Kevin Costner bonds well with pets: he's a longtime dog owner and dog-rescue advocate, and one of the animal actors he directed in his masterpiece Dances With Wolves was Neil Young's intelligent pet buffalo Mammoth. But now Costner is playing a pet: the dog Enzo, the sensitive, talkative hero of the film The Art of Racing in the Rain. He tells AARP about the character, his life and the dog he'll never forget.
Your films have grossed $4 billion. Why did you take a role as the voice of a high-IQ golden retriever?
I could see there was a lot of humanity in the story. I think every dog owner swears, “My dog talks.” Enzo mystically knows before anyone else that something bad is going to happen to this woman [the film's heroine, played by Amanda Seyfried]. It speaks to the nature of animals — how in tune they are with us, how much they need us. It really speaks to that special bond between dogs and owners.
Will audiences buy you as a pooch? Isn't it risky?
A lot of films you really wind up liking — like Field of Dreams — you don't know if they're going to work, because they're not a remake of something that worked, so if you twist the story just a little bit you can back up the truck and see how much money you can make. But when something is original like that or Racing in the Rain, there's this uncertainty: Will this work?
Hometown: Compton, California
Early job: Disneyland Jungle Cruise pilot
First film: Sizzle Beach, U.S.A., 1981
Breakout role: Eliot Ness, The Untouchables, 1987
Greatest hits: Dances With Wolves, Hidden Figures, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Bodyguard, JFK
They cast you instead of Robin Williams in Field of Dreams because the director could imagine him hearing voices in the cornfield, but not you, so it anchored the fantasy. Does your famous persona make your dog role more realistic?
It made sense for Field of Dreams. But I haven't seen Racing in the Rain yet! And I don't like my voice. Most people don't [like their own voice], unless they're just totally in love with themselves. I'm constantly giving narration opportunities away to other people whose voices I like better than mine.
You compared Field of Dreams to It's a Wonderful Life — does this film have a similar feeling?
They're from the same branch of decency and good winning out and people turning around, doing the right thing. Movies can lift our heart, make us feel good as we're walking out. And sometimes we have to feel really sad in order to feel really good. Movies have to be willing to hit rock bottom in order to soar at the end of the day. A lot of [film executives] try to lessen that bottom, shy away from it, because they don't think people want that experience. But we've all been bruised in life — and the AARP audience is proof, right? If you live long enough, you get bruised. So we're not afraid of those moments.
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You put on 15 pounds for The Highwaymen, starring you and Woody Harrelson, 58, as the lawmen who caught Bonnie and Clyde. Did you lose those pounds?
Yeah, I quit drinking milk. That's how I get rid of the pounds, because of everything that goes with milk: waffles, cinnamon toast, cookies, cake, and then some more cake, and some late-night toast with honey and butter and maybe a little more cinnamon. For me, milk triggers everything.
Did you hit the gym?
No, I hate the gym. The worst thing in my life is to pick up lead weights. Who would want to? Everybody's dressed cool, and I don't have any cool clothes, and there's a mirror that makes you look silly and remind you that it's all wrong.
What do you do for exercise?
My wife got me an electric bike and that completely opened my world. That was life expanding. When the tide's out we go six miles on the beach and I saw places I never would've seen. You do have to pedal or you ain't going nowhere.
William Shatner is obsessed with electric bikes — shouldn't you race him?
I like the bike as a vacation, not a vocation. I don't need to race anybody.
Do you have any retirement plans?
I'm doing exactly what I want to do, being a part of great stories. I like being a storyteller, and that just doesn't fade. It's not a job where you're looking to retire.
The dogs you own now are Winnie and Poppy, but don't you still have a soft spot for your late dog Wyatt?
You know, there's one that's a dog of a lifetime. And we all know that we love the ones in between. But there's one special one, and you're going to cry like a little baby when he's gone.
When Disney made Bambi, they used a real rabbit to make Thumper authentic. Did you get inspiration from Poppy or Winnie for this role?
I probably did, but I didn't consciously think about it.
OK, we won't let the dogs take credit for your performance.
All right. Do I have your word on that?