ON LOCATION : One Directs, the Other Doesn’t : Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner both have Oscars for directing, box-office muscle and the Hollywood clout that goes with it. So what made them want to share the chores--and the spotlight--on an upcoming thriller?
The scorching Texas sun is merciless, but Clint Eastwood isn’t complaining, not as long as it remains unobscured by the bruised-looking clouds drifting ominously nearby.
In the middle of a rolling field a few minutes out of Austin, beneath a picturesquely crooked tree that suggests Mother Nature is one terrific art director, Eastwood is focused on a fake-bloodied Kevin Costner, who’s half-sitting, half-reclining against the trunk. Costner is supposed to appear gut-shot and has been generously daubed with enough sticky liquid to make a visitor wonder if George Romero, not Eastwood, is the director in charge.
For the record:
12:00 AM, Jul. 18, 1993 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 18, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Page 87 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 17 words Type of Material: Correction
John Lee Hancock wrote the screenplay for “A Perfect World.” An incorrect name appeared in some editions last Sunday.
“I think I’m stuck to this tree by now,” Costner cracks. “I think when I get up, I’ll just carry it with me, like I’m on my way to the 12th Station of the Cross.”
Eastwood responds with a tight-lipped smile and a sympathetic nod to indicate that he, too, would like this arduously long scene, the emotional climax of “A Perfect World,” to be over. But the scene is much too important to be rushed, even if taking enough time to get just the right take means risking yet another rain delay.
And besides, even if both men wanted to hurry, there would still be the matter of Costner’s young co-star, newcomer T. J. Lowther, a fresh-faced, Utah-born 7-year-old with an attention span that can be measured in nanoseconds.
“You’re walking too far away, pard,” Eastwood tells the youngster, doing his level best to sound more cheery than admonishing. Then, to lace the understated criticism with humor, Eastwood adds, with just a hint of a smile: “Did you have a vodka and tonic for lunch or something?”
T. J. giggles, and, just a few feet away, his mother smiles. The mounting impatience--Eastwood’s, Costner’s, just about everybody’s--is palpable, like the sudden chill of a summer breeze. But no one gives voice to it; everyone smiles.
Next take: Costner speaks to his young co-star, pointing off to a helicopter that’s supposed to be hovering in the distance. “See, Phillip,” Costner says, using the name of T. J.'s character, “dreams do come through. There’s your rocket ship.”
In actuality, the helicopter (which will be filmed much later) contains not friendly aliens, but Texas militia. Costner’s character, Butch Haynes, is an escaped convict who has taken Phillip hostage during his fugitive flight.
After a series of sometimes humorous, sometimes harrowing misadventures, Butch now lies seriously wounded in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a small army under the command of Texas state lawman Red Garnett (Eastwood himself, in a key supporting role). Phillip stands by him, still wearing a Halloween costume--Casper the Friendly Ghost--that he swiped from a dry-goods store while on the run with Butch. With his mask on, the boy looks like some benign nether-worldly messenger, come to carry away the fallen convict.
What Eastwood is shooting right now is meant to be a tearful parting. T. J. is supposed to walk away, hands raised, off into the direction of the waiting lawmen, leaving Costner behind to crawl away in a last desperate bid for escape. The emotions of the scene might make it a daunting challenge for even the most experienced actors. For a newcomer like T. J., it’s even more difficult. And more time-consuming.
Eastwood tries giving direction (“OK, put the mask back on! Slowly! Yes!”) while the camera is running. T. J. does what he’s told, well enough for some of the take to be usable. But Eastwood wants to try again.
“You just need a little bit more enthusiasm than that,” Eastwood tells the boy in a calm, encouraging voice. “Not a whole lot. But a little bit.”
With that, Eastwood walks around the tree, making his way back toward the camera. Unfortunately, he’s not quite careful enough to avoid-- wham! --a low-lying branch that smacks him right in the forehead. Suddenly, he lets loose with an enraged roar of R-rated expletives that makes everyone on the location snap to attention. Then, an awkward silence.
It’s quickly ascertained that Eastwood isn’t seriously hurt. Better still, he isn’t even scratched, meaning there will be no editing-room problems matching scenes he’ll be in tomorrow with scenes he was in last week. Costner takes the cue and tries to defuse the situation with a wisecrack: “Wow!” he remarks with deadpan ingenuousness. “We nearly had a continuity problem with Clint!”
No one laughs louder than Eastwood.
“A Perfect World,” which Warner Bros. has tentatively slotted for a December release, has been filming in and around Austin since late April. According to producer Mark Johnson--who, along with Baltimore Pictures partner Barry Levinson, first optioned John Lee Hancock’s screenplay--shooting was originally slated to begin in February.
