TORONTO (AP) — Most of Kevin Costner’s most famous films wouldn’t seem to be easy sells. How would it today sound to pitch a studio on a Civil War soldier befriending Sioux Indians on the South Dakota plains? Or on an Iowa farmer who hears voices?
But while Costner’s industry clout was once impervious, he’s had to fight harder for his latest, the drama “Black and White,” which premiered over the weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival. In the film, written and directed by Mike Binder, Costner plays a Los Angeles attorney devastated by the deaths of his daughter and wife. A custody battle over his granddaughter ensues between Costner’s character and the child’s African-American grandmother (Octavia Spencer).
“I was pretty convinced someone would want to make it, but that just wasn’t the case,” Costner said in a recent interview. “I didn’t fight, I just kind of surrendered. So I used my own money to make it.”
When drumming up interest proved difficult, Costner resorted to financing it himself. He says he felt a responsibility to Binder, whom he had promised to get it made.
“I had to stick to my word, so I had to reach into my bank account,” says Costner, who also produced the film.
Costner and Binder previously teamed up for 2005’s well-received “The Upside of Anger,” in which Costner (playing off his “Bull Durham” fame) played a retired baseball player who becomes romantically involved with a mother of three (Joan Allen), whose husband has gone missing.
“Black and White” is an ambitious portrait of race in America, a not especially Hollywood-friendly subject.
“I knew it was small and I knew it was a subject that doesn’t immediately spark that. But I’ve done enough movies that I can tell,” says Costner. “I thought it was really even-handed. It didn’t let anyone off the hook. It deals with an issue that’s not going away. We’re on this planet together. We need to move past the places we’ve been.”
The 59-year-old actor is looking for a distribution deal at Toronto, but he’s also prepared to again, go it alone if necessary.
“I’m entrepreneurial,” he says. “I guess if I have to do this myself, too, I’ll figure out a way.”
“Black and White” caps a recent run of work for Costner, who took several years off from acting while having three children with his second wife, Christine Baumgartner. He had supporting roles in the Superman film “Man of Steel” and the Tom Clancy reboot “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” and starred in the NFL movie “Draft Day” and the spy thriller “3 Days to Kill.”
Now, he’s beginning to think about his next step. He hopes to direct a Western: “I feel like, as I play out the second half of my career, I need to direct more.”
“I was talking to Bill Paxton when I was making (the History channel miniseries) ‘Hatfield & McCoys,’ he said, ‘Why don’t you work more?'” says Costner. “I said, ‘I don’t know. I have other things that I think about.’ And he said, ‘You know, work really begets work.’ I thought, ‘Well, I’ll try a little bit of this.'”
He pauses and then chuckles. “But I didn’t know I was going to end up paying for the movie.”