Kevin Costner has always loved the movies. Born in California in 1955, Costner grew up learning some of life's lessons from the silver screen.
Kevin Costner stars as Denny Davies in “The Upside of Anger.” (New Line)
"Movies affected me a great deal," Costner said recently while promoting his latest movie, "The Upside of Anger." "Movies informed me about how I wanted to be in my life."
"I'd like to be heroic in my own life," Costner said, a lesson he derived from watching movie characters face dilemmas and make tough decisions.
A decision that wasn't so tough for the Oscar-winning director of "Dances With Wolves" was taking the role of Denny Davies in "The Upside of Anger," which opens nationwide Friday.
Denny is a retired baseball player drawn to a woman whose life is falling apart after her husband abandons her and their four daughters.
"It was a very American character," Costner said. "It was a very American movie with universal themes of men and women. I just thought it was an original voice. It humored me while challenging me."
The original voice of which Costner spoke was writer-director Mike Binder, who also plays the role of Denny's associate, Shep. Costner and Binder met 18 years ago, got on well and eventually were able to work together.
"I think Mike is very close to being our generation's Woody Allen," said Costner. Binder wrote against clichÃ© and type. For example, in most movies, Denny wouldn't like Terry, played by Joan Allen. She's mean and likely wouldn't draw Denny's attention. But Binder stayed true to his vision.
Costner put on 20 pounds to play Denny, who drinks, smokes, lounges around and generally comes across as an unflattering character—save his dedication to Terry.
For Denny, Terry's life is real—and something he craves. Costner himself said he tries to stay focused on what's real in his own life.
"I think what's real for me is probably what's real for you," he told reporters. "We do get caught up in the trappings of everything. We do want to succeed. We do want to be respected. We do want extra. We do want a little bit more. And deep down, we know that when we see our children succeed, that's probably the highest moment you can have."
Costner told a story about watching his oldest daughter—then a high school senior—ride the bench in volleyball and not be jealous of her younger freshman sister, who made the varsity team.
He said his eldest daughter worked hard, cheered on her teammates and faithfully attended practices.
"I went to all her games because I didn't care if she was on the bench," he said. "If you try to add up what's important, I had a lot of pride for her. And I know those are the most important moments."
Costner has three children from his first marriage to Cindy Silva, which lasted from 1978 to 1994. Last September, he married handbag designer Christine Baumgartner at his 165-acre Aspen, Colo., ranch.
"I also know that outside my own familial things," Costner said, "I actually need to conquer some things. I'm a boy. I gotta go beat something up. I gotta go try to make my mark."
Movies have beckoned Costner from the very beginning, from sitting as an adolescent in movie houses to playing in such high-profile films as "Bull Durham," "JFK" and "Open Range."
"My life is a lot more than just Hollywood," said Costner. "I try to live a very full life. And I know that most of it doesn't mean anything other than who's going to hold your hand when you're staring up at your last breaths."
Until that day—or until he loses his evident passion for film—Costner will continue making movies.
"I'm passionate about the work," he said. "I like it. I don't like living in trailers, and that's a lot of the life of an actor, but I like very much to perform."
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
"The Upside of Anger" Web site is here.