In a press conference last week held in Beverly Hills, Kevin Costner talked about his upcoming film BLACK OR WHITE. Costner worked with director Mike Binder in 2005 in THE UPSIDE OF ANGER and Binder has been trying to team up with the actor again ever since. Binder sent countless scripts to Kevin but it wasn’t until he read BLACK OR WHITE that the actor decided not to pass like he had done in the past. Not only did he want to sign on to the project but when he realized the film might not be made he decided to help finance the film something he hadn’t done in a film he’s starring in since 1990’s DANCES WITH WOLVES. When asked what it was about the project that made him not only sign on but to financially back he responded:
Mike (Binder) wouldn’t quit bugging me and after the 6th one I finally said ok. It’s like your big brother holding you down and threatening to loogie on you and I go ok I’ll do it. No that’s awful (laughing), actors are looking for great parts and we’re asked to open scripts all the time and the bigger your career gets, the bigger Anthony’s (Mackie) career gets, the more scripts float to him it’s the same with Bill ) it’s the same with Octavia (Spencer). Too often when you open a script it just doesn’t ring the bell. Everybody can write, but not everybody can really write a screenplay. It’s an art form and what happens is, some of the films that really propped up my career, all had the same thing in common, on the first page they started to sing in their own little way and this screenplay started that. It was just carefully crafted and became the movie that you saw. Every page that turned I was surprised, every page that turned I wished I might have said, that every page that began to turn I thought that’s what I would say and sure enough Mike said it. It was the magic of a great screenplay and a story in this instance, of the times that we’re living in, that made so much sense to me. When my heart broke into a thousand pieces on the last page, I knew that this was a movie that I was going to try and have made.”
Costner has taken on many roles over the years, he’s been a baseball player, a cowboy, a football team owner, a bodyguard, a golf pro, and even a CIA agent, but it is his portrayal of Elliot Anderson that he gives the most heartwarming performance of his career. Anderson is a deeply wounded man who self medicates with alcohol that finds himself suddenly left to care for his biracial granddaughter Eloise. Every time he shares the screen with 10-year-old newcomer Jillian Estell that we see a side to the actor that we have not seen before. As Mike Binder will tell you building a movie around a child is dangerous and you can get “in big trouble casting the wrong girl” but they struck gold with Jillian who shines in the film and has a big fan in Kevin Costner who when talking about her said:
“We were lucky and you get lucky. It came down to three girls and I have said before two hearts break and one, it can possibly change their life. What I hope is that it doesn’t change Jillian’s life, that this is a moment that shines for her and if she chooses to go on in this profession that she continues to conduct herself the way she conducted herself on our set. But we were lucky and we needed to be. When we selected her we can’t say for sure we knew it was going to work, that had to do a lot with Jillian and how she came to the set every day. So we were lucky and she helped everybody here, she really did.”
The ensemble cast included Octavia Spencer, Anthony Mackie and comedian Bill Burr. What was clear from the second the group walked into the room was that this was a group of actors that became a family on set, a family who respected each other and worked together to tell a beautiful story. Costner may be an Oscar winner but he is also a hard worker and a team player who gives credit where it is due noting that it takes more than one great actor that works hard and gives a great performance to tell a powerful story saying:
“There is a tendency for people to think that somehow you do all this yourself and imagine that for a second, imagine no Anthony, imagine no guy at that table saying you validate everything the white community thinks about us. I mean when these guys took the set, when they hit their marks it was powerful. It was powerful to hear Anthony do that speech. It was powerful to see Octavia in that driveway talking, speaking for everyone who was watching closely and everyone who knows what time it is out there in the world and when you have to straighten someone out that’s closest to you. So we succeeded, I mean Bill where did you come from, I mean I swear to god I feel like I’d be saying what planet are you from? Pretty amazing performance really, by Bill Burr. Every movie has to get lucky and every movie you have to work hard and we had that.”
Costner was clear that telling this story was not just another job, but important to him, it was a story he fell in love with. With the division of race still at the forefront in our country, with the state of the world we live in, Costner hopes that this film can be a starting point to a conversation that we need to be having.
“The idea of, Anthony said something you know, we weren’t kind of smart enough to write this, but we were smart enough to take it. We were smart enough to understand that what was written was something that maybe we needed to be saying for ourselves, for our generation for own culture. The beauty of being an actor is sometimes, you know we didn’t write this, but we are going to be forever remembered as the people who say these things and say them with a level of conviction and a level of passion. Things that we want to have said because we want this veil lifted. We want to move (forward) and this movie wasn’t about and didn’t purpose that it could be that, it is just a jumping off point to have this conversation…
You know this isn’t a wish that everybody in America should go see it but it is, because we think we know what this conversation is about, why people don’t know what its like to be black. We don’t get it, we don’t know for sure. We can empathize and that’s an absolute, because that’s a part of the human condition, to be able to empathize with someone else that you don’t know. There’s this idea, but the absolute idea is that we have to move forward, that’s an absolute. So how do we go about doing this? These things that we weren’t smart enough to write, we are going to forever be identified with being those people and saying that thing. How did I prepare? I was nervous, I was scared because it was so good I knew I had to get it right and I knew I was immediately the only person who could blow it. So fear motivates me a lot that courtroom, my fellow actors knew that I had a really good speech, we all know when its somebody’s time to step up. I knew when it was Anthony’s time and he nailed it. I knew when it was Octavia’s time and she nailed it. Here I come Mr. white Oscar winner and now its my moment in the courtroom and I knew what was at stake. I want to prop the movie up and I want to stand as tall as my fellow actors did. So how did I prepare… a lot every night because it was important to me, not more important than any other film, but it was what I was choosing to do at this point in my life and it was important to me. I always told my children if you treat something important chances are people will treat you importantly.”
Don’t miss this extraordinary cast in this new and powerful drama BLACK OR WHITE which hits theatres on January 30, 2015.