Kevin Costner is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns in his new movie, "Draft Day." The Ivan Reitman-directed project -- a kind of gridiron "Moneyball" -- takes place on that fateful spring day when the 32 teams in the National Football League go hunting for the cream of the year’s college crop, signing, trading, strategizing, looking to fill holes in their lineups and, hopefully, find the real talent out there, and the players their competition might have missed.
The NFL draft has become a big deal in its own right, a spectator sport, with the successive rounds of picks taking place over a long weekend. (The 2014 draft: May 8-10 on the NFL Network.)
Costner, who has had a good run when it comes to sports movies -- "Field of Dreams" and "Bull Durham" (baseball), "Tin Cup" (golf) -- related to "Draft Day’s" go-my-own-way protagonist, Sonny Weaver Jr., a GM being second-guessed by just about everyone from his coaches to his coworker and lover (Jennifer Garner) to his mom (Ellen Burstyn).
Costner is 59 now and has been in movies since the start of the ‘80s (Frat Boy No. 1 in Ron Howard’s "Night Shift" was an early job). He was Elliot Ness in "The Untouchables" (1987) and received best actor, best director, and best picture Oscar nominations for his 1990 Lakota Indian epic, "Dances With Wolves." He won the directing and picture Academy Awards.
Costner did not miss the parallels between the handicapping, prospecting and deal-making that goes on in "Draft Day," and the handicapping, prospecting and deal-making that goes on in the movie biz.
"I’m sure, if people tried to handicap me against all the actors that you would have compared me to, when we first started, it would be interesting," the actor ruminated on the phone from Los Angeles. "How many have just fallen off the cliff, so to speak -- the ones that never went past one or two movies?
"How do you handicap that when you look at someone? You know, how do you measure it? You’d be mistaken if you did it by looks. You’d be mistaken if you did it by height. Š And you’d be mistaken if you did it by what everybody else said versus what you think." He adds: "You have to analyze talent, and see if people have a genuine love. You know, if somebody’s just in love with the red carpet, chances are that’s what they’re going to follow. They’re just in love with the fame, and that quickly fades, because it’s about longevity, it’s not about the moment.
"If you just feel like you’re going to be popular your whole life, that’s unlikely."
Costner certainly has had his ups and downs. "Waterworld" (1995) and "The Postman" (1997) are famous flops; the History Channel’s 2012 "Hatfields & McCoys" miniseries, a huge hit; the 2010 ensemble piece "Company Men," a critical hit. He was Clark Kent’s adoptive dad in last year’s "Superman" reboot, "Man of Steel."
So far in 2014, not even half over, he’s had three features in the multiplexes -- "Draft Day" opens in theaters today. Costner is the veteran CIA guy opposite Chris Pine in "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," released in January, and the veteran CIA guy opposite Amber Heard in "3 Days to Kill," released last month. In the former, his was a supporting role; in the latter, he was the star.
"I’m not happy with ‘3 Days to Kill’ at all," says its star, surprisingly. "I really loved playing that part, but no, I’m not happy. Š I feel like the producers really lost their way and were not helpful in the production of that movie. I was just not impressed with them. Too manipulative."
Costner, who lives in Santa Barbara, has two films in the bank. One is "McFarland," directed by "Whale Rider’s" Niki Caro and coming from Disney, with the star in the title role -- a high school track coach working with a group of mostly poor Latino kids whose families are farm laborers. "They don’t have a lot going for them except their big hearts," he says. "So it’s a true story about cross-country running here in California."
The other, "Black and White," is a contemporary drama with racism as its central theme. He financed the project himself.
"No one really wanted to make it, but I felt it was an important movie to make. And I thought it was very entertaining," he says. "It doesn’t have distribution yet, so I hope that that happens, but I think it’s a real quality movie, I think audiences will feel that, too. Š "
Costner says that if he doesn’t find a distributor, he’ll consider self-releasing.
Costner also says he intends to start directing again. His last turn behind the camera was in 2003, with the Western "Open Range."
"I want to try and play out the second half of my career directing more," he reports. "Everybody always asks me why I don’t do more of it. Š And I don’t even have a great answer."