Ed Symkus: Kevin Costner plays a nasty character in “Criminal” but wants to save the environment in real life
Even Kevin Costner’s most dedicated fans might not recognize him when he’s first seen in “Criminal.” He’s in a prison cell, chained around the neck, hair down to his shoulders, with a big bushy beard, and eyes that are both dead and deadly. You know right away he won’t be playing the good guy in this science fiction-tinged action thriller. And a lot of those fans are going to think, “What? Will Kevin be believable as a villain? Can he pull this off?” Those would be the folks who didn’t see him all creeped out in “Mr. Brooks” or show his vicious side in “3,000 Miles to Graceland.” And they probably won’t be ready for what he does here as the sociopathic murderer Jerico who unknowingly becomes part of an untested scientific experiment. The laidback Costner, 61, spoke about the film, and shared a few thoughts about writing and non-movie projects last week in Los Angeles.
A: Why do you think you were chosen to play this intense character?
Q: I don’t know why they cast me. I wouldn’t have thought that I would be cast, because the movie (the producers) saw me in was “Draft Day.” So, on the plane to London, I didn’t know how I was gonna play it. I didn’t have a clue. And I actually didn’t know what my voice was gonna be. I started thinking about being choked all the time by that thing (in the cell). And even though it’s not choking me, if I go too far, it hurts me. So I thought, “What if that’s affected my voice?” So, on the plane, I don’t know how to play it. I’m (already) off book with my lines. I know what my lines are. But I could never tie into this fierceness. Then I started to get to that pretty easily.
Q: Is it somewhat therapeutic to play a guy who can let out all of that anger on the set?
A: I tried to keep it all about animal instinct to survive. Everything that Jerico can do to survive … he’s gonna survive, if he can.
Q: What did you think of the way the character was written, and did you make any contributions to the script?
A: I’ve worked with 10 or 11 scripts where I’ve never changed a line. So it’s not an m.o. of mine to come in and put my thumbprint on things. I really love writing but sometimes writing doesn’t make sense. And sometimes writers understand (some) characters better than other characters. So before I actually signed on, I said, “I’m gonna have to have some things changed,” as opposed to saying, “I love it,” then you get on the set and you go, “Hey, I want to start changing things.” My approach is I usually tell people the bad news first. And it’s not necessarily bad news; it’s just like, “I think this needs a lot of work to find a level of humor in this that’s not winking at itself.” On “Criminal” I said, “Jerico has to have some good moments. He has to be pleased with some things that happen that he wouldn’t normally be pleased with.” But you almost can’t take credit for your writing. When somebody goes, “Oh, that was really good writing,” you go, “Well, I don’t know how good it was because I actually saw it come out of a person’s mouth.” It’s like I copied what I saw in my head. You know, people who try to play the genius, I think it’s a little bit disingenuous because it’s almost like tracing. It just comes to you, and you go, “Oh, THAT’S what he says. THAT’S what he does. THAT’S how you do it.” You see the vision of it. So you can’t really take credit for it. Or you can, and you can just create that little lie of being a genius.
Q: You’re at a point in your career where you probably don’t need any more money. So what makes you decide to take off and leave your family for a couple of months to go make a movie?
A: I have swung for the fences with certain types of investments that I think could really change the world. Like oil/water separation. I’ve never let go of that. I’m right now on the verge of changing the way we do water – taking water out of oil and letting it go back into agricultural. I have put an enormous amount of money into technologies. I have never been about trying to make my pile grow bigger. I never thought that I would have money, and I do have a level of money, but I still have to work because of some of the things that I have and that I’ve tried to do. You’re right, I probably don’t have to do anything for the rest of my life. But it might mean I might lose some of the things I really care about, and I don’t want to lose them. At a certain point, if I’m not gonna be able to do the things that I want to do, I’ll have to go out and do some (other) things. I haven’t worked for a year and a half. You might not think that, but I’ve probably done that four times in my career. I have not amassed the amount of movies that other people you would put in my category have. I’ve stopped, and I just do what I want to do.
“Criminal” opens on April 15.
— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.