“But Clint was acting at the time,” Johnson says, referring to “In the Line of Fire,” the Columbia Pictures release that opened Friday. “And, just as importantly, he had that whole afterlife for ‘Unforgiven,’ so that in February and March he was busy with the Oscars and selling the film. And so, quite frankly, he couldn’t get his head into this movie.”
Eastwood was given Hancock’s script as a writing sample back when Steven Spielberg was attached to it. When Spielberg dropped out to get “Jurassic Park” rolling, Eastwood was glad to sign on--but only as a filmmaker.
“Somebody suggested that I play the escaped con when I first read it,” Eastwood says, relaxing between takes in the custom-fitted bus he calls his on-location home. “But I said, ‘No, I’m too old for that. I’d like to direct it and have somebody else do that.’
“See, I’m trying to wean myself off doing both deals, because, well, I just felt maybe I deserved it at this time--not to put too much stress on myself. It’s like when Castle Rock approached me about doing ‘In the Line of Fire.’ They wanted me to direct it and be in it. And I thought, ‘You know, right after “Unforgiven,” to just jump right into another picture, especially a picture where there’s quite a bit to do in it, I don’t know.’
“Working with (Gene) Hackman, (Morgan) Freeman and (Richard) Harris on ‘Unforgiven,’ I noticed they were having so much fun, just coming in and letting me have all the headache. So I figured, ‘Why don’t I have that much fun, and let somebody else have the headache?’
“When I did ‘Play Misty for Me,’ ” he says, referring to his first double-threat effort, “that was 23 years ago. I was full of vinegar then. I didn’t want to just act, I wanted to do everything . I was carrying cases across the set, I was running here and there. But now, I figure, hey, let’s take our time. Let’s walk.”
Eastwood wound up dashing, not walking, through “In the Line of Fire” under the direction of a filmmaker he greatly admires, Wolfgang Petersen (“Das Boot”). After that pleasant experience, he was convinced more than ever that working on just one side of the cameras at a time was the way to go.
So Eastwood asked Johnson if any other actors had evidenced interest in playing Butch. When the producer mentioned Costner--who had gotten his first look at the suddenly hot script around the same time Eastwood did--Eastwood was surprised and intrigued.
“When they first started talking about Kevin’s playing Butch,” Eastwood says, “I started thinking, ‘Well, this doesn’t seem like his cup of tea, normally.’ But maybe that’s when actors get their best breaks.”
Hancock--a Texas native and onetime attorney who came to Los Angeles via a Sundance Institute project for budding screenwriters--recalls the day he picked up his phone and received, out of the blue, a personal invitation from Eastwood to take a meeting.
“At the end of the conversation,” Hancock says, “Clint said, ‘And if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to bring an actor along.’ And I was going to ask who he had in mind, but then I thought, ‘Well, if he’d wanted to tell me, he would’ve told me.’ So, I got up the next morning, and I had parked on the wrong side of the lot, and I was a couple of minutes late, so I had to race there. And I walk in the door--and there’s Clint and Kevin sitting on the couch.
“I looked at these guys, and I thought to myself, ‘Boy, if this isn’t a dollar waiting on a dime, I don’t know what is.’ ”
Johnson makes little effort to hide the excitement he felt at the prospect of having the muscle of Eastwood and Costner behind “A Perfect World.”
Not incidentally, Johnson put together the rare teaming of an actor-turned-Oscar-winning director (“Unforgiven”) directing another actor-turned-Oscar-winning director (“Dances With Wolves”) in a lead role.
Better still, in Johnson’s view, having Costner on board gave the project an added dose of star-power propulsion.
Warners “always recognized how good the script was,” Johnson says. “But they thought--because of its darkness, I think--they wanted to make sure they started off with a movie star. They wanted the guarantee of someone who could basically open a movie.”
All of which made Hancock, once he got over his initial euphoria, profoundly uneasy.
“I thought, ‘All of a sudden, this is going to be a movie-star movie,” Hancock says. “And I was afraid this was going to be a situation where (the producers) might say, ‘Gee, Butch really isn’t a bad guy.’
“But Kevin understood from the get-go that this is a bad guy. This is not a guy who is able to live in a normal society with people.”
“It’s not anything that I bring to the role,” Costner insists. “As written, this character is likable in many ways. Very likable, very charming. But if you take his cookie, he might kill you for it.”
A few on-set observers will acknowledge off the record that they predicted dire results from the teaming of Eastwood, an unpretentious craftsman famed for shooting a minimum of takes with a maximum of speed, with Costner, a filmmaker with a reputation for being a perfectionist.
