Kevin Costner is a staple in Hollywood and in our living rooms. While his career peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the handsome actor has remained active and appreciated by fans, partly because, well, he is a cool guy. As Vulture put it, Costner is “the dude you wouldn’t mind having a beer with.” His talents both as an actor and as a director weren’t lost on anyone either.
His work has been rewarded with two Academy Awards in two different categories, Best Director and Best Picture — and a Best Actor nomination — for “Dances with Wolves” (1990). Costner also won a Golden Globes Award for Best Director for “Dances with Wolves” and, more recently, Best Actor for “Hatfields & McCoys” (2012), a role that also earned him a Primetime Emmy Award for Best Actor.
Costner has also steadily maintained a reputation for his, well, good looks. He is among the “celebrities who so seem to represent American masculinity… carved out of granite and permanently decked out in blue jeans,” as Vulture described him. Given how often Costner shares throwback photos to his Instagram page, it is safe to assume he is also aware of the power of his squinty-eyed half-smile. As times seems to fly by more quickly than we like to admit, we may not realize how much Costner has changed in the three-plus decades he has been in the public eye. Keep scrolling to check out Costner’s incredible transformation.
Kevin Costner was unsure of his acting chances
Kevin Costner was unsure of whether a career in acting was possible or compatible with his upbringing and personality. As he detailed on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” he was raised by a father whose family escaped the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma and only had one job his entire life. Costner considered that his “conservative, blue-collar upbringing” might have not leave room for a life in Hollywood, per Yahoo!. So he went on to find a job in marketing and marry his college girlfriend, Cindy Silva, in 1978.
But Costner loved community theater, so he started taking classes while in college, per Yahoo!. When he was flying back home from his honeymoon in Mexico, he saw that on the same plane was classic film star Richard Burton, who had bought several extra seats around him so no one else would sit next to him. Costner worked up his courage and approached Burton anyway. Burton was a “brawler” who had been married five times and lived through quite a few scandals, and Costner wanted to know if there was room in Hollywood for a normal guy like himself, as Robert Ebert detailed. “‘[D]oes that kind of life follow an actor? I want to have a life that’s not filled with drama,’ Costner asked. “And Burton looked at me and he said, ‘You have green eyes. I have green eyes.’ And he goes, ‘I think you’ll be fine,'” Costner said, per Ebert.
Kevin Costner became a star in the late 1980s
In the early 1980s, Kevin Costner landed his first role as an extra in “Night Shift” (1982) and had appeared in a few commercials. However, it wasn’t until later that he found substantial work — and his rise to stardom was quick. His breakout role came in 1985 when he starred in “Silverado” as the cowboy Jake. According to Vulture, “This was the first time American audiences really fell for the then-30-year-old actor.” That was a busy year for the burgeoning actor as he also appeared in “Fandango,” “American Flyers” and Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories,” alongside Kiefer Sutherland.
Two years later, Costner would consolidate his status as a movie star when he brought federal agent Eliot Ness to life in “The Untouchables” (1987), sharing the screen with Robert De Niro and Sean Connery. His performance is “delivered by a focused guy who doesn’t yet know he’s going to be a star,” Vulture described. Brian De Palma’s hit marked the beginning of a series of popular movies for Costner, all of which came seemingly back-to-back.
Costner went on to star in the popular “Bull Durham” (1988) and “Fields of Dreams” (1989), giving rise to his association with baseball films. “I have loved baseball as long as I can remember,” he once said (via Gossip Cop). According to Vulture, he landed the lead role in the former after impressing its director with his abilities with a baseball bat.
Kevin Costner cemented his A-list status with 'Dances with Wolves'
With a series of box office hits and a solidified reputation as an actor, Kevin Costner made his directorial debut with the overachieving undertaking that was “Dances with Wolves” (1990). Firstly, screenwriter Michael Blake had to write a novel to get Costner interested in the idea, according to Mental Floss. When Costner accepted the project, he struggled to find anyone willing to finance it, resulting in his having to look abroad for foreign investors until Orion Pictures stepped in.
And when he managed that, he couldn’t find a director that embraced his vision, as he said on The Tim Ferriss Show. “Some wanted to get rid of the opening Civil War sequence. Some thought it was too long. Somebody thought it shouldn’t be a white [love interest], that that would be cliché,” he said. So Costner went ahead and did it himself. The production issues leading up to the release caused many in the industry to think Costner was risking his career, with some dubbing it “Costner’s Last Stand,” per Mental Floss.
We all know how wrong they were. The movie raked in more than $420 million, making it the “second-highest-grossing Western of all time,” per Outsider. More modern audiences have rightfully raised racial issues in the film, including its white savior complex, as Salon noted. Nonetheless, the Lakota Sioux were grateful for Costner’s portrayal and honored him with a sacred ceremony, per The New York Times.
A challenging time in his personal life
Before his career took off, Kevin Costner told Richard Burton he wanted a life free of scandals. And he largely lived up to that promise. But his busy schedule required him to spend a lot of time away from home. In addition, his then-wife Cindy Silva and mother of three of his seven children had growing issues with Costner’s films that banked on his sex appeal, according to People. To make matters worse, rumors of infidelity began to circulate in the early 1990s, which proved to be too much for their marriage to endure. In 1994, Costner and Silva announced they were divorcing, People detailed.
After his divorce, he dated Bridget Rooney — with whom he had a child — activist Birgit Cunningham, and Australian model Elle Macpherson. Costner married Christine Baumgartner in 2004, and the couple welcomed three children. “I have played two roles in my life, one I get paid to do, which is the movies, and the other one is being a father, for which I’ll be rewarded my whole life,” he said (via Closer Weekly).
The end of his marriage came as his career was also going through a rocky phase. As Vulture noted, the release of “Waterworld” in 1995 wasn’t … well received. Then “The Postman,” which he also directed, hit theaters in 1997, a movie that received five Razzie Awards, including for worst movie, worst director, worst actor, and worst screenplay, per the Chicago Tribune. Ouch.
Kevin Costner found success again later in life
While Kevin Costner never quite returned to his early 1990s fame, he has nevertheless found success later in life. He continued to act throughout the 2000s, but took a break from directing until 2011, when he was back in the director’s chair to bring “A Little War of Our Own” to life.
In addition to his acting and directing career, Costner also decided to pursue another passion of his: music. In 2007, he founded the country rock band Kevin Costner & Modern West. And the band is still going strong. “You know, you dream about maybe doing those things and think you can, and you just don’t want to end up in your life saying, ‘I could have done that.’ There comes a time where you kind of have to sit down and bore into it,” he told NBC’s K5.
In 2018, Costner showed that he still had more depth to offer when he starred in Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone,” marking his first time as a regular TV lead, Variety noted. According to IMDb, the show has 8.6 out of 10 with more than 36,800 votes, a testament to the public’s approval. In fact, its Season 3 premiere attracted more than 4.2 million viewers, making it one of the most-watched shows on cable TV, according to Deadline. “Yellowstone” is “a picture of what still happens in America,” Costner said on Live with Kelly and Ryan, referring to its rural appeal. The journey continues.
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