Blood Counts The Most ... So reads the cap Lawrence Kasdan sports around the set of his monumental western Wyatt Earp, which stars his good friend Kevin Costner in their fourth collaboration. It was Kasdan who gave Costner his break in The Big Chill (only to leave him on the cutting-room floor) and made him a star in Silverado. Now, the director's $60 million, three-hour epic on the legendary lawman is putting their friendship through its roughest waters yet.
Nancy Griffin reports from the New Mexico range.
Photography by Mary Ellen Mark
WON'T LARRY BE SURPRISED when I do this scene without my moustache?" On an arctic evening in November, Kevin Costner, lanky frame draped over a folding chair, sits back while a make-up person glues a droopy handlebar to his upper lip. We are in a Dodge City saloon a half hour south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, a geographical impossibility made possible by the fact that this is one of the sets for Lawrence Kasdan's epic western Wyatt Earp. Originally constructed back in 1984 for Silverado - the second collaboration between director and star, and Costner's first sizeable role- the set facades have all changed, but the street remains the same, a classic western cow town with horses and buckboards, corseted hookers and slouching cowboys.
"The funny thing is," says Costner, "we were actually sitting on this street when I heard [Silverado co-star] Scott Glenn say something to Larry about his having written The Bodyguard. Right into my head - shooo! Scott said, 'I heard it was good,' and Larry goes, [nasally] 'Yeah, it's pretty good, but, ya know, there're some problems."' Costner illustrates the lightbulb that went on over his head: Bink! "I got my hands on it and I told him, 'I'm gonna make this one day.' And he said, 'Yeah, yeah, get on your horse now, come on."
Ten years on from Silverado, and with massive international hits like JFK and The Bodyguard under his belt, Costner can call all the shots on Wyatt Earp, his third Kasdan-directed movie, if he so desires. Not only does he occupy dead centre of nearly every scene in this three-hour long, $60 million epic, but he is also one of the film's producers, and its driving force. Wyatt Earp is a huge movie, with more than a hundred speaking parts, and as it nears the end of its fourth grinding month of production, Costner looks a bit worn, which works fine since, by this point in his saga, Earp has become hardened by violence. Hair severely parted and slicked back, Costner will play tonight's scene with a grim mask, repressing the more conventionally heroic, golden boy qualities that have propelled him to superstardom.
Now saloon girls are being seated on gamblers' laps for this scene, in which Wyatt, having been driven out of Dodge City because of his vigilante approach to law enforcement, returns to restore order after the murder of the sheriff, Ed Masterson (Bill Pullman). He will burst into the saloon preceded by a hired gun (Todd Allen) and his brothers Morgan (Linden Ashby) and Virgil (Michael Madsen), fire his shotgun into the air and command the revellers to desist.
Waiting and absently fiddling with his spur, Costner turns towards the sound of familiar laughter near the door; it is Kasdan talking to a crew member while director of photography Owen Roizman lights the scene. As short, dark and bearlike as Costner is lean, long and blond, Kasdan has in common with his star a solid, feet-firmly-planted physicality that suggests stubborn determination; these are men you can't move easily.
"Heh, heh, heh, heh," mimics Costner in a reasonable facsimile of Kasdan's giggle. "I love his laugh; it's such a great laugh when you hear it across the room. There's a lot of pressure when you direct, and when I hear him laugh, it makes me feel good."
Earplugs for all the extras, please! Kasdan bellows "action" and the Dodge City carousers drink and gamble until the Earp brothers make their entrance. The picture of the lean, laconic lawman, moustache firmly in place, black hat on his head, Costner fires his shotgun into the air, silencing the room. "My name is Wyatt Earp!" he barks. "It all ends now."
Afterwards he scuttles over to Kasdan's chair to look at the playback on the monitors. "It all ends now," he repeats, unsure about a line that should send tingles down the spine of the audience. "It's one of those lines you want to burst out laughing."
