Kevin Costner on Why He Spent $9 Million of His Own Money to Make ‘Black or White’
Kevin Costner does not seem like he gives much of a s---. This is not to say that he’s pulling a Nicolas Cage and mailing in the home stretch of his career. To the contrary, he knows exactly what he wants to do, and is going to do it whether you—managers, studios, the press, et. al.—like it or not. This is the kind of gumption and persistence that you earn from starring in three back-to-back-to-back Best Picture nominees (‘Field of Dreams’, ‘Dances With Wolves’ and ‘JFK’). He’s come to trust his own vision.
And, that brings us to ‘Black or White’, a movie Costner admits no one in Hollywood wanted to make. So, he made it his damn self. With his own money. $9 million of his own money. If it seems like the kind of thing that a lot of people would advise against, you’re right. We sat down with the actor to talk about this, and why he felt ‘Black or White’ was so important to invest so much of his own money in.
So, is this true? You actually put up $9 million of your own money to get this movie made?
Yeah. At the end of the day, man, I said to my friend Rod Lake, “Wanna go in on this with me, it’s a terrible deal!” (Laughs.) But, he did and we wound up putting up all the money, actually.
Did you have a lot of people in your personal and professional life telling you this was a bad idea?
I knew that. But, also I had done this before in my life. I never wanted to do it, but it always worked out. And when I feel something as strongly as I did about this movie, I do it.
What was it about this movie that spoke to you in such a major way?
It just said shit I wish I had said in my life! I think this movie is an authentic look at where we are today. When I read it, I was just as jolted with it as I was when I read ‘Field of Dreams’ or ‘Dances With Wolves’ or ‘Bull Durham’. This has a chance to be classic, because it just doesn’t pull any punches. And it’s equally funny.
And now it seems to be aligning with the current social climate in a very timely way.
I don’t know about that. Our problems didn’t start in August [when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson, MO police officer]. And we certainly didn’t hold this movie trying to ride this wave of discontent. It was a function of no one wanting to make this movie. That made it hard. Then no one wanted to distribute it. That’s why the movie got extended. But finally Relativity, thank God, stepped up. So, this movie wasn’t held for timing or anything. I took the movie to St. Louis and there were a lot of people who said I shouldn’t do that. I said, “Why? Ferguson isn’t America? I think it is, guys.” People would get a little afraid, but there’s nothing to be afraid of with this movie. There’s everything to be gained.
Why do you think none of the studios wanted to make it?
A lot of the studios liked the script, it just didn’t fit into their mold. It’s a small movie, and that’s OK. I’m not the only movie they rejected. So it’s not like they’re racist; they’re not. It’s just too small a movie in their mind and it didn’t fit in their slate. But I can’t fall out of love with stuff, OK? I thought it was important and fit the body of my work. I really circle this subject of race all the time, and all of the sudden there was a voice here that was so pure, yet so raw and right-to-the-bone. There’s a speech in the courtroom that everyone wishes they could say.
Why is it so difficult to talk about race?
Sometimes the conversation breaks down when one person feels like they’re losing the argument, or one person feels like they said a sentence wrong and somebody wants to come at them for that and it breaks down. The beauty of the movie is, you’re not walking out of the theater and if you stay there for five minutes, you’re gonna hear a different perspective. That’s what is cool about the movie. Both sides are right. I mean, it’s about the welfare of this child. But when race gets played, it turns things ugly. In this particular movie, we see the damage that happens when race comes into play. When it has no place in the particular discussion. It’s honest about how it’s dealt with. I think that’s what people are loving about this movie.
Have you followed any of the backlash regarding movies like ‘Selma’ not getting a lot of awards recognition, and whether race played into that?
Yeah. Movies can be overrun by popular movies. Comic book movies, there’s nothing wrong with them, but those movies can just take out the oxygen of the room. And movies like ‘Selma’ or whatever will never make the money. But you can’t cry about shit like that. You have to go ahead and be who you are and make the movie that you think matters. I’m still gonna make big popular movies that drive the popcorn and Coca-Cola, but sometimes you gotta make a movie about the moments you’re living, and that’s what ‘Black or White’ is.
That seems to be an attitude that has almost defined your entire career.
Half of my career were movies that were made for under $10 million that went on to make over $200-300 million. Because they played to generation after generation, and decade after decade. So, that’s called a classic movie. That’s what you hope you’re making. You don’t want your movie to be judged by the opening weekend, but we have a tendency to do that now. That’s the measure of a movie, right? How much money it makes? I think we all know that the ability to take a movie off the shelf and hand it to your son or your daughter and say, “Watch this.” That’s what I think ‘Black or White’ is. I think ‘Black or White’ has the possibility to take its place among movies I’ve done like ‘Dances’ or ‘Bull Durham’ or ‘Field of Dreams’. That’s what I think ‘Black or White’ is. It’s really a fun watch if you boil it down, considering how uncomfortable the subject matter is.
Speaking of uncomfortable, you have to drop the N-word in this movie, and, acting or not, that still has to be uncomfortable.
No, it’s not. Not in this instance. Because I knew what we needed to be and I needed to say it with all the ferocity it needed. Anthony Mackie gets to say something to his nephew that he wishes he could say in real life. Octavia [Spencer] tells him what time it is in that driveway. There’s some really strong stuff in this movie. It wraps itself up in a very warm movie. It’s about the welfare of a child. No one is playing it safe. No one wants that. If you’re going to see a movie about race, “Oh let’s dance around it...” Really? That doesn’t do anybody any good.