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Costner’s Feeling a Little Less ‘Love’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In his new film, “For Love of the Game,” Kevin Costner plays an aging Detroit Tigers pitcher on the mound for what may be his final game. The 44-year-old movie star looks like the real thing--he walks, talks and throws an 80 mph fastball just like a bona fide baseball player.

The only problem: Costner has been acting more like one of today’s spoiled diamond divas than an old-fashioned hardball hero. Costner, who has an industry reputation as a temperamental star, has been privately tussling with Universal Pictures over the film’s length and rating. But last week he went public with his complaints in a Newsweek interview, lambasting Universal for caving in to the Motion Picture Assn. of America ratings board and accusing the studio of hurting the film, which opens Friday nationwide.

“For Universal, this movie has always been about the length and the rating,” he told the magazine. “It’s never been about the content. You feel a studio would want to release the best version of the movie, not the one they think appeals to the biggest common denominator. . . . Universal wasn’t even willing to try [to fight the MPAA]. They said it wouldn’t do any good. The love of the movies, I believe, is waning [in Hollywood].”

His outburst, coming before the picture has even opened, infuriated Universal and was a rare breach of the usual “make-nice” publicity that movie stars do for the release of a new film. “Love of the Game” director Sam Raimi says Costner was upset over several lines of humorous, obscenity-laced dialogue that were trimmed or altered so that the film could receive a PG-13 rating.

The MPAA allows only one use of a certain expletive in a PG-13 film, and then only if it is not used in a sexual context. One exchange snipped from the film involved an obnoxious sports fan and a feisty female bartender. Responding to the fan’s use of a curse word, the bartender barks: “Hey, no cussing in my bar, [expletive]!” In another scene, co-star Kelly Preston, embarrassed that she slept with Costner on their first date, tries to explain that she’s not just an easily seduced baseball groupie. In the finished film, her original line has been rerecorded so that she now says, “I just don’t screw like that.”

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“I agree with Kevin--I miss the lines too,” Raimi says. “We got a big laugh with the bartender’s line and it’s really a great moment. But the MPAA wouldn’t allow it under any circumstances if we wanted a PG-13. I understand Kevin’s feelings. It’s a very personal film to Kevin--I even use home movies of him and his dad in the opening credits--and he doesn’t want it tampered with in any way.

“But I’m very happy with the film. It’s still a very real story about someone who grows as a person and becomes worthy of a woman’s love.”

(Costner was out of the country and did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.)

Industry insiders say that Universal’s willingness to stand up to Costner was a rare display of backbone by a studio pitted against a major star. In the past, Universal has failed to ride herd on runaway productions, resulting in such fiascoes as “Waterworld,” “Virus,” “Meet Joe Black” and “Babe: Pig in the City.” But the actions of Universal Pictures co-chairman Stacey Snider, backed by Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer, seem to send a message that the studio, while supporting director Raimi, is now less tolerant of superstar shenanigans.

“Kevin’s not the director and it’s not fair for him to hijack a $50-million asset,” Snider says. “I realize this is very much about principle for Kevin, but principle doesn’t mean that you never compromise. Our feeling is that we have backed the filmmaker and his name is Sam Raimi, not Kevin Costner.”

Much of Costner’s dispute with Universal is rooted in the traditional Hollywood nexus of power and money, as well as in the unusual arrangements negotiated in order to get the film made. The script, written by Dana Stevens, was based on a novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Shaara. It had originally been in the hands of producer Amy Robinson and director Sydney Pollack, who at one point were going to make the film with Tom Cruise. When Pollack left, the project stalled until Beacon Communications chief Armyan Bernstein, a close friend of Costner’s, got the star interested in the script.

Maneuvering to Keep Budget at $50 Million

Even then, Universal had concerns about the film’s potential cost. To keep the budget at $50 million, Costner waived his usual $20-million salary in return for a bigger percentage of the film’s back-end gross. The studio gave the actor final cut, powerful leverage normally only available to the director or producer of a film. However, the studio kept some leverage for itself. Costner’s final cut only applied if the film were rated PG-13 and had a running time of less than 2 hours, 10 minutes, two restrictions the studio believed would significantly improve the movie’s box-office potential.

Costner also had director approval, so Raimi was flown to meet him on the set of the star’s last movie, “Message in a Bottle.” Then best known for low-budget horror films like “Evil Dead 2,” Raimi wasn’t sure he’d passed the audition.

Costner is notorious for meddling with less-powerful directors. Kevin Reynolds, who directed Costner in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and “Waterworld,” quit both films before their release after heated battles with the star. Costner also clashed with Universal over the running time for “Waterworld,” pushing for a longer cut of the film. When he directed “The Postman” for Warner Bros., Costner refused to cut the three-hour film even after two disastrous test screenings. When there were editing differences on “Message in a Bottle,” Costner threatened to pull out of a publicity junket until his input was included in the film.

However, Raimi says Costner was a total professional during filming. “He came to the set full of ideas and never pulled any star antics. He challenged me during the editing of the film, but if I looked at something or tried it and still wanted to do it my way, he let me make the call.”

Raimi adds that Universal bent on the running-time issue, allowing the film to go out at 2 hours, 17 minutes. The problems arose when the MPAA demanded cuts for a PG-13 rating. Everyone involved agrees there were grounds for argument with the MPAA’s decision. As Snider put it: “I’m on Kevin’s side when it comes to the MPAA. It’s really unfair to see dialogue, especially where a character is saying, ‘Hey, I don’t sleep around,’ scrutinized as if it were just a routine obscenity.”

But Costner was convinced that Universal didn’t fight hard enough against the trims, even though the studio contends that the cuts amount to roughly 10 seconds of film. “Kevin shouldn’t be tarred and feathered for speaking up about the hypocrisy of the ratings system,” Bernstein says. “He felt that even if the studio lost the ratings fight, it should still put out the film as an R because it should put out the best possible movie.”

Costner also believed that having waived his $20-million fee to get the film made, he’d become Universal’s partner and should be treated accordingly. As Bernstein explains: “In his mind, when Universal said, ‘No, we decide what the rating will be,’ it was as if the studio were saying, ‘So we’re really not partners after all.’ ”

Snider says the studio submitted the film twice before moving on, feeling a prolonged battle would jeopardize the movie’s release date timed to the end of baseball’s pennant race. “It wasn’t a borderline case. We didn’t appeal because we knew we weren’t going to win,” Snider says. “There are certain rules that are hard and fast.”

Upset over the studio’s stance, Costner suddenly became publicity shy. He did a national press junket and spoke to Newsweek. But Universal says he canceled appearances on “The Tonight Show,” the “Today” show and “Late Show With David Letterman” and only did “The Oprah Winfrey Show” after Winfrey’s producer pleaded with him to reconsider.

Snider confirmed that the studio recently offered to pay Costner his full actor’s fee. “We said, if you feel cheated, we’ll write you a $20-million check today, and he turned us down.”

As for Costner’s contention that he and the studio were partners, Snider responded: “Kevin has somehow re-imagined the creative intent of the film. He never saw this as a peek inside the locker room. No one even swears in the movie. It’s not ‘Basic Instinct,’ it’s an idealized version of squeaky-clean ballplayers--and we talked about that before we made the movie.”

Raimi says Costner did heed the advice of one outside authority, the announcer of the game dramatized in the film: fabled Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully. “Vinny not only came in and changed about 75% of his lines, but he told Kevin that a scene we’d shot where a player makes a diving catch looked like ‘a little bit of a circus play.’ So Kevin came to me right away and said, ‘Let’s do a re-shoot. If it didn’t play with Vinny, we decided we’d better make it look less showy.”


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