Why we must talk about Kevin (Costner)

Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Costner is back with a surprising – and emotional – role in one of the year's best films.

Hidden Figures tells the inspiring true story of a small group of gifted black women who were essential to sending a man into space. Costner stars as their boss (a combination of several individuals who worked at NASA) who can let them shine or ignore their skills.

Here Costner talks about racism, education, love and more.

The story of Hidden Figures deals with racial and gender inequality in the States. Is that theme more timely now than ever?
We are not the only country that has this particular problem. We are simply not letting the cream get to the top, in our workplace, in our social circles. This movie highlights that idea. It throws a mirror in front of us. And the mirror was: That’s what life was in the early 60s, and here we are in 2016, and we still have the same problems. 

A lot of things have changed, but if we want to be the country we want to be, we have to move faster and dig deeper in our own psyche to understand that if a woman can have this kind of contribution then and we are keeping them out of the room, imagine where our country would be if we would allow the good ideas come to the top, regardless of race and culture.

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Kevin Costner and Taraji P. Henson in 'Hidden Figures'
(Image: Hopper Stone, © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

Is this issue of race something that has a special relevance for you?
It’s not something I think about on a daily basis, but it’s something I am absolutely aware of - I have so many friends of colour and race that it’s a problem for me to think about. It’s not my single cause in life, but I am not afraid to run at that problem when I see a movie that can expose it. That’s when movies are at their best. Movies can be about a lot of things, comedies, love stories, superhero movies – all those movies are worthwhile when they are done well.

Movies also have a chance to highlight things that we have lived in terms of history. There is a place for those kind of movies. They are not like giant blockbusters, but they nonetheless remind us where we are and hopefully where we want to get to. That’s why I continue to do them.

Is there something you can do to promote change?
I try to do it in my own way. I have international businesses that I am currently developing. It brings me to those countries, and dialogue takes place. The films that I choose will also run the gamut of what I described earlier. They will be socially conscious films. I have never been afraid to do them.

Have you encountered racism in your career – like when you cast Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard ?
I have seen it in a very mild way. Not something that was obvious. When I picked Whitney, I didn’t think I was doing anything special or breaking any ground. I just thought she was the right person for the movie. And the most beautiful person in the movie. Some people like to give me credit for that, but I don’t accept it. Because I didn’t think consciously that I was doing anything that was brave or spectacular.

I grew up around people who would talk in racist ways, even though they were not necessarily racist. But they used racist language. So I grew up in the 50s and 60s and used some of that language myself until I decided it was not appropriate anymore.


Lovable bodyguard Kevin Costner saves Whitney from getting shot at the Oscars in the film The Bodyguard

One all-encompassing solution to this may be love. Does one need a lifetime or a couple of decades to understand what that really means?
I do think sometimes you get caught in a conversation where you single out a single word. But obviously that word is wrapped up with several words: a level of compassion, a level of empathy and judgement that goes with everything. Try to understand someone’s situation. But you teach your children early on to appreciate a classmate who is smarter than them and not be jealous of them. To appreciate an athlete on their team that is perhaps better than them and not be jealous of them. To begin to help them shape their thinking.

In this world, that is so big and there is so much talent and so many gifted people, you are going to run up to them and the trick is to help them get to the top. And not to hold them back over your own insecurities. Teaching your children is the task of a lifetime. I have learned. I am a better person than I was five years ago. I try to get better.

What kind of qualities have you fallen in love in with your wife (Christine Baumgartner)?
It started a little bit with her outward beauty, honestly. I can’t explain why sometimes a person stands out to you. But she did. But don’t forget, I saw her six years earlier for about an hour and then didn’t see her for six years and then ran into her again. At that point we began to see each other. It was on 13 Days. It starts a little bit with outward beauty. Because that’s what you see a lot of times. Sometimes you find yourself in a room and you hear someone talking and you go: Wow, that person has a beautiful way of speaking.

My wife has really good judgement. When she gives me advice, she does not place herself in the situation, meaning she is trying to give me advice on what she thinks is good for me. Not what is good for her. That makes her in my mind very generous and someone that I can look to for constructive criticism or suggestions.

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Kevin Costner and his wife Christine Baumgartner on the red carpet 
(Image: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock Inc.)

The heroines of Hidden Figures are mathematicians. Were you ever good at math at school?
Very good right up until the point that we got to percentages. Addition, subtraction, division, percentages, and after that I was no longer interested in math. It’s too bad because the emphasis that is placed on math on those who can’t progress past that part, which I couldn’t, really starts to make you feel bad about yourself emotionally.

I started to do badly once we began with negative numbers, once we moved into geometry. And [I felt] there was no reason for me to ever go into those subjects. It would have been better for me to have had more history and art.

Watch the trailer for Hidden Figures here:

(Feature image: © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.)

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