As Kasdan and Roizman confer over a technical glitch, Costner takes to his chair again. He is clearly in his element on the set, riffing heartily on everything from Wyatt's mind-set at the OK Corral to law enforcement in the Wild West: "These guys, the Wyatt Earps and the Mastersons, became embarrassments four or five years later, when towns had become a little more civilised."
When Costner does take two the swinging doors come slamming back on him after Virgil enters the saloon - decidedly uncool. Afterwards, the actor is still feeling weird about his line. "In real life," he mutters, "you'd say please."
As the crew resets again, Costner nods towards Kasdan, who is sitting about ten feet away.
"Larry's a genre guy, he knows his genres," he says. "I think he's underrated as a classy film director. I have always felt that. I will work with him again... " Costner is watching to see if the director can overhear his compliments, but Kasdan registers nothing. "Look, he can't even hear ... he can't hear me when I'm sittin' right next to him. Larry! LARRY!"
No response. "He doesn't hear that good on this side [points to right ear], so I always have to give him my good ideas over here [points to left ear]. And when I'm really angry at him I talk to him here [points again to right ear]."
Take three ... This time the actors get the timing right so the saloon doors don't whack Wyatt and undermine his moment of macho glory. Blam! goes the shotgun. "My name is Wyatt Earp! It all ends now." The carousers freeze, Costner glares at them - then asks in a wee voice, "OK?"
AS FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES, COSTNER AND Kasdan are a study in contrasts: the ultrahyphenate who's become one of the biggest forces in mainstream movie-making, alongside the writer-director who says, "I just think American movies have rarely been worse"; one of the biggest stars in the world taking direction from the guy who once said, " I guess I really feel that a star is irrelevant to whether a movie is successful or makes money, and the negative effects of a star are enormous"; the icon whose career has taken off like a rocket since Kasdan cut him out of 1983's The Big Chill, and the man whose directing achievements, judged by the merciless standard of the box office, peaked with that film.
Yet soul mates they are, unquestionably: their families take trips together, they seek out each other's counsel and are steadfast friends in a town where the concept of friendship usually has a discomfiting elasticity to it. Their relationship was founded 13 years ago on a shared, indefatigable passion for filmmaking and a sceptical view of Hollywood; they are clannish mavericks in an industry that's as treacherous as Tombstone, preferring to work repeatedly with trusted friends and colleagues.
On set, the duo's rapport is loose and easy. Costner may defer to Kasdan's authority, but he isn't shy about expressing his opinion on nearly everything. "They have to negotiate around the terrain," says Bill Pullman, noting that "Kevin instinctively will direct other actors in a scene if they are neophytes." When Kasdan does contradict a bit of advice Costner has given an actor during a private rehearsal, Costner just smiles and winks.
Kasdan wears a baseball cap on the set that says BLOOD COUNTS THE MOST on the back, a prophetic line delivered in the film by Gene Hackman's character Nicholas Earp. The comparison of film sets to families may be hackneyed, but in Kasdan's case, it fits; by temperament and design he loathes tension and goes out of his way to create a cosy ensemble atmosphere on his sets. He never shouts, confers discreetly with his actors and technical crew, and is insistent that kindness and civility be practised at all times. When someone does cross him, he sends a withering look to the offender that works better than the loudest screaming fit thrown by another director. "Fear is the enemy of creativity, " says Kasdan. "It clenches you up."
Wyatt Earp has been an unusual intersection of ambition and affection, involving the genuine sharing of power between two players - each of whom has earned the right to control his own movies. But Costner and Kasdan's harmony during the shoot evolved painfully out of script conflicts they had early in the collaboration. Reaching creative consensus has come only after a marathon battle of wills.
"They're both intensely stubborn," says Jake Kasdan, Larry's 19-year-old son. "They are both used to getting their own way all the time, really without exception. People rarely say no to either of them - and they have had to say no to each other and accept it on some level, because they really wanted to do this thing."
