There is something about a man that is humble, smart, and handsome. Kevin Costner has earned the right to skip an interview of non traditional press, yet he walked into our press room in sunglasses and looking as I could only hope, quickly he gained all of our attention. “There’s nothing more important or more demanding than a room full of mommies.” Demanding? Us? Well, maybe. But important, ahhh, he gets it!
He made us feel instantly comfortable by not even being sure himself how this works with us. “Before we go on, number one, good morning and everything else, but to make this the very best it can be for you, since I’ve never done this, should the answers be shorter or should they be the way I talk?” Oh Kevin, talk, we just want to hear you talk.
Kevin is no stranger to great films. A fan of his for years I couldn’t have been anymore excited to hear what he would have to share about working on his latest film, McFarland, USA. A movie based on the 1987 true story that follows novice runners from McFarland, an economically challenged town in California’s farm-rich Central Valley, as they give their all to build a cross-country team under the direction of Coach Jim White, played by Kevin Costner, a newcomer to their predominantly Latino high school. Coach White and the McFarland students have a lot to learn about each other but when White starts to realize the boys’ exceptional running ability, things begin to change. Soon, something beyond their physical gifts becomes apparent—the power of family relationships, their unwavering commitment to one another and their incredible work ethic. With grit and determination, the unlikely band of runners eventually overcome the odds to forge not only a championship cross-country team but an enduring legacy as well. Along the way, Coach White realizes that his family has finally found a place to call home and both he and his team achieve their own kind of American dream.
Kevin Costner: McFarland USA
So what was the most rewarding part about making this movie?
I’ll tell you, I’ve had such a journey in the business. I wanted direction like probably everybody about what are you gonna do in your life. And when I found movies, to me it was like recess. You know, I wasn’t very good in school but when that bell went and I could go out and play and make up my own life and do whatever I wanted to do, that’s what I kind of wanted in life. Now that may sound like Peter Pan but that’s what I wanted. I wanted to be absolutely interested in everything that I did. And that began to happen for me. So that is how I’d conduct my career going forward, it’s obviously more than just movies. Movies are a small part of my life. They’re an important part. They’re the tip of the iceberg that the rest of the world sees, but they’re a very small part of my life. And the rewarding part of something about McFarland is that I don’t plan my life so much to the point that I miss something like McFarland, a little story about Latinos and a community that I actually participated against in high school.
I played against McFarland in baseball. I lived in Visalia, up in the central valley so the important thing for me was that I was able to participate in this movie and highlight a culture that we see all the time, driving down our highways, looking off to the left and right, and somehow we just keep driving, right? We’re not supposed to text and we’re not supposed to stop our car to look. But that is how the food gets to us. And movies, you know, have been a joy for me. And so one that would highlight this little town – there’s little McFarland’s everywhere in America, you know, I like that. For me it’s a very important part of my filmography to be a part of this movie.
Did you train with the boys?
Train? I hate running and so that’s why I enjoyed being the coach. One time I ran with them, and as you see in the movie, I quit. I played the coach part really well. I sat down and had a Coca Cola. And, I didn’t have to train for this really. It was pretty spelled out for me in the script, what I would do, which was a sport I was unfamiliar with and it was one I would try to have to educate myself with. It was one I would have to coach without facilities, that probably the schools we would be competing against, had. So I had to try to be resourceful, and the script gave me those opportunities to be that. So there was not really any training involved for me. There was just being heavily involved in these young men’s lives. There was so much more about the movie than the finish line. The finish line’s for them. You can give young people something to shoot for and what we realize watching this movie is that when we do, they can somehow exceed beyond their own expectations. You know, so we realize that’s actually in front of all our children. And if you really want to get specific about it, it’s actually in front of us, too. Wherever you’re at in your life there is a chance to do something else in your life. We’re not done. You know, we’re not done at all. We’re here, you’re doing your job but what you want to be in your life is still in front of you. The same things that we offer our children, we shouldn’t be so ignorant to not offer up to ourselves.
How much time did you spend with Jim’s White? Kevin misheard me and thought I said wife – which he joked about, and I turned red quick!
