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Actor Kevin Costner has been thinking about making his latest movie for decades


For decades, Kevin Costner and Westerns have gone together - big, sweeping critical wins like "Dances With Wolves"...


KEVIN COSTNER: (As John Dunbar) Actually, sir, I'm here at my own request.

MAURY CHAYKIN: (As Morris Fambrough) Really? Why?

COSTNER: (As John Dunbar) I've always wanted to see the frontier.

CHAYKIN: (As Morris Fambrough) You want to see the frontier.

COSTNER: (As John Dunbar) Yes, sir, before it's gone.

DETROW: ...Big, sweeping critical flops like "Wyatt Earp"...


COSTNER: (As Wyatt Earp) My name is Wyatt Earp. It all ends now.

DETROW: ...And, more recently, the mega-hit Paramount Network show "Yellowstone."


BRECKEN MERRILL: (As Tate Dutton) Well, if ranching's so hard, how come we do it?

COSTNER: (As John Dutton) Because it's one hell of a life, Tate, one hell of a life.

DETROW: ...Which Costner recently confirmed he's leaving after five seasons. Through all those years, Costner was thinking about one more big, sweeping project, one he's been writing and rewriting and trying to get made for decades.

COSTNER: The initial idea was, in 1988, there was already a town. It was called Sidewinder. And it was a pretty good screenplay. Ultimately, I wasn't able to make it, but I didn't really fall out of love with the idea.

DETROW: And now he's brought that idea to fruition, and it's not about a person. It's about a town.

COSTNER: Why do all the Westerns have a town and we don't know how it came to be?

DETROW: "Horizon: An American Saga" attempts to tell that story. Costner stars in the film, which he also co-wrote, produced and directed. And similar to some of his past projects, he has put a lot of his own money into "Horizon," which he intends to release in four parts.

COSTNER: I'm taking a financial risk, you know, but I believe in the audience I'm making this for. I know that I'll die trying to make this.

DETROW: And that risk is where we started the conversation. I asked Kevin Costner about the reports he's personally put $38 million into the film.

COSTNER: It's more than that now. It's interesting how a number - you know, it's just grown. I will just tell you that personally. It's much more than that.

DETROW: This was a factor for you walking away from "Yellowstone." I guess the question...

COSTNER: It was not a factor walking away from "Yellowstone." It just simply wasn't. That's - there's a mythology there. I made "Yellowstone" a priority. I worked in between the dates that "Yellowstone" was scheduled to work. When that work - when that schedule was done, I had already prepared the ground to make "Horizon." So I didn't make "Horizon" on the backs of "Yellowstone."

DETROW: So we have myths about the West and, I guess, myths about Western movies being made at the same time...


DETROW: ...We're finding.

COSTNER: I would say that that's correct.

DETROW: We've already touched on mythology and the way that the story changes or flattens or gets exaggerated over time and how much of a central theme that is for the idea of America and the West. And I feel like in Hollywood, outside of Hollywood, there's been pushes in different corners to kind of reconsider those myths in recent years. Have you thought about that? Has that changed the way you tell these stories at all?

COSTNER: I just tell a story where I embrace the idea of human behavior. I embrace the realities of why people came. The people that were here - there's enough stories that tell me that my stories happen thousands of times in this conflict. What I try to do is invest in behavior and create the architecture of a novel almost.

DETROW: I was thinking about the attack at the end of the movie...


DETROW: ...As a symmetry to the attack at the beginning of the movie...


DETROW: ...From a different perspective.

COSTNER: Sometimes the great cities were formed in these river crossings, and we don't know the beginnings. And so my investment in the story is simply reality mixed with behavior mixed with deciding to tell multiple stories, and that's just my style.

DETROW: At many different points, though, you've made a point to put a three-dimensional Native American point of view into the story.

COSTNER: I think it doesn't work if they don't come off as people themselves. By the time the settlers were really beginning coming in, the tribes were torn apart. Politically, it was gross what was happening. The - our intentions were not honest. They weren't fair. It doesn't negate that people came with hope and a resourceful attitude to build a new community. They just had no concept of who they were displacing. And there was - the Native Americans found themselves an inconvenience in their own country.

DETROW: I took the opportunity here prepping for this interview to rewatch a lot of your movies, and I was thinking about some big through lines through a lot of them. And...

COSTNER: You've suddenly dropped volume for some reason.

DETROW: That's 'cause I was complimenting you. Maybe it just...


DETROW: ...Dropped out. I don't know if you want...

COSTNER: You just wanted to whisper that so I wouldn't get a big head. OK.

DETROW: I was saying I used this to do the hardship assignment of rewatching a lot of your movies over the last couple of weeks.

COSTNER: I apologize.

DETROW: You know, they hold up pretty well. A lot of them keep coming back to these big themes about America. Danny Huston's character in "Horizon" has this big speech early on that gets to these ideas of America.


DANNY HUSTON: (As Albert Houghton) These people have been pushing the same wheel back home around and around till they can bear another turn on it. That's the path they inherited. If they try to change it at all, they'd have to do it by inches. You may recall that's what drove us across the ocean to this country in the first place. You and I are standing guard in one of the last great open spaces, Trent. There's no army of this Earth that's going to stop those wagons coming.

DETROW: So Huston's character is conceding there that the push West is inevitable. But given that, do you think that if you were living in this period, you would have gone West? - because that's something we were talking about watching this movie. Like, look at all the different ways you can get yourself killed. Look at all the ways that this was so incredibly hard. Do you think that's something you would have done?

COSTNER: I would have been probably more of a mountain man. I love the idea of seeing things and telling people about them and then continuing on. I myself, you know, when I saw "How The West Was Won," I was 7 years old when the first image of Jimmy Stewart in a birch bark canoe headed across a lake that didn't have a ripple backed up by the Sierra Mountains to see a group of people standing on the beach. I was moved, so moved that I, born in the inner city in a place called Compton, Calif. - I built three canoes before I was 18 years old and ultimately went down several of the rivers that Lewis and Clark had gone down just because I it ignited me, that imagery. So trading with people where I didn't share the same language, meeting them on their ground - that - I could see myself doing that.

DETROW: Yeah. Kevin Costner, the writer, director, and star of "Horizon: An American Saga." Thanks for talking to us.

COSTNER: You're welcome.

DETROW: The film's first chapter is out tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN BARRY'S "THE JOHN DUNBAR THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Tyler Bartlam
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.