What might be viewed as the elephant in the room -the two golden Oscar statuettes Costner picked up for Dances With Wolves and that film's $184 million gross in the US alone - upset the playing field and required a renegotiation of terms. There's a juicy Oedipal angle here too: Costner, after all, views Kasdan as his mentor. It was Kasdan who cast him in The Big Chill back in 1981, showcased his star quality in Silverado, and wrote the script for The Bodyguard, the second-biggest international hit of Costner's career.
Kasdan, meanwhile, must view The Bodyguard as the latest irksome reminder of his career profile to date: that he writes blockbusters and directs modest hits. Aside from the Costner smash, he has written three $200 million-plus grossers - Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi- while of the films he has directed, The Big Chill tops the list at $56 million. "Larry lives this life of knowing he could make commercial movies, and still makes his own kind of movie," says Costner.
While never taxing the skills of box-office tabulators, however, Kasdan's eclectic body of work has been the recipient of much critical appreciation: Body Heat is a sultry updated film noir, Silverado a good old-fashioned western romp, The Accidental Tourist and I Love You To Death offbeat comedies. And with The Big Chill and Grand Canyon, his most personal and original films, Kasdan essentially invented a new Hollywood genre: the character-driven, introspective ensemble production. Both films have become pop culture benchmarks, defining the angst and self-awareness of the baby boomer generation. In Grand Canyon, Kevin Kline plays the archetypal Kasdan character, middle-class and compromised, whose life becomes a kind of spiritual quest after a stranger, Danny Glover, saves him from gang violence. The movie captures the anxieties of urban life in the '90s, as well as the transcendent power of friendship -a favourite Kasdan theme.
"It's just a sense of truth that interests him, whether it's dramatic or comic," says Kline, who will co-star this fall in his fifth movie for Kasdan, Paris Match. "He's interested in the contradictions within the characters, and the subtleties, that big grey area, which is where we live our lives."
It is Costner's bankability that is providing Kasdan with the opportunity to paint on an epic canvas as big as those of the filmmakers he reveres - Akira Kurosawa and David Lean - and a shot at the recognition he feels he is owed by a capricious public and a town he distrusts. That such recognition matters to Kasdan becomes clear with a tour of his offices. Right next to his six Writers Guild of America nominations (he won for The Big Chill) is a long, framed column of paper with cryptic notes on it: LARRY GORDON, 8/1/75; CLINT EASTWOOD, 9/4/75; GUY McELWAINE, 1/26/76 etc. The sheet of paper stretches several feet, and contains 65 entries. It is Kasdan's agent's handwritten account of each individual rejection The Bodyguard received -and its ultimate acceptance for the sum of $20,000.
IT WAS AT THE NOVEMBER '92 PRESS JUNKET for that movie that Kasdan clinched his partnership with Costner on Wyatt Earp. Costner had just taken Kasdan on a short trip - a little gambling, a lot of talking - to Deadwood, South Dakota, where he owns land and a restaurant-casino. There, Costner told his friend about a mammoth 306-page script he had developed with screenwriter Dan Gordon on the legendary lawman, and his plans to make it as a six-hour mini-series for television.
Back in LA a few days later, Kasdan sprang a surprise visit on Costner at the Four Seasons Hotel, where the actor was giving interviews. Costner says he felt a tingle of apprehension when Kasdan walked into the room.
"I told you, he's got this kind of hold on me," says Costner. "He walks me out on the balcony and he goes, 'I want to do this thing.' I said, 'What thing?' And he goes, 'The Wyatt Earp thing. But I want to do it as a feature film. If you'll commit to making it, I'll write it.' And I said" -Costner shifts into the high, compliant tones of a schoolboy - "OK."
Five months later came the day of reckoning, when Kasdan delivered his 165-page first draft, highly polished, which he considered "some of the best writing I'd done". He had no reason to expect a dissenting opinion. As writer-director of
Body Heat, Silverado, The Accidental Tourist and Grand Canyon, Kasdan has always exercised creative control over his material. " I've just made the movies I want to make," he says, "and noone's changed a line of them."
