the age difference and why they can see movies and why they
can't. And my heart was just breaking. And he was just seeing
because he couldn't -- what had just happened on the screen -- he was getting it
right in his mind that everything was okay."
Kevin Costner couldn't get over his crafty eldest daughter however. She
was able to school her dad in the art of persuasion and guile. And in
"Swing Vote" Molly Johnson has a similar effect on her dad Bud Johnson.
"Swing Vote" also stars Paula Patton, Dennis Hopper, Kelsey Grammer, Stanley
Tucci, Nathan Lane and George Lopez. The film opens in the U.S. and Canada
on August 1.
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