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Kevin Costner On Great Coaches, Sports Movies & MCFARLAND, USA

Kevin Costner is no stranger to inspirational sports movies, he has taken on baseball, football and even golf. Thanks to director Niki Caro, Costner is entering the world of cross-country running as a coach, a sport few thought there would ever be a film about. That was until a football coach named Jim White (Kevin Costner) with a bad-tempered past was sent, with his family in tow, to McFarland, CA as a last-ditch effort at coaching. The football team is terrible and it’s head coach has a problem with White right off the bat, while his football coaching days are short he is around just long enough to see that while the boys can’t play football they sure can run. Coaching is in Jim Whites blood, and running is in the boys, it’s what they do they run from home to the fields to school back to the fields and home to do it all again the very next day. Knowing nothing about the sport White decides to put together a cross-country team, and the rest is history.

During a press conference held recently for MCFARLAND, USA Costner opened up working with director Niki Caro, whether or not he had inspiring coaches along the way and how he ends up in so many sports movies. Costner had known about Coach Jim White and his amazing cross-country team long before the script was brought to him saying:

“Well, you know I had read the story some time ago. I don’t know if it was ten, 15, 20, I don’t know  I’m 60, so I don’t remember how long ago I read this story. [Laughter] But I had read about it in Sports Illustrated. And I remember being very taken with it. I had lived in the Central Valley in Visalia – I actually played McFarland in high school baseball. But I was taken with the story, and then of course closed the page and moved on with my life. And then this movie came up and this shining cloud Niki Caro said, “Would you be in this movie?” And I was like it’s so nice to be wanted. I mean you might think that I get every one I want; I don’t. And to be wanted, and for that to match up was really a nice thing for me, and it was a beautiful thing, actually.”

The story may have looked quite a bit different if it wasn’t for their legendary coach a role Costner knew was an important one, saying:

“To – you know, play Jim, who, you know, there’s these men and women all over America who are affecting our young people. And relationships that coaches establish with young people is something that carries through their life if it’s done right. What was just possible; not that they were gonna get there, but this is possible for you, a goal. And Jim White, in just kind of putting the goal out in front of them, look what happened. Champions. Look what they did, they exceeded beyond their expectations, so it’s a great lesson to us, McFarland, that if we give our children, our young men, our young women goals, we let them see what’s possible, they can exceed beyond their own wildest expectations. And, it’s just a very good lesson, this movie. So I was proud to play the essence of Jim White. I’m not Jim White. You know, I think we’d all like to be Jim White in some way. But it was a pleasure to be able to do that, kind of from that Sports Illustrated article make this giant circle to actually being in the movie. I mean that feels like a movie, doesn’t it?”

Costner lit up when talking about Coach Jim White. It was clear that he not only knew the importance of a coach in a child’s life but that somewhere along the way he had a coach or two that made a difference in his life saying:

“I’ve had two coaches. One was from Visalia, his name was Jim Barnett he was a baseball coach and was a real help to me in a lot of ways. But – but there was a man that was very powerful. His name is Joe Vaughn. And he’s the winningest basketball coach in the state of California for girls’ basketball. I was the last team he coached of boys. Maybe he was sick of us, but you know, he was the kind of person, I remember I started to get in just a little bit of trouble, in high school. And he you know, he just took me off to the side, and he said, “I heard you – I thought you were a Jesus man. I thought you were a Jesus man.” And I remember, I just looked at him and I was just like: I just started crying, you know, it was like a guy that I really respected, you know, and I felt like I had disappointed him. And, you know, I kind of got my act together and instead of making that why, I came back to center. I was always listening to my father more than anyone. I was always afraid of my father more than anyone. But there’s a moment in time where, you know, men – other men in your life can have a huge impact. And so Joe Vaughn did.”

Costner put his faith in director Niki Caro and let her lead the way. There was this wonderful bond that you saw not just on-screen but one that you also saw as the cast was sitting talking about this film. Caro wanted the film to feel as authentic and grounded as it could by using the community of McFarland as not just the landscape but as the films stars as well. Costner credits Caro for the bond you see on-screen saying:

“It’s a style that Niki does, which is she trusts the people that she’s going to film. And that’s why she could – you know, trust in the idea of Sergio. And that – even though that doesn’t get translated in their conversation, it’s not lost on anybody that she trusts the members of this community to be able to work in the movie, and to be great. And there’s – that’s the kind of thing that gets unspoken. But in a way, it’s the DNA of how she works. She is very willing to go with someone who grew up on those streets, who had their own dreams, and then to make that phone call, the phone call that Niki was able to make, you have no idea. That phone call changes lives. You know there’s a hundred hearts that broke, and there’s like eight hearts that just – their lives get a chance to change because of the phone call that Niki makes, the trust that she has in the face, the words she heard spoken back to her. Niki was really our leader. I was a player on the court for her, you know? But she was our leader, and boy, you know, she’s – she’s like a piece of steel, you know? She is gentle but she’s gonna get her movie and she protects her cast and her story. And it’s really nice to see that.”