Until he submitted the Earp script. "After I handed Kevin the first draft, I was shocked that he didn't embrace it and love it," says Kasdan. "I thought he was light on the praise."
Kasdan had constructed the Wyatt Earp legend as an epic spanning 35 years, one man's descent from innocence into violence writ large against the western frontier. Complex and ambitious, Kasdan's screenplay re-imagined Wyatt Earp as a metaphor for America. "He just wrote a whole new script," explains Costner. "He really invested in [Earp's first wife] Urilla, he really invested in the father and in a young Wyatt."
The trouble was, Costner had set his heart on playing some of the scenes in Dan Gordon's original script. "Larry was doing nothing but trying to write a really wonderful part for me," explains Costner. "[But] I had six hours worth of movie and I remembered everything about those six hours."
So, during several tense weeks in the spring of '93, Costner and Kasdan huddled in rooms together, butting heads over the script. " I was ready to walk away if we couldn't resolve it," says Kasdan. "I didn't want us to have a bad experience together. And I wasn't going to shoot anything that I didn't like."
The meetings took place at Kasdan's Beverly Hills house or in Costner's Tig Productions offices on the Warner Bros lot in Burbank. At the end of the day the men would drive home, emotionally ragged, and talk over their difficulties with their wives. "I think I hurt my friend today," a troubled Costner confided to his wife, Cindy, one evening, "and I don't know that anything is worth that." The next day he rose and went into battle again.
"It was brutal," recalls Kasdan, wincing. Some of Costner's suggestions just didn't feel right to Kasdan, whose tastes are specific and decorous. "I said to Kevin, 'I can't direct this scene, I don't know how to do that.' He'd say, 'Well, I want these ideas."
One example is a scene from Gordon's script that revolved around the display of a nude photograph of Earp's third wife, Josie. "It just gave me the creeps, I thought it was crass," says Kasdan. But Costner wanted it - so Kasdan rewrote it to suit his more esoteric tastes.
By the time Costner had to leave LA in April to shoot A Perfect World, he had some lingering frustrations over the script - but he decided it was time to put his faith in his friend.
"I called Larry," Costner recalls, "and said, 'I'm putting it on your back.' And he said, 'That's where I've always wanted it to be, right on my back."' Costner repeats the line appreciatively: "'That's where I've always wanted it.' It's just like him to write his own line like that ... He said, 'Kevin, I'm not gonna do what I think is wrong, but I'm gonna do everything that I can to make things right by you.' And that's all a man can say to another man."
Costner pauses, then puts their showdown at the script corral into amused perspective: "And so we had our own little western before we ever had a western."
KEVIN COSTNER WAS WORKING AS STAGE manager at Raleigh Studios by day and taking acting lessons by night when, on October 6, 1979, he read a story in the Los Angeles Times entitled "Writer's Hot, but No Credits." "I read it and I cut it out," says Costner, still amazed by his action. "I didn't even cut out my marriage notice, you know? There was something really loud about who this guy was, and I could just hear it.”
They met for the first time two years later. Costner was a struggling actor who'd just won a small role as a missile silo commander in War Games when casting agent Wallis Nicita called him in to read for Kasdan, who'd made his directorial debut with the well-received Body Heat. For his second movie, the writer-director planned an ensemble piece about a group of friends who come together for a weekend after Alex, their college classmate, commits suicide. It was called The Big Chill; Costner was to read for the role of Alex, a role Kasdan had already offered to Sean Penn, who'd turned it down.
"I wanted so desperately to tell this guy what I felt about him," says Costner of Kasdan, "but I just couldn't."
At his final reading he was told he had the part, and he immediately asked director John Badham to release him from War Games, which conflicted with The Big Chill's schedule.
"John was very gracious about it," Costlier recalls. "I knew driving home that I was with the right guy, you know? I knew that this movie was the movie to be in."
