Feuding in them thar hills
Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton talk about Hatfields, writes Neal Justin of Star Tribune
NEXT time you think about storming over to your neighbours’ house to complain about their loud music, take a break – a six-hour break – to watch Hatfields & McCoys, an exhaustive recreation of one of the most famous feuds in American history.
The battle, which began in the aftermath of the Civil War in West Virginia and Kentucky, has been referenced in everything from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to Waylon Jennings’ Luckenbach, Texas, but it’s largely been dismissed as a squabble over a stolen pig between two clans of hillbillies.
Executive producer Kevin Costner, who plays Devil Anse Hatfield (right), believed there was so much more to the story he insisted on a three-night mini-series and even recorded an album of songs inspired by the film.
He was determined to take a deeper look at a tale that shows us it can take decades, if not a century, for a country to recover from fighting with itself.
‘‘I could have cut it down or just told one side of the story, but we decided to paint the whole canvas,’’ says Costner, who hired his Waterworld collaborator Kevin Reynolds to direct.
Costner, whose only previous TV experience was a 1985 episode of Amazing Stories, said it wasn’t hard adjusting to a medium that usually allows fewer shooting days and smaller budgets. ‘‘It’s always the same. ‘‘You’re going as fast as you can go,’’ he says. The production scrimped by shooting in Romania, where the Civil War film Cold Mountain was filmed a decade ago.
The film opens in 1862, with Hatfield and Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton), who hailed from neighbouring towns, fighting side by side for the Confederate Army and even saving each other’s lives in a bloody battle. (Costner insists the friendship is historically accurate; Paxton isn’t so sure.) Soon after the battle, Hatfield breaks camp and heads back to the family business in West Virginia, a move that angers the deeply religious and patriotic McCoy.
‘‘God hates deserters,’’ he growls as he contemplates shooting his fellow soldier.
Hatfield is warmly welcomed by his wife and his timber business takes off, making him a rich and powerful force.
McCoy isn’t so lucky. After spending the rest of the war in an Ohio prison, he returns home to find his family struggling to make ends meet and mourning his brother, killed in a bar fight by Hatfield’s quicktempered uncle (Tom Berenger). Revenge becomes a daily sport. By the time the dust settles decades later, no one can really remember what they were fighting about in the first place.
‘‘There’s a real moral lesson here,’’ says Paxton, best known for playing a different kind of religious patriarch in the US drama series Big Love.
‘‘You have to be careful about obsession and hatred and letting your pride get the best of you.
‘‘It’s very Old Testament stuff. An eye for an eye, I kill your brother, you kill my father. You forget what started it.’’
Rifts from the Civil War continue to this day, Paxton said, noting that the country remains politically divided into red (Republican) and blue (Democratic) states.