- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

Kevin Costner is an old-fashioned movie star. He’s an Oscar-winning director and a financier-producer, too. He’s also a plain ol’ movie lover, and he says it’s that instinct more than any other that helps him decide what project to tackle next. “I believe in the movie experience. I’m a consumer, too,” he says on a recent stop in the District. “When I sit down in the dark, I want the movie to take me somewhere. I’ll take you on an epic movie if I find it. I’m not afraid to take you to a little American comedy if I read it.”

He says people tell him, “No, you’ve got to find a franchise movie.” You’ll never see Mr. Costner in a sequel, though. He doesn’t choose films based on how big he thinks their box office will be, either.

“I don’t run scared that way. I don’t need to be popular. I’ve had as much attention as anybody in the world,” he says. “I just need to be relevant to myself and try to choose carefully so it’ll have a certain relevance to you.”

It’s bracing to hear a Hollywood heavyweight admit he’s had far more than his 15 minutes of fame - but it’s true. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mr. Costner was one of the world’s biggest box-office draws. After making his mark with lead roles in “The Untouchables” and “No Way Out,” he turned himself into an American icon in the baseball flicks “Bull Durham” and “Field of Dreams.” He calls the “Bull Durham” type of role he often plays the “American rascal,” and he looks like a bit of one himself with his easy confidence and un-self-conscious - and un-star-like - acquiescence to thinning hair and the other humanizing deficits of middle age.

Just when you thought he couldn’t get any bigger, his directorial debut, “Dances With Wolves,” garnered seven Oscars, including best-picture and best-director statuettes for Mr. Costner.

After some other hits, such as “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” Mr. Costner finally had a few misses. “The Postman” grossed less than $18 million in the United States. “Waterworld” made a lot more, but it was a pricier misstep; before “Titanic,” it was the most expensive film ever made. He has gone from making movies like that, for $175 million, to his latest, which reportedly cost just $20 million.

In “Swing Vote,” which Mr. Costner financed and produced, the 53-year-old actor plays Bud Johnson, a blue-collar single father who likes nothing better than to swig bottles of his namesake. The future of the free world is in his hands, though, when a machine malfunction and a very close race combine to make the outcome of the presidential election up to Bud. He has just a couple of weeks to recast his decisive vote, and both candidates (played by Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper) fly down to his small New Mexico town in the hope of gaining his support. The result is a satire with heart, a very funny look at how campaigns are conducted today.

It’s a politically themed film in an election year, but not a partisan one - Democrats and Republicans are taken on with equal glee. Mr. Costner himself through the years has been named as a supporter of candidates on both sides of the aisle. He once was a registered Republican who golfed with President George H.W. Bush, but he later gave money to the Democratic Party.

Does it feel like an invasion of privacy when people get curious about just what his political views are these days?

“I’m not uncomfortable talking about politics; I talk about it every day at home,” he says, “but I’m uncomfortable at being limited by thinking you’re one or the other.”

Politicians limit themselves, too, he says, by worrying about alienating their base. “A leader, by definition, takes us to places we don’t want to go but need to go,” he says. “I find that being a Democrat or being a Republican or being Green or being anything is way too limiting. I don’t vote based on party. I vote based on my feelings on where somebody’s maybe going to lead us.”

He’s now a registered independent.

“Swing Vote” pokes fun at the political process in a pretty lighthearted way, but Mr. Costner is much more serious in person, getting animated when talking about what he sees as the biggest problem in politics.

“Our egos are too big. Our ego destroys everything,” he declares, explaining that politicians see their job not as a calling, but as a career. “You should be so exhausted in public service that you never want to serve again, let alone run for a third or fourth term,” he says.

He would like to see men and women who are smart and successful in other careers identified by others as possible leaders. Instead, people spend their lives angling to become representatives, senators and presidents.

“You want to feel like the cream is getting to the top. You want to feel people shouldn’t be running for an office two years out. It’s just ridiculous. We still haven’t figured it out here,” he says. “It’s a career. It’s a club.”

As for his own career, Mr. Costner plans to direct his next two or three movies, after “The New Daughter” comes out next year. “I just made a horror movie, which I haven’t always been a fan of,” he says, chuckling about that film. “I don’t like to be scared in a theater, quite honestly.”

This leads him to mention his last film, “Mr. Brooks,” in which he played a serial killer. The man millions of women swooned over in “Robin Hood” sounds as humble as he wishes politicians would be when he says, “I don’t know if you saw it or not. But you ought to check it out.”

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