Three weeks later, Kevin and Cindy Costner attended a party given by late-night talk show host Johnny Carson, whose company was producing The Big Chill. At last, Costner felt the moment was appropriate to tell Kasdan how he felt, that he believed they were meant to work together. "He had a sense of pre-determined intersection," recalls Kasdan, who told Costner, "I believe in those things too."
The Big Chill cast rehearsed for several weeks in the house in Beaufort, South Carolina, where the movie was filmed; they lived together, partied every Saturday night, played touch football. "Shooting the movie was just like falling off a log," laughs Kline. One night, Kasdan and Tom Berenger got into a discussion about westerns, Berenger having recently done Butch And Sundance: The Early Days. Though he was itching to jump into the conversation, Costlier held back.
"That's all I wanted to do, was westerns," he recalls. "But it had been so hard for me to tell Larry that I liked his press clippings that I wasn't gonna say, 'Oh, I like westerns too - I like all the same things you like,' which is in fact the truth about us. He's talking to Berenger, and I'm thinking, No! Talk to me about a western! I'm the western guy!"
Six months later, Kasdan had to tell Costner he had cut him out of The Big Chill. He called Costner and asked him to come to a mixing stage in Hollywood. "I took him outside to these crappy picnic tables and I said, 'I feel terrible about it, but I'm cutting out the whole ending and your part will be gone.' He was totally cheerful, sanguine, delightful; he said, 'Larry, this has been the best experience of my life, this has shown me what kind of actor I want to be, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. You have nothing to apologise for - you have given me a great gift.' I was taken aback, and it was at that moment that I think our friendship started. I was already planning to write Silverado with my brother, and [I thought], I'm going to write a part for him in that."
Silverado made Costner a star, and Kasdan is convinced he knows the scene that did it. For the final shoot-out, Costner rides bareback into town flat out, slides off his horse and kicks in the door of the saloon. "He's everything you want him to be there," says Kasdan. "It's followed immediately by him vaulting over a bar - a real McQueen thing to do - and shooting two guys at once in opposite directions. The way he looks as he comes off that horse, and the way he pirouettes before he goes into the saloon ... I've always felt that that was the moment that sealed the deal for Kevin."
The release of Silverado, however, turned out to be a bitter pill for Kasdan. Excited by the film's through-the-roof sneak previews, Columbia Pictures moved its opening date from August to July 12 - the same weekend as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, one week after Back To The Future and two weeks after Pale Rider, Clint Eastwood's western. "Larry said, 'Please don't do that,'" Costner says, "but they felt they had the goods. And he said, 'OK, look; I'm telling you right now our movie's gonna come in third this weekend, you've gotta be prepared, don't back off on it.' 'Well, we won't back off it, this movie is testing through the roof."
Silverado opened in seventh place on the box-office charts for the weekend and eventually pulled in a modest take of $32 million in the US. " I was terribly disappointed," says Kasdan, whose distrust of studio executives was set in stone by the experience. "They did everything they said they wouldn't do," says Costner, "and to know Larry is to know you can't do that. You can do it, but you'll only do it once."
The friends stayed in close touch during the next few years, consulting on projects, reading each other's scripts. But when Costner asked Kasdan to read a screenplay by Michael Blake called Dances With Wolves, which Costner intended to direct himself, Kasdan balked.
"I didn't want to discourage him, I didn't want to advise him," Kasdan says." I didn't want him thinking about something I'd said when he was out there."
Lawrence's wife Meg did read Dances, however, and told her husband the thing that everyone, supporters and detractors alike, agreed on: "Big bite to be your first movie."
The rough-cut screening at the Raleigh Studios in the summer of 1990 was one of those occasions that makes Kasdan think of Hollywood as one big college campus. There, where Costner had toiled as stage manager and Kasdan had shot I Love You To Death, gathered a group of Costner's trusted friends - the inner circle that one of the attendees, producer Armyan Bernstein, calls the Ride-Back Gang.