Initially, though, it seemed to Hancock and Johnson that Costner was less concerned about Eastwood’s directorial approach than Eastwood’s stated unwillingness to act in “A Perfect World.”
“Kevin really wanted Clint to be in the movie with him,” Johnson says. “In fact, he sat down with John (Hancock) and worked on the script for a couple of weeks--ironically, not to work on his character, but to work on the character of Red. So, in a sense, he could seduce Clint by giving him more to do.”
Hancock doesn’t exactly dispute that account but takes a slightly different view of what transpired: “Kevin is terribly, terribly good from a marketing standpoint at understanding the reason why he’s a movie star, and the reason why people love to see his movies. But in addition to that, I think he understood, maybe way before anybody, what the pairing (with Eastwood) would do in terms of generating interest.
“It made me remember the first time I saw them sitting on the couch together. I walked in, and there they were, and I thought, ‘Boy, this is the passing of the banner here, so to speak.’ It’s old Hollywood star, young Hollywood star.”
As for Eastwood--who, at 63, is the 38-year-old Costner’s senior by a quarter-century--he attributes his change of heart to changes in the role. After the rewrites, Red Garnett “was changed so that he had some vested interest in being there,” Eastwood says.
In the new and improved rewrite, Garnett reveals to a feisty criminologist (Laura Dern) that years before the 1963 setting of the period drama, he encouraged a judge to throw the book at Butch for a relatively minor infraction, so the teen-ager would be taken away from a bad home. This turned out to be a big mistake for which Garnett now seeks some kind of redemption.
Which is just the sort of thing that appeals to Eastwood.
“I’d rather play that,” he says, “instead of playing a guy who comes in and says, ‘OK, I’ll just shoot him, partner!’ That’s pretty boring. At this stage in my life, I’ve done all that. There are younger guys who can do that.”
Kevin Costner proudly describes himself as “a script hound,” always on the prowl for exceptional material.
“I believe that all of my security is wrapped right inside a script,” he says in his air-conditioned trailer. “It’s got nothing to do with star power, it’s got nothing to do with screen appeal or charisma.”
Ironically, he was very eager at one point to do the very project that proved so artistically and financially rewarding for his current director and co-star. “ ‘Unforgiven’ was a script that I’d tracked for seven years,” Costner says. “I watched the option on it each and every year . . . because I wanted it as a kind of bookend for ‘Dances With Wolves.’ But that didn’t happen.”
He was determined to make it happen with “A Perfect World,” even if the wait for Eastwood meant pushing the film’s completion date anxiously close to the start-up of Costner’s next project, Lawrence Kasdan’s “Wyatt Earp.” “I really can’t think about that one right now,” he says. “I have to dismiss all thought of it. Because the moments we’re dealing with today, really, we’re never going to visit them again.”
To hear Costner talk--and to hear Eastwood and Johnson add their own four cents’ worth--a visitor might easily get the impression that nothing short of an earthquake could distract Costner from the task at hand. Everyone involved recognizes “A Perfect World” as a risky change of pace from Costner’s recent string of heroic movie parts (“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” “JFK,” “The Bodyguard”). And Costner himself is acutely aware that one false note in a scene could detonate this minefield of a script.
Butch, the convict Costner portrays, is not some instinctively paternal antihero in a family-oriented entertainment. Rather, he is a seriously unbalanced career criminal who is capable of sudden, lethal violence. As such, he always poses a potential threat to his young hostage, even as the two of them commiserate over the lack of father figures in their respective lives.
“What gave me the most worry was trying to lose the paternal thing for the kid,” Costner says. “Because this character doesn’t have paternal instincts. And I had them all over the place with three kids myself.”
Johnson is convinced that given Butch’s capacity for violence and the script’s frequently salty language, there is no way “A Perfect World” will avoid an R rating: “One of the most important things that Kevin has tried to protect in it is that we always recognize that no matter what he does, no matter what gesture of friendship or sympathy that he makes to the child, he is still a villain. This guy is a killer. And this kid should always be frightened around him.”
Eastwood had met Costner only briefly on a few social occasions before starting work on “A Perfect World.” But after seeing Costner’s portrayal of New Orleans Dist. Atty. Jim Garrison in “JFK,” he had little doubt that the actor could handle the darker dimensions of Butch.
“Not that the characters are related--they’re not, not at all,” Eastwood says. “But it was the fact that he could be that concentrated. I felt Kevin could build an inner life that would be strong enough for this character.
“Like James Stewart. In the Anthony Mann Westerns, Stewart had a very strong inner life. And even though he wasn’t a bullish bear of a man, he had a fury about him. You always felt he was in touch with his own anger.”
