Kevin Costner's last movie, Swing Vote, tanked at the box office. But that's not his fault. The actor was quite good as a loveable loser who thinks his vote doesn't count. The film also allowed Costner to flex his musical muscles on its theme song, "Backyard," a tune which has become even more popular thanks to its NASCAR-endorsed video. Costner and his band Modern West are now on the road. He recently talked to us about his musical aspirations. Thankfully, he didn't have a Billy Bob Thornton-style meltdown when we asked him about things not related to his new album, Untold Truths.
I know your wife encouraged you to put this band together a couple of years ago. But how far back does your interest in singing go?
Like a lot of people, it started at the church. I grew up loving to perform. I was in traveling choirs, and my mom made me take the piano. I was trained classically on the piano. I ultimately found myself in acting, and it started to take a backseat. But having heard some of my music, my wife said, "Why don't you do this?" I find myself in communities around the United States and overseas, and people often know I'm filming there, and it's more of a spotting thing, where people are like, "I saw him. I saw him. I saw him." I thought, "Why not have two hours onstage and make that an honest interaction?" That's what I was looking for. It started with that.
When an actor or actress starts a band, it's usually met with some skepticism. How do you deal with that?
I understand the world and how it works. I understood that when I started to do this, my neck would be really far out there, ready to be cut off. I did it the way most bands start. We just started playing. We've been playing for four years. I haven't tried to lead with my right hand about who I am. The hardest thing has been naming it. We're a pretty creative band, to be honest. I came up with Modern West and the band came up with Kevin Costner. I thought, "Oh my God, this is exactly what I don't want." But the band was like, "This is how it goes down in the world anyway." That's a tribute to the guys. Their ego isn't out there.
What do you think of the way Billy Bob Thornton reacted in that infamous Canadian broadcast?
I understand where he was at that moment. It was uncomfortable for him, it was uncomfortable for the interviewer and it was uncomfortable for everyone watching. I have empathy for Billy. Look, we just try things. When he went out and directed Sling Blade, everyone said, "What makes you think you can do that?" I directed Dances With Wolves, and people were calling it "Kevin's Gate." Somebody like Billy wants to go forward with his life, not look backward. It was uncomfortable for everybody. We let it go and try not to define him by that interview. I think that's important. We're still trying to figure out Iraq; let's try not to figure out Billy.
Is "Backyard" really a true story? Do you really have a bunch of old cars in your backyard?
No. We wrote the song for Swing Vote, the movie. I play a guy in a trailer, and he has a couple of cars on blocks out there. I went on NASCAR's website, and we lifted their images and put it together and sent it to the president of NASCAR, Brian France. We told him, "You don't have a Monday Night Football type of song." They bought the song and started playing the video and took some images out, like the Confederate Flag and things that are part of the culture of that sport. They made it a little sweeter. I like it when things germinate properly and take on a life of their own.
Country crowds can be rather fickle, and I know your beliefs are more liberal than most of theirs. How have you won them over?
I think the trick is you don't try to endear yourself. You need to be authentic; you need to be humble. I think that flies with any culture. Then they can take a real look at you. I stand on my own two feet. You just let people decide that they want.