As the lights went up, "I was just flabbergasted by how good it was," remembers Kasdan. "It was just a shockingly accomplished film. You just don't see that first time out." Costner nervously passed out little homemade cards, as if conducting a by-invitation-only research screening. Kasdan didn't fill one out; instead - though he felt a little tacky about doing so - he blurted out to his friend: "You're gonna win an Academy Award for this movie."
But Costner doesn't remember that particular comment. "He said, 'It's really good, K.C.,' something like that. It's very difficult for one man to say something to another man, you know? We see in the newspaper all the time, 'Stunning!' 'Exhilarating!' and when somebody you respect says, 'You did really good' - it was very powerful, very all-encompassing."
THE LEGEND OF WYATT EARP IS SO ESSENTIAL TO the American imagination that historians still debate whether he was a hero or a bum, and who fired the first shot at the OK Corral. To some, Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, born in Monmouth, Illinois on March 19, 1848, represents the ultimate western hero, a brave and noble force for justice on the frontier who "shot his way to heaven," as biographer Stuart N. Lake wrote in 1931. Others see him as a cold-blooded gunslinger who murdered for vengeance and perpetuated his own myth by boasting about his prowess.
"He's a basic American type," says Kasdan. "He's strong, he's brutal, he believes in certain things very strongly, and will follow them. That's what we like to think about ourselves: that we have certain ideals and certain honourable ways of acting. That's what we like to think about America: that when force is necessary, we will use it, that we're strong enough to face the most threatening adversary. And like America, Wyatt Earp is not always right in his judgments about those things, and in fact force does not solve all problems."
"This is why we all wanted to do this movie, isn't it?" Dennis Quaid, who shed 40 pounds to play Earp's tuberculosis-ridden best pal Doc Holiday, asked Michael Madsen on the morning Kasdan shot the famous gunfight, as the actors made that long walk down to the corral. Remembering how, as kids, they'd played this moment as make-believe, they couldn't stop giggling.
"A crystallising event can help create a mythic figure," says Kasdan. "Of all the thousands of gunfights that took place during that period, why does this one stand out? Probably because it was three brothers and a very romantic figure of a friend. It combined the idea of good guys and family, and they were ready to go to their death together."
Hollywood has made several versions of Wyatt Earp's story, with Costner professing his admiration for the "blind loyalty" that director John Sturges captured in 1957's Gunfight At The OK Corral, with Burt Lancaster as Earp and Kirk Douglas as Holliday.
"We're much closer historically than the previous versions," says Costner, who points out that this is the first film to include all three of Earp's wives. Some minor facts have been changed for dramatic purposes in Wyatt Earp, but Costner asserts that "emotionally, it's true - which is the same answer I gave for JFK."
Kasdan has designed the film as a classical, old-fashioned western, devoid of gimmickry and special effects ("I object to these rock westerns," he says). The lavish sets are all aged and dusty and lit with a kind of heightened naturalism. Much of the film has been shot at night with kerosene lamps and candles. Instead of long lenses, Kasdan and Roizman decided on the more traditional wide lens that gave John Ford's films their timeless look.
"What we really want movies to be is a time machine," says Kasdan. "Take me back, show me what it was like, how did they dress, what were the streets like, what might they have been saying to each other? That's what I want the film to be like - a life lived, because that's what the movie's about."
Ten days after the filmmakers wrapped in Santa Fe and embarked on post-production, an unwanted Christmas surprise came: the unexpected $55 million success of Tombstone, with Kurt Russell as Earp and Val Kilmer as a charismatic Holiday. The rival film's brisk business was a bitter pill for Costner, who had been sent Tombstone in mid-1992 by writer-director Kevin Jarre, working with producers Sean Daniel and Jim Jacks at Universal Pictures. Nice script but no thanks, he told them: I've got my own Wyatt Earp project. After Kasdan convinced Costner to make Wyatt Earp as a feature at Warner's, Universal - wanting to avoid a horse race with this pair of thoroughbreds - passed on Tombstone. Jarre cried foul, telling one magazine that Costner's Wyatt Earp was "an attempt to crush my picture".