How much time did I spend with his wife? [Laughing] This is a mommy blog I guess. (Once corrected) I met him before shooting and then he would come to the set and he would talk and he was just kind of seeing everything, all the equipment, all the people, all the trucks for the very first time, wondering like everybody, who watches a movie for this first time, how come it takes this long?
So, I was able to glean things off of him, not necessarily change them — what was scripted, ‘cause we took a little license with his character but not with the story, not with the outcome of the nine championships.
You said you played against them in high school. How did that affect your attitude going into the film?
Well I have, I have grown up around migrant farmer workers if you will. I, when I left Compton, that’s where I was born, I moved up to a place called Ojai and there were orchards up there. Then moved down to a place called Ventura and that was just all agricultural, and then went to a little Mexican barrio school called Saticoy. So a lot of the kids I competed with, their fathers were pickers. And when I lived in Visalia, all the central valley is all agriculture and great, big Latino communities. And so I had competed with and fought with, and, and laughed with Mexican kids pretty much my whole life.
What is it about sports films that you find so appealing?
Well there’s a lot of sports films that come to me that I never do because they’re not very appealing. They maybe are too much about sports or they’re too obvious or they’re too whatever. The best ones are about people, obviously, and there’s less sports in it than you would imagine. The ones that try to make a wall-to-wall sports movie might as well make a documentary or watch that on ESPN. We always are wanting to see (a piece of) ourselves in the movies. I think that if you saw yourself as being (Cheryl played by) Maria Bello, you saw how honest her portrayal was of being shipped around because of her husband into a community that maybe didn’t look like it was gonna be so much fun. But, you know, the women in our lives are the ones that kind of almost make everything possible to come home to. For as impossible as everything is outside, to be able to come home and have your partner stand for you – and my wife, when no one wanted to make Black or White, I said I’m gonna use my own money to make it, ‘cause I feel like people will feel like I feel like after they see it, you know?
What was it like working with the boys? Mr. White in real life is like a father figure to them. Were you kind of like a father figure to the boys on set?
I didn’t try to be. I think that you understand that I’m in that position where that could happen, so it’s better to let that happen than to just go in and, and be Yoda and be able to have all this stuff that you can tell them. It’s more authentic when they actually come to you and you’re not just spouting off. Nothing was off limits when they would come to me to talk to me. And they began to understand that and I think hopefully appreciate that. And it was important for me, for them to be good. It was important for me to let them know that they needed to be even more prepared for Niki, that that’s who we’re, that’s who gave them a big shot in their life. And they owe it to be as prepared as they can, every day. And so I would talk to them a lot about professionalism, about what you do, because there’s plenty of fun, right? Suddenly they’re not, the bell rang for them too, right? It’s recess. They’re out playing too, and they’re getting paid for it. You can get carried away with that and forget that you have a job. And so we talked about that. And then the more comfortable they became, they wanted to know about all the girls I kissed. And of course I told them if you want to keep kissing girls, the best way to do that is to not talk about it.
What was the most emotional part of the movie for you?
The most emotional part? The movie was filled with a lot, so to drill down on a single moment, but one of the highlights of the movie is where it’s supposed to be. It’s before the last race. They’ve gone from not knowing anything about what was possible to sensing that everything was suddenly possible, and what happened? They found themselves in the last race, and they saw the buses drive up that were bigger than their bus, shinier. They saw kids come out of the buses in uniforms that were better. The kids were bigger. So all of a sudden they started to shrink back. They started to go back in their minds to McFarland. They suddenly weren’t gonna be able to maybe compete at this level. And that’s where men, older men and older woman will always be at their most useful, to look at them and see the fear in somebody’s eyes, the doubt in somebody’s eyes and to say no, you belong here. When you make someone feel like they belong they start to feel like giants. And what happened? They won. And they continued to win, and it was all because somebody said it’s possible if you’re willing to work at it. So an emotional thing for me always is, I hope somebody talks to my sons or daughters that way, should I not be around, about what’s possible. And I think that’s what we all want for even ourselves, but more importantly we always want it for our children. So that was the most emotional.
McFARLAND, USA (2/20/15)
* I was invited by Disney to be part of a press trip centered around McFarland, USA. All opinions expressed are those of my own.
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