More comfortable in the wide open spaces of Montana than he is at a star-studded Hollywood premiere, Kevin Costner, is a happy man in a happy place.
Not since Dances With Wolves has the 65-year-old been so comfortable in his latest character’s cowboy boots – as John Dutton, cowboy, patriarch, and land baron, in the macho melodrama, Yellowstone.
“We’re shooting in Bitter Root Valley, which I call the Garden of Eden, because it looks the way it did in America before first contact, and the mountains and those rivers prove it,” he tells TV Guide, with obvious delight.
“I love waking up and working [in Montana]. It’s untouched land.”
Costner’s all-American persona is the real deal.
He remains one of the few Hollywood actors who can ride a horse as though he was born to it – no stuntman required.
And he gets in the saddle often, usually alongside his wife of 16 years, Christine Baumgartner, and choosing between trails on their ranch in Santa Barbara, California, and another estate in Aspen, Colorado where horseriding and trout-fishing are the order of the day, and can be anyone’s for US$30,000 a day in rent.
He lights up at mention of his 46-year-old second wife and riding partner.
“We like the same things. She’s a horse person, and outdoors person, too,” he laughs, adding, “I like her whether it’s indoors or outdoors.”
He also appears partial to fatherhood, having sired seven children, aged between 10 and 26. His first marriage to Cindy Silva produced three, before they divorced in 1994 after 16 years together.
He also has a son from a relationship with socialite Bridget Rooney and dated Elle Macpherson briefly in 1996.
He tied the knot with Baumgartner in 2004, with the couple welcoming he three children aged between 10 and 13.
“I fell in love with my wife because she’s kind and beautiful. I’ve been married once before and I wasn’t planning on it a second time. It took somebody that really caught my attention,” he explains.
“We dated for about six years and got married. Having children was very important to her and she told me that on the first date. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it but at a certain moment I realised we would not be together if I didn’t commit to that idea,” he says, candidly.
“I was afraid a little bit. Not afraid to be married again but to be divorced a second time because it was so painful; but I decided to get married because I knew she’d be a wonderful partner. And also, I don’t conduct my life out of fear.”
Costner is speaking from his Santa Barbara ranch and remains a remarkably handsome. Casually dressed in a white shirt, his hair is blonde and skin tanned, he glows with good health and looks every inch the archetypal cowboy.
“I’m sitting in the guesthouse, away from the kids,” he smiles.
Contrary to the experience of second-time-around dads who lament not being more present the first time, Costner insists he’s proud of his parenting.
“I have no regrets about how I raised children from my first marriage. I took them to set, I went to all their games, their plays, everything. In fact, I was worried I’d have the energy to do what I did the first time with these children [his youngest three, with Baumgartner].”
Now in the comfortable financial position of not needing to work, Costner is clearly revelling in exploring the mystique of the American cowboy through Yellowstone’s John Dutton.
“I want to be really clear,” he intones, “that kind of work, raising cattle on horseback, is still going on all over America. It’s not a myth. The modern day cowboy exists.”
The show was co-created by acclaimed screenwriter and actor Taylor Sheridan, who was Oscar-nominated for the screenplay of 2016’s Hell or High Water.
The upcoming season will introduce new characters, played by Lost’s Josh Holloway, Jennifer Landon (daughter of Little House On The Praire’s Michael), and Eden Brolin (daughter of actor Josh); as we follow assorted conflicts along the shared borders of the cattle ranch, an Indian reservation and land developers.
A ‘man’s man’ often compared to Gary Cooper, Costner clearly enjoys the sensibility and work ethic of the contemporary cowboy.
“It’s an independent way of working, it’s an independent way of thinking and that has its roots in the cowboy world. They still use ropes, they still have to do the work that way. They’re physical and they don’t want to play by normal rules, to be honest.”
Likewise, Costner is not averse to going against the tide.
Case in point, at the height of his fame, he pushed back against the advice of the powers-that-be in Hollywood and directed and starred in the western, Dances with Wolves, which became an Oscar juggernaut, trouncing Martin Scorsese’s Good Fellas, in 1990.
Five years later, Costner starred in the much-maligned post apocalyptic thriller, Waterworld. At the time it was heralded as ‘the most expensive movie ever made’ (US$235 million) and naysayers were adamant the studio would never make its money back.
The film ultimately grossed US$400 million despite constant rumours of it being a flop.
In 2014, he personally bankrolled, to the tune of US$9 million, a much smaller project, which he produced and starred in.
Black or White, a racially charged drama, is certainly worth another look during this divisive time in American history.
“The movie is about racism, about one town in Compton [where he was born] and one in Beverly Hills. If people want to see a very honest story about the nature of racism, they should watch it,” he says.
“Racism is a 400-year problem in America and with what’s going on now we should hold a mirror up to ourselves.”
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DANCES WITH WOLVES
Streaming, Amazon Prime Video
* Yellowstone, streaming on Stan.