THE ICON OPENS UP ABOUT PLAYING HEROES — AND BEING ONE TO HIS KIDS
The Dances With Wolves actor reflects on his stellar career and being a dedicated family man.
For Kevin Costner, Father’s Day “started early with a little hug that kind of scared me. It was my 8-year-old, Grace,” he recalls with a smile. Kevin’s been a megastar for more than 30 years, but his seven kids keep his feet on the ground. “You get great letters from them [on Father’s Day], and I can see how they’re evolving,” says the proud dad. “Little Grace ended her letter with, ‘Your best child.’” Kevin laughs and adds, “We’re going to have to talk about empathy and we’re going to talk about perspective a little bit.” If anyone can teach Grace and her siblings the important life lessons, it’s their dad. Despite hits like Bull Durham and Dances With Wolves on his résumé, he hasn’t let fame go to his head. “Movies are magic, and they’ve always been magic to me,” says Kevin, 63. “You get to play heroes in the movies, but there’s a moment in time where you’re just a father and you get to go home.”
With his latest role, in Paramount Network’s new series Yellowstone, Kevin has brought together his passions for family and the West (he’s starred in six Westerns). He plays John Dutton, the fictional owner of the largest U.S. ranch, whose land comes under threat from developers, the EPA and fissures in his own family. “The only morality that exists is the one right in front of him in how he protects his family, his ranch and the people that work on that,” Kevin explains. It’s a role he relates to since, like his character, Kevin says, “I want to control my own destiny.” He’s doing it his own way by practicing compassion and putting his children first. “I have played two roles in my life, one I get paid to do, which is the movies,” he says, “and the other one is being a father, for which I’ll be rewarded my whole life.”
The people who know him best say Kevin’s devotion to family isn’t surprising. “He was raised with those strong family and moral values,” John Coinman, Kevin’s bandmate in their group Modern West, tells Closer. “He has a great sense of humor about himself and about the world, and he’s a great father.” Coinman, who met Kevin in the early ’80s, adds he’s learned a lot from the actor about raising children. “His younger kids really adore his older kids, and he’s been able to incorporate both families together.”
Kevin married his college sweetheart, Cindy Silva, in 1978, and they have three kids, Annie, 34, Lily, 31, and Joe, 30. Though he and Cindy divorced in 1994, they’re still friends and he’s close with their children. “I feel really good about the kind of dad I was the first time around,” Kevin says. “I was there for all the little moments, like when my kids forgot to sing in their school play because they were too busy waving at me.”
Following the divorce, which he says was painful, “I never wanted to go through it again,” he sowed some wild oats: “I was like the classic single guy — who do I love this week, who next week?” He had a son, Liam, now 21, with girlfriend Bridget Rooney, but he didn’t remarry until he met Christine Baumgartner, a model and handbag designer, in 1998.
“When I met Christine, I wasn’t prepared to be in love again,” he admits. “It took me a long time before I said ‘I love you’ to her.” If he has a regret in life it’s his divorce and the toll it took. “Fear kept me from marrying Christine,” he says. “[She] wanted a child, but I was afraid I couldn’t be an effective father.” But after dating for four years, “I woke up and thought, Am I going to lose a beautiful woman who is willing to be with me to my very last breath because I am afraid to say yes to a child?” he says. “That’s all it took.” Now he and Christine, 44, have three kids: Cayden, 11, Hayes, 9, and Grace. “Sometimes you learn the thing you’re most afraid of will save your life,” says Kevin.
He’s also learned some valuable lessons at work. He was cast in The Big Chill, but his scenes got cut and he ended up appearing only as a corpse. Director Lawrence Kasdan made it up to him by giving him a scenestealing role in Silverado.
He then blazed onto the screen as Eliot Ness in The Untouchables and hit home runs with Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. By his mid-30s, he’d established himself as one of Hollywood’s top box-office draws.
And as TCM host Ben Mankiewicz raves to Closer, “He is still a genuine, bona fide, honest-to-goodness oldfashioned movie star.” But even after Kevin won a best director and best picture Oscar for Dances With Wolves, he didn’t lose his head. Kevin chalks up his ability to stay humble to his slow rise to fame. “I didn’t become a star in my 20s and feel like I inherited the Earth,” he says. “Stardom came to me late, when I had two children.”
Ever since he saw How the West Was Won at age 7, he wanted to be an actor. Still, he’s a little conflicted about
“I’m very much a romantic about what Hollywood has been and what it can be.”
fame’s trappings. “He’s gone through periods where it’s been difficult,” Coinman says. But Kevin has found ways to ease the discomfort of being in the public eye, like forming Modern West in 2005. “I felt the need to connect with people in a more meaningful way than just the autograph,” he says. “I thought music could build a more personal moment for me.”
By Coinman’s account, it worked. When on tour, “Kevin tells a lot of stories about himself,” he says. “A lot of people want to come backstage, and he’s usually very open.” It’s all part of Kevin connecting with people. “He loves having gatherings, telling stories, being around kids and adults,” Coinman explains. “He’s been a great inspiration.”
Kevin mostly wants to inspire his kids. He worked hard to blend his families together, even when jealousies erupted. “You have to talk about how big love is,” he says. “The ability to be able to love somebody else doesn’t mean there’s less love for you.” Now Kevin and Christine split their time between Santa Barbara, Calif., and Aspen, Colo., and he keeps life at home low-key. “We both drive [the kids] to school in the morning,” he says. And he revels in taking them camping and fishing. “One of his main loves is being outdoors,” Coinman says. “He’s given the kids a lot of that.”
As he gets older, Kevin says he’s grateful to still be able to portray heroes, and his passion for acting hasn’t dimmed. “As I play out the second half of my career, I’m going to continue to do things and look for the next great part for myself,” he says. After Yellowstone, he’d like to do a third sports film with Ron Shelton, writer-director of Bull Durham and Tin Cup. And he has another Western idea percolating about the displacement of Native Americans. “It debunks the theory about how towns came to be,” Kevin says. “As America expanded, we kept repeating these promises that we’re just passing through, that we’ll share the land, and none of it was true.”
So Kevin has no plans to retire, or even slow down. “He’s always teaching people,” says Coinman. “He likes music, he likes writing, and he likes directing and producing.” Coinman marvels at his friend’s work ethic, and that’s another lesson Kevin is handing down to his children. “I’ve always taught my kids that they have to work hard and stand on their own two feet,” he says — and follow their dreams, as he has. “I’m still observing. I hope I’m still evolving,” Kevin says. “It’s not like I haven’t been bruised or broken, but I’ve had it really good.”
— Reporting by Katie Bruno and Amanda Champagne-Meadows