Costner puts his money on the line

After Dances With Wolves he says Western saga Horizon is to put records straight

by Richard Mowe

Kevin Costner in Cannes
Kevin Costner in Cannes
In common with his compatriot Francis Ford Coppola who self-financed Megalopolis, Kevin Costner isn’t afraid to put his money where is mouth is. For the first part of Horizon: An American Saga he has mortgaged his four properties to raise the funds which has enabled him to also complete Chapter Two of the epic Western.

Kevin Costner in Cannes: 'We tend to think that Westerns are simple, but they are complicated'
Kevin Costner in Cannes: 'We tend to think that Westerns are simple, but they are complicated' Photo: Richard Mowe
And he has already started production on the third part before he closed down the shoot after three days’ work to come to the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of the first film. “It was so important for me to come to a place where movies are viewed in a very open way,” he said.

On his leap into the unknown he believes the risk is worth it. “I do not need four homes so I will risk those homes to make my movie. My children will have to live their own life. I still may be able to have those homes at the end of it all. I would like to come back here with my third movie. Cannes helped give this film life. It has made a difference,” he said.

Never one to pass up a lobbying opportunity Costner noted: “There are so many billionaires here in Cannes. Just look at all those yachts bobbing in the harbour. I have knocked on every boat in Cannes already with a view to finding more finance, but they are like, ‘Can we have a picture with you’ to which my reply is, ‘No, just get your cheque book out.’”

The interest in the roots of American reach back to 1990 when Costner made his feature film directorial debut with Dances With Wolves in which he played a cavalry man who earned the respect of the Native Americans. The film won seven Oscars at the 63rd Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.

“We tend to think that Westerns are simple, but they are complicated. Living in Cannes or Paris or Los Angeles is simple, but the West was terribly complicated. You had people who did not share the same language, they were at odds with each other, there were guns, there was no law. When Hollywood makes simple Westerns they are not appealing to me. It is hard to write a good Western and I don’t know if I have done it, but it is the best Western that I could write with humour and compassion.”

He shot the first instalment in a record-breaking 52 days. “I tried not to waste anything or to short-change the material. I can’t fill every box every time I try to make a movie. But I’m absolutely conscious of what’s at stake. The Chinese [for example] are a very important part of American frontier history, as were African Americans obviously, who also began to populate the West. So they’re important to me.”

Way out West in Kevin Costner’s epic Horizon. Costner: 'I tried not to waste anything or to short-change the material'
Way out West in Kevin Costner’s epic Horizon. Costner: 'I tried not to waste anything or to short-change the material' Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Shrugging off any criticism that he hasn’t given enough prominence to the role of Native Americans he suggested: “A lot of people talked about Dances With Wolves as being a Native American story and I said no, it’s not. It was a story about a calvary man who went out to the West. The difference was the Native people that he ran up against I tried to make look like people rather than stereotypes. I couldn’t be the person that ‘sets the record straight’ for Native Americans or for African Americans or for anybody. I just tried to make it as real as I could…I made it from my point of view.”

Costner redressed the importance of female roles in Westerns. “Women have become the biggest characters in the movie because it made sense to me. Of course I am going to have gunfights and things that Westerns are famous for but I am also going to have a story about a woman [played by Sienna Miller] from Europe who does not know the rules of the West.”

He points out that “200 years ago America was like the Garden of Eden. People who wanted a new life and would risk everything to come to this place from Europe and the Middle East and elsewhere. If you were tough enough and resourceful enough you were able to carve out a new life. Yet we destroyed more than 500 cultures as people came in to America and spread across the West.” In part four of the project, Native Americans become much more prominent.

The red carpets and glamour of festivals such as Cannes hold some attraction for Costner. “I love seeing people dressed up and the red carpet is incredible but if you are only there for the glamour of it that’s not what it is all about. I prefer the late nights of writing and directing. I used to get some money to do this, and then I got a lot of money to do this, and now I have to use my own money to do this!”

Costner was visibly emotional after the gala screening in the vast Grand Lumière Theatre. “It’s been 20 years since I’ve had the pleasure of being on the Croisette. I’ve been waiting for the right time to return and I’m proud to say that this time has come. Horizon, An American Saga is a story that began 35 years ago, and I can’t think of a better place than Cannes to reveal to the world the result of such a wonderful adventure.”

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