And speaking of anger: What about those ego clashes some observers were predicting?
“I think Kevin may have been afraid of some of the stories about how famous Clint is for just muscling through things,” producer Johnson says. “And I think Clint wanted to know how much Kevin was going to require. And they danced around one another for a bit. But then I think they found a happy medium, which was not a compromise for anyone. The truth of the matter is they were much closer than either one of them suspected.”
Eastwood himself says that, at least until recently, “I’m a fast shooter, as fast as anybody. But that’s because I started out with moderate-budget pictures. I didn’t have the luxury of big budgets. Kevin was very fortunate--he had a lot of time on his first picture (as a director, “Dances With Wolves”). I never had that luxury. And then I got used to it.’
But not, Costner says admiringly, to the point of inflexibility.
“When Clint and I got together,” he says, “I told him what I would need to do. And because I don’t traditionally play heavies, there would be times when things don’t bubble for me as easily. And that it was going to require that we spend a little bit more time than he was used to. Everybody has reputations and things, I know. But I believe that everybody’s adaptable. And that includes me. I’ve got to adapt to the situation too.
“And, you know,” he adds, just a tad defensively, “I can work that fast.”
Throughout filming, Costner says, he has frequently offered suggestions. “There can be only one director on a movie,” he says, “there can be only one vision. But there can be a lot of good ideas.”
Eastwood agrees: “I used to do it with Don Siegel and Sergio Leone. I’d come up and say, ‘Why don’t you put a shot in over there?’ Or put in other ideas. Sometimes, they’d say, ‘Gee, I don’t think that would work.’ But other times, they’d say, ‘Hey, that’s terrific.’
“So if a guy comes up with an idea, that’s great. It doesn’t have to be another director, or another actor. It can be the craft services guy. I’ll steal anything.”
Referring back to the emotional scene in the sunbaked field, Costner notes a specific example of what he praises as Eastwood’s “adaptability.”
“We talked about it a bit,” Costner says, “and his notion was that (the scene) should all be under the tree. And I said that I’d love to get away, physically, from that tree. I’d love to do something with the patheticness of (Butch’s) trying to get away, and then falling, and being caught by the kid and having to talk it out.
“And in about 20 seconds, we hashed it out. He felt how strongly I felt about it. But then, at the end of the conversation, I said, ‘But if you want to do it all under the tree, let’s do it under the tree.’ And he says, ‘No, we can do it out here.’ And that’s appreciated.”
In turn, Eastwood appreciates that while guiding an actor through unfamiliar territory, optimum speed shouldn’t always be a primary goal.
He recalled filming a particularly grueling sequence in which Costner’s character explodes into a borderline-psychotic rage after witnessing what he interprets as cruelty to a child.
In the scene, Eastwood says, Costner “is playing somebody who may be on the verge of massacring a family, the sharecropper family that brings him in. That’s a bizarre sequence, and sort of a turning point in the picture, where you don’t really know if this guy has got something loose. He’s a sympathetic villain, you know, but by the same token, maybe he’s going off to another area.
“Kevin’s concerned, of course. And he’ll come to me, and say, ‘I’ve never done a scene like this. And I have certain anxieties about it.’ But that’s all part of directing. You’re supposed to say, ‘Well, look, it’s going to be great. We’ll just play with it until it works out. Work on it until it jells.’ ”
Which is precisely what Costner wanted to hear.
“Clint and I--I don’t want to compare myself to him-- but insecurity is not really the thing that we both have happening in our lives. We show up, and we both know what we’re doing. And now, let’s see if we can do it together.”
Meanwhile, back at the tree, Eastwood is sitting in his director’s chair, with younJ. Lowther perched on his knee as they page through a script.
Costner, still looking like a refugee from “Night of the Living Dead,” is laughing with visitors that screenwriter Hancock has brought to the set about the time when, as a child, he fled in terror from a movie house during a showing of ‘Hush . . . Hush Sweet Charlotte.” “As soon as that head started bouncing down the stairs,” he recalls, “I started screaming.”
Eastwood suggests that Costner, bloody makeup and all, walk into the lobby of the Austin hotel where they’re staying. “Yeah,” Costner responds, “I think I’ll just lurch into the bar and say, ‘Gimme another drink.’ ”
Then it’s time for another take. And just when it looks like T. J. has finally got it all down, an airplane noisily passes overhead.
“I hate this movie!” Costner cries in mock frustration. Then, turning to T. J., he adds: “Teege, do you know you’re making your debut in a dog of a movie?”
For just a second, T. J. appears uncertain how to respond. Once again, he gets his cue from Eastwood. They both smile.