Q&A: Costner talks about his self-financed new Western, 'Horizon: An American Saga'


CANNES, France - A month before Kevin Costner puts the first installment of his multi-chapter Western "Horizon: An American Saga" into theaters, the actor-director came to the Cannes Film Festival to unveil his self-financed passion project.

"Two of my boys are out fishing right now," Costner said with a grin in an interview at the Carlton Hotel. "And the three girls found their way onto a boat. So dad's in here, stumping for his movie."

The movie is actually two, or if Costner has his way, four. "Horizon: Chapter One," which runs three hours, will be released by Warner Bros. in theaters June 28. "Chapter Two" follows Aug. 16. Costner has scripts ready for parts three and four.

It's only the fourth time Costner, 69, has directed, following 1990's "Dances With Wolves," 1997's "The Postman" and 2003's "Open Range." But when he has, Costner has usually done it with a clear-eyed passion for storytelling and character. That's on display in the wide-ranging epic "Horizon," with a cast including Sienna Miller, Abbey Lee, Sam Worthington and Costner.

It's also Costner's biggest gamble, ever. To raise the money for the $100 million-plus production, he mortgaged his seaside Santa Barbara, California, estate. He's been trying to make "Horizon" for more than 30 years.

"I thank God for Cannes. I'm an independent filmmaker, essentially, and I'm here by myself," said Costner, whose film was to premiere Sunday. "So this is a high moment for me because it's helping me create awareness for a movie. I don't have all the money in the world to expose this movie. But I have my time and a platform here."

Remarks have been lightly edited for brevity.

AP: What was your calculus in deciding to put your money into "Horizon"? What made it worth it to you?

COSTNER: You can spend your life just trying to make your pile grow bigger and bigger. And I've not been really terribly great at that. I'm like anyone else, I'd like it to be big. But not at the expense of not doing what I feel like I've love to do. If no one will help me do it and I believe strongly in its entertainment value - there's commerce on my mind. But I don't let it overshadow the entertainment value and essence of what I'm trying to portray. I don't try to let the fear of that control my instincts on any level. I don't want to live that way. If I was watching a movie about me and I thought, "Oo, don't risk your money and make something like that," what a (expletive).

AP: Was it an easy decision? You didn't look around your seaside Santa Barbara estate and question mortgaging it?

COSTNER: No, it wasn't an easy decision, but it was the decision I needed to make. It's like, wow, why am I having to do this? I think I'm making mainstream entertainment. I don't know what you felt about the movie, but I felt like it's really mainstream. I don't feel that I'm an avant-garde type of a person. But yet I think my things are a little off. I'm willing to (in a wagon trail scene in the film) see a woman bathe because her desire to be clean was so pronounced. If you're a woman, who wouldn't want to be? But then in the next moment, you realize it's against the rule, man. You could cost yourself your life. So that scene became important to make the next scene important. To me, a scene like that is just as important as a gun fight. And if that kind of scene doesn't want to exist in a mainstream movie…

AP: Could this have been a series?

COSTNER: I guess. It will be. They're going to break this up into a hundred pieces, you know what I mean? After four of these, they're going to have 13, 14 hours of film and they're going to turn into 25 hours of TV, and they're going to do whatever they're going to do. That's just the way we live in our life, but they'll also exist in this form. And that was important for me, to make sure that happened. And I was the one who paid for it.

AP: It's an audacious release plan, with the second film opening two months after the first. What appealed to you about that?

COSTNER: The studio wanted to try that. I knew this was going to come out fairly quickly, like every four or five months. That may have been easier. But this is something they feel like people can remember the first one and it can tie into the second one. I built into all of them a montage of what's coming.

AP: Since directing "Dances With Wolves," you've directed "Open Range" and starred in "Wyatt Earp" and "Yellowstone." What keeps bringing you back to the West?

COSTNER: I like seeing behavior in men that makes sense. I make movies for men. I just make sure there's great women characters because that's really important to me. The backbone of our movie is actually women. I don't like boys behaving stupid. I like the little boy who (fleeing an attack) takes the two horses and effectively saves his life. I like seeing people behave honestly in desperate situations. The heroism of a little boy saying "I'll stay with you, Dad" is a really powerful moment. That's my son (Hayes Costner), and it was very hard to watch.

AP: In dramatizing the drive West of settlers, what was the Native American perspective you wanted to consider?

COSTNER: Confusion about it. The colonel says, "If we salt the earth with enough of their dead, the wagons won't come anymore." When you're that far out there, you can't go. When people said goodbye in the East Coast, they didn't come back. So the confusion for the Native American was they couldn't make sense of that. Normally if you kill enough people they won't bother you. But these Americans, these people were getting flyers saying you could have this land. There are salesmen in every century, every decade selling something they don't really know what it is. It's just America. It's just this giant experiment of hope.

AP: But America means different things to different people, right? You have Chinese immigrants in the film as well.

COSTNER: When they weren't useful, they were just cast away. And they had to create a sense of community, and they came en masse. They came together, and they were very industrious. They'll be the wealthiest people in that town until there's a tipping point and racism kicks in and suddenly they're gone, too. You watch. That's what would happen in real life.

AP: What I'm getting at is there's tragedy in this. Do you see westward expansion and your film as a tragedy?

COSTNER: There's inevitable tragedy to it. And there's divisions. You see a whole tribe break in half. You see a father break from a son.

AP: Have you already started shooting the third installment?

COSTNER: I've shot three days, and I continue to have to press for money to finish this. I have to figure out what else I can do to make this. But I'm not waiting to see how people feel. I know what this is, and I think if people love the movie experience, they have a really good chance of wanting to see the next one. That's all I can believe. The prudent thing would be to wait, but I guess I'm not built for that wait.

AP: Some of the issues on "Yellowstone" seemed to have to do with time and scheduling. What's your feeling about your future with that series at this point?

COSTNER: "Yellowstone" was really important in my life. I really loved that world and what we were able to do in five seasons. I only thought it would be one, but did five. I was willing to do three more - five, six and seven - but it just didn't happen. Certain things were going on, and it just didn't happen. So the idea of going back, I'm open to that idea. But it's based on everything that first three or four were based on, which is the scripts.