McFarland is a town that consists mainly of Latino pickers, men and women who do the backbreaking work of harvesting the land. It is one of the many cultural differences the film shows and while there are many more differences shown there is also the light shining on the fact that this is very much an all American story, just as much as baseball and apple pie says Costner:

“I’ve grown up in Ventura, and also in Visalia. And I’ve driven down these roads. And I saw people working in those fields. I played and fought and had friends where their families were – were pickers in Saticoy, California, a little Mexican barrio school that I went to. But again, I didn’t invest the way I did until Niki brought me this movie. And bending down to work and seeing a field go forever, understanding that this is forever, this is every week, this is every day in all kinds of
weather,  the appreciation, of who these people are, this is as American a story as you can possibly have. There’s no – you think apple pie and baseball’s American? No. McFarland is way more American than any of those things. Those are pastimes. What’s American – maybe I’m gonna get real sentimental here, But there is no American story more than parents who are willing to do anything to better their children, to give their children a chance. There’s nothing more American, and it’s been playing out over the last 300 years, here. And so McFarland is not some weird little town, you know, like oh, poor McFarland. Poor McFarland? No. Number one, there’s a mythology around McFarland because their lives changed when they understood that they could be champions. And there’s something very noble about that, to me; something incredibly heroic.”

Kevin Costner has been in so many inspirational sports movies you would almost believe that he goes out looking for them, but somehow they just seem to find him, but he is such a sports fan that if the film doesn’t work or have the potential to be great he won’t sign on saying:

“I’ve really had a – you know, I’ve been able to do a lot of things in the movies. I’ve been able to run with the buffalo, you know, I’ve been able to pitch a perfect game in Yankee Stadium, in the bathtub with Susan Sarandon. I’ve had a lot of chance to do a lot of things. And I enjoy sports, but I enjoy sports so much to the point that I wouldn’t do the movie unless I thought it had a chance to be good. That’s how
much I like them. I’m not dying to do a sports thing and have it just look average. And , no,  I really, there’s nothing that I covet out there. I wait for something to come a long that really is a clear sound that I can respond to, and that I can just really move to it. So I’m, not looking for – you know, the next – you know, the next sports movie at all, by any stretch. I did two sports movies back to back, FIELD OF DREAMS and BULL DURHAM and no one thought that was a smart idea. But those movies separated themselves so much. So if I plan my life so much in advance, I’ll miss this. I would have missed McFarland by getting in my mind what I’m going to do in my life. I mean we all have to have our north star we kind of fix on and we go to. But life is so much about the things that bump into you, and you know, I was really happy how this really happened. And Niki and I know the story more than anybody, but it’s one I – it’s one that I treasure.”

Niki Caro and Kevin Costner not only work well together but they have beautiful film in their hands. One that is not only inspirational but humbling. It is the perfect balance of life, faith, community, family and sports that every member of the family can enjoy. So what does it take to have a great inspirational sports movie that works? Costner thinks Caro nailed it, saying:

“I tell ya, I think Niki hit on it perfectly. If you want to make a great sports movie, don’t put too much sports in it. It’s the backdrop. It’s the environment, and you know BULL DURHAM was about men and women, why they can and can’t get along and have to still be together. And so I think in McFarland, I think Niki figured this out really, that yes, the running had to be authentic and the boys had to work hard…And that’s what the movie was about: that you’re just as good, and if you work harder, you can be better. And you can be more than you think you can. And it’s set against the world of cross-country, that I don’t think either one of us knew anything about– I hate running.”

MCFARLAND, USA hits theatres everywhere today February 20, 2015. Don’t miss out on this truly amazing story.


Krisily Kennedy is just a chickk who loves movies and talking about them. Owner and founder of The Movie Chickk a place for chickks who love film and guys who love chickks who love film.
About TheMovieChickk (355 Articles)
Krisily Kennedy is just a chickk who loves movies and talking about them. Owner and founder of The Movie Chickk a place for chickks who love film and guys who love chickks who love film.

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