Costner's version of events, confirmed by Daniel and other sources at Universal, is that he personally asked Universal president of production Casey Silver to put Tombstone in turnaround - which allowed Jarre to set it up at Disney's Hollywood Pictures arm and thus beat Wyatt Earp into production.
"So this bullshit just completely pisses me off" says Costner. "I have to tell you I was so sick to my stomach that I said, 'No, let him make his movie.' In my heart I knew it was the right thing to do - but I knew that it would certainly muddy the waters."
An action picture directed by George Pan Cosmatos after Jarre was replaced four weeks into the shoot, Tombstone focused narrowly on Earp's days in the Arizona boomtown. Costner and Kasdan are walking a fine line with a movie that is both less violent and darker in tone - but not too dark, they hope, for mainstream audiences.
"It may be a problem for audiences," says Kasdan. "They may say, 'Well, I just didn't like him, so why would I want to take this journey with him?' But he's charming as a young man, full of life and love, and what happens to him has a certain sadness to it.”
Costner - before the painful demise of A Perfect World, in which audiences refused to buy him as an escaped con with a violent streak - felt sure that his likeability would allow him to depict some of Earp's less appealing behaviour. "I felt I could deal with the women harshly and not lose the sympathy of the audience," he says.
But he harboured other doubts: "I thought, Well, I'm not that formidable," he says. Shortly before production started, he was fretting about a number of business matters. "This is killing me," he told Kasdan, who replied, "That's why you're Wyatt. You have an overriding sense of taking care of things. That's why you're perfect." Costner relaxed a bit after that, but the moment of truth came when he stood in front of a mirror, parted his hair severely, and combed it flat.
"I don't think Larry liked that at first," says Costner. "He thought maybe my hair should be flowing back. And I didn't like that look at all, at least for the mature Wyatt. And the minute I parted my hair it all came alive for me. I thought, Jesus, I am this guy. Isn't that funny?"
"There are a lot of parallels between Wyatt and Kevin," says Kasdan. "Kevin is very smart and very intuitive. He's not always very articulate, but he's very expressive. And Kevin is terribly loyal. Certain people were Wyatt's friends no matter what they did ... He wasn't constantly reevaluating people."
Bad girl: Isabella Rossellini stars as Doc Holliday’s whore, Big Nose Kate, in Wyatt Earp.
A COUPLE OF MONTHS BEFORE WYATT EARP'S US opening, Costner and Kasdan are scuffing their boots in the dust on the western street of the Warner's back lot, having their picture taken together. It's not the part of making movies that they relish. Kasdan looks like he can't wait to leave, while Costner throws an arm round him and delivers a few high-wattage smiles to get the job done.
As if this pair needed more confirmation that their standards and the public's taste aren't always in sync, the whopping international success of their last collaboration, The Bodyguard, provided it.
"The movie made $400 million, and the end doesn't even make sense," Costner says in retrospect. " I know why that's hard on certain people. It would be hard on me if I wasn't in Bodyguard. You go, 'Damn! I don't get it.”
"I wrote it for Steve McQueen, " says Kasdan, "but Kevin is absolutely what I wrote in 1975. And I think his instinct about Whitney Houston was right and she's a big part of the success of that movie. Unfortunately, much of what is around them is nothing like it's supposed to be, and part of that is my fault, because I was one of the producers and maybe I should have impacted something I didn't."
After Costner optioned The Bodyguard he planned to shoot it with his old friend Kevin Reynolds directing; when Reynolds passed, "I said, 'Larry, come with me and we'll make this movie and we'll make it great,"' Costner says. "I'm not sure he knew how excited I was."
