By Jacqueline Cutler
Kevin Costner’s beard and skin are being removed. For most men, this would be unfortunate; in his case, the movie star emerges.
In a forest outside of Bucharest, Romania, Costner’s put in a long day in the saddle and striding through a set built to resemble an old town.
Costner is a producer and star, playing “Devil Anse” Hatfield in History’s Hatfields & McCoys. As makeup artist Mario Michisanti deftly removes the beard that makes Costner appear old and grungy, Costner says, “This is the best beard I have ever had in my entire history. He lays all of these [whiskers] in by hand.”
Such attention to detail is evident throughout the six-hour miniseries, premiering May 28 and airing three consecutive nights.
The three-month shoot is a study in what a TV event can be. It’s a project that took Leslie Greif, executive producer, 30 years to bring to the screen.
The miniseries came close to being made a few times, Greif recalls from a tent where a space heater hums and the crew shoots outside against the afternoon’s fading sun. He explains why Costner was his top pick.
“Kevin Costner is our generation’s Gary Cooper,” Greif says. “At his core, he is all-American. I felt K.C. [as his friends refer to him] had the ability to take a character who had the potential to be very dark, very stark and cruel, but also create a whole-fabric human being. The story of the Hatfields and the McCoys is not who was right and who was wrong. These were two men who were trying to lead their families.”
Costner has studied the 19th century era and his character, whom he portrays from age 30 to 73. He sees Hatfield as much more than a footnote to history. He was an entrepreneur, father and veteran who tried to befriend Randall McCoy, whom Bill Paxton portrays.
“I wanted to do this story,” Costner says, adding he didn’t care if it was for TV or movie theaters. “I didn’t care what the format was. You fall in love with the waitress, you fall in love with the counter.”
Costner worked with a voice coach to develop the perfect accent for the West Virginia/Kentucky border.
“I try to do it without letting the accent take over, and I have to serve the story,” he says. “I have to let the character actors do the dance.”
Sarah Parish, who plays Levicy, Anse’s wife, says, “I grew up loving Kevin Costner.”
Parish recalls telling friends when she landed this gig, “‘My husband’s going to be Kevin Costner!’ I’ve had some husbands in my time but he’s up there at No. 1. There are no kisses, no kissing at all.”
Mare Winningham had that chance in other movies. This time she’s playing matriarch Sally McCoy. When Costner called her about the project, her response was, “Oh, do I get to be married to you?” Winningham says. “It would have been the fourth time. I don’t know if we were married in Wyatt Earp. I was his whore.”
As a costumer sews her into her faded, plain dress, Winningham says she took the role because of Costner. So did Matt Barr, who plays Johnse Hatfield, Anse’s son, though in his case it was fulfilling a self-proclaimed prophecy.
“When I was 11, I met my hero Kevin Costner at a screening,” he says of a Dallas showing of For Love of the Game. “I went up to him and said, ‘I will play your son in a movie.’ And he said, ‘All right. I’ll see you in Hollywood.’”
Bucharest, with ornate old-world monuments and boxy Soviet-era buildings, wide boulevards and cobblestone alleys, is a far cry from Hollywood. However, the cast has bonded where some of them hang out at a local restaurant, knocking back throat-scorching shots of palinca and grappa — clearly research to appreciate the moonshine of the miniseries’ era.
While shooting, Costner sets the mood, pushing himself hard, doing multiple takes of demanding scenes. But they all relax when shooting wraps for the night. The cast gathers in a lounge at the hotel, and Costner reflects on another passion of his — music.
“I’ve taken the guitar to set but I haven’t played,” he says.
He was still planning to write the behind-the-scenes and making-of music for the miniseries. Music is a huge part of Costner’s life; he performs with his band Kevin Costner & Modern West.
“Music is all over the board for me,” he says, considering his favorites. “A lot of my formative years were in Ventura. Where do we go from here? In 1969, I was 13. I had a brother in Vietnam and I was trying to kiss a girl. We had a walk on the moon and Dylan songs and we watched a generation headed north to San Francisco.”
He grows quiet for a moment, perhaps letting those memories wash over him. When he talks again, Costner says, “I’m really happy I am playing this role. You don’t see yourself as a man this age. I still feel 20.”
Hatfields & McCoys airs on History May 28-30.