"There was something in me that was saying, 'Just let it die,"' says Kasdan. "It was the only thing I had ever sold that wasn't made, and Kevin was relentless about wanting to make it.” Ultimately, though, "I preferred to do Grand Canyon."
The potboiler about a pop star who hires a security guard to protect her - and ends up in bed with him - was explicitly conceived by Costner as a popcorn movie, a female fantasy aimed at his core audience, with Whitney Houston on board to bring in the younger viewers. British director Mick Jackson was given his head in casting, choosing locations and staging scenes.
"Mick did a very good job of filming it," says Costner, "but when the movie was put together, it wasn't as good as it could be ... Some things we needed to massage, because they felt embarrassing to me, and they felt embarrassing for Whitney ... and I owed Whitney on a promise that she would look as good as she could in that film." Exercising his option as producer, Costner took over from Jackson in the editing room, along with producer Jim Wilson and Kasdan.
"I really needed Larry's moral support," says Costner.
Banking that the romance and a few key scenes worked well enough to prop up the movie, they cut out half an hour, including a love scene they deemed unsalvageable. The changes caused the next test screening score to jump by ten points. Jackson's diplomatic view of Costner's and Kasdan's action is: "When you have three directors with strong personalities in the same cutting room, you're bound to get three different takes on the same material."
Kasdan admits that he remains uncomfortable with the finished film, which feels like "the bizarro version" of what he wrote. During the same release period, Grand Canyon, his labour of love, received mixed notices from critics and made $32 million at the box office, a fraction of The Bodyguard's take. "It's an odd thing when you're very dissatisfied with what you make and it's very successful," he says. "Just as it's very unnerving when you think something is very good and it's not successful."
"I know this," says Costner of Wyatt Earp. "We made the movie we set out to make." But at the same time he feels more uncertain about this film's commercial prospects than he has about any of his other films, including Dances With Wolves, admitting that the 190-minute running time could be a detriment to mid-summer moviegoing. Nevertheless, he backed Kasdan all the way when the director balked at Warner's suggestion that Wyatt Earp's hefty length be trimmed. A staunch ally to the end, Costner also influenced Warner's to break policy by granting Kasdan's request that his name appear above the tide - an honour not usually bestowed on other big-name directors. (Richard Donner's name, for example, appears below the Maverick title.)
This is the kind of rock-solid loyalty Costner is hoping for on his next project: Waterworld, the futuristic, mega-expensive aqua-thriller (he may don gills and fins) he's shooting with Kevin Reynolds in Hawaii this summer. Because of the underwater shots, he says, "I'm losing 17 pounds," glancing at his semi-trim belly.
Some find it remarkable that Costner is committed to this reported $100 million-plus venture with Reynolds, with whom he had a fractious working relationship on Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, followed by a temporary falling out, and whose yet-to-be-released Easter Island saga Rapa Nui Costner partially financed and produced, only to watch it shoot way over budget.
But Costner says his real concern with Waterworld isn't the budget: "The reality is, we're still without a script and that's not the most comfortable place to be."- He says that he and Reynolds need to make some critical story improvements in the next couple of weeks. "We're gonna have to collaborate in a way we weren't able to before. And our first acid test is gonna be: can the two of us very quickly put this script in order?"
Bracing teamwork with friends is, for Costner, the best buffer you can have against the uncertainties of the marketplace. "You can at least huddle up and hold hands and say, 'All right, it doesn't matter what happens opening weekend -did we do what we wanted to do?' It sounds like bullshit to the outside world, but it ain't to me."
Costner and Kasdan live by their own code in Hollywood, the code of the Ride-Back Gang: if one guy falls off his horse, the other will ride back for him.
"You're all making your getaway, and your friend comes back for you, even at risk," explains Kevin Costner. "That was displayed a lot in the western, and it's something we admire - that we would go back in a hail of bullets ...
"'Cause it's a business where you have to remind yourself how to act. 'Cause there's a lot of bad examples. And it takes your friends to remind you that that ain't the race."