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David Talbot on the Kennedys' 'Hidden History'

Writer and editor David Talbot founded the online journal Salon.com; he was editor-in-chief from 1995 to 2005, and still serves as board chairman of Salon Media Group. He's written a book about Robert and John F. Kennedy called Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years.

20:47

Other segments from the episode on May 24, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 24, 2007: Interview with David Talbot; Interview with Kevin Costner.

Transcript

DATE May 24, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Journalist David Talbot, founder of salon.com, on his
new book about Bobby Kennedy's investigation into John Kennedy's
assassination, "Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years"
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Few subjects in American history have been as relentlessly scrutinized as the
Kennedy assassination. But a new book by my guest, journalist David Talbot,
looks at the question of whether Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy in
Dallas from a unique perspective: that of the president's brother, Robert
Kennedy. Talbot says it's clear Bobby Kennedy never believed Lee Harvey
Oswald acted alone in Dallas, and Talbot's book argues his suspicions were
well founded. It focuses on the Kennedy brothers' partnership in the White
House and contends they were constantly undermined and threatened by forces in
the military, the CIA, the Mafia and the Cuban exile community. The
administration was, Talbot argues, a government at war with itself.

David Talbot worked for years as a writer and editor in several publications,
and is the founder of the online magazine salon.com. His new book is
"Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years."

Well, David Talbot, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

You open this book with an account of Bobby Kennedy's movements and reaction
in November 1963 to his brother's shooting in Dallas. Did Bobby Kennedy have
an immediate belief or theory about who had killed President Kennedy?

Mr. DAVID TALBOT: Yes, literally immediately. That afternoon, he happened
to be at his home in Virginia, at Hickory Hill, the old Civil War estate where
he and his family lived, and it was J. Edgar Hoover of all people who phoned
him that day--his arch-enemy, the head of the FBI--to tell him that his
brother had been shot, and then soon after that his brother had died. And
Bobby immediately, we know, from the phone calls and conversations he's having
that day, from his home, immediately suspects that Lee Harvey Oswald is not
the complete story, and he immediately is looking into the shadow of the war
against Castro that is being run by the CIA and has enlisted gangsters in its
attempts to kill Castro as the source of the plot against his own brother.

DAVIES: Well, and, of course, Bobby had made a lot of enemies in the
underworld for many years by investigating the mob and the Teamsters union.
Did he do anything to investigate the crime, Bobby Kennedy?

Mr. TALBOT: He did. And this is the great, of course, drama of the story
that I tell, because publicly what Bobby is saying, of course, is that he
accepts the official version of Dallas, the Warren Report. But privately,
it's a very different story. Privately, he's a man on fire to get to the
bottom of this story from that afternoon on. And he's looking, himself, into
various leads; he's using surrogates, former FBI agent named Walter Sheridan,
who was his right hand investigator; a number of people on his staff who he
trusted to pursue every lead. And, literally, he goes from New Orleans to
Chicago to Dallas to Mexico to Moscow, either himself or using these
surrogates, these aides, to pursue every lead that he can.

DAVIES: You mentioned that he dispatched someone to Moscow. What was that
all about?

Mr. TALBOT: Well, that's a remarkable story. This is a week after the
assassination of President Kennedy. He goes to a close family friend named
William Walton. Now, Walton is a very interesting character in his own right.
He was a Time magazine war correspondent during World War II, knew the eldest
Kennedy brother, Joe Kennedy, before his death in the war. He'd gotten to
know Jack Kennedy as a young congressman, and Jackie Kennedy in Georgetown
before they moved into the White House. And he was used as a confidential
emissary and a political operative by the Kennedy family for a number of
years. He had been due to go to Moscow a week after the assassination as part
of JFK's efforts towards detente with the Soviet Union. He was going to lead
an artistic exchange mission to Moscow. He thought the mission would be
canceled after Dallas, but Bobby and Jackie Kennedy both go to Walton and say,
`No, go ahead with this mission and take a confidential message from us, the
Kennedy family, to the Soviet government.'

He does that and he meets with a Soviet agent named Georgi Bolshakov, who both
Jack and Bobby had come to trust while he was an agent in Washington. They
used him as a back channel courier to Kruschev in the Kremlin. And Walton has
dinner with Bolshakov in Moscow, and he tells him a remarkable thing. He
says, `We don't blame you, the Soviets, for the assassination,' even though
Oswald is being portrayed in the press at that point as a communist agent.
`We know that it was a domestic, high level political conspiracy that killed
the president, and Bobby Kennedy intends to run for president at some point.
And when he does, if he succeeds, he will resume the policies of President
Kennedy's, of detente, towards the Soviet Union.'

Well, I find this a stunning, of course, story because this is the height of
the Cold War and, at this point, it indicates that Bobby Kennedy and the
family are placing more trust in the Soviet government than in their own
government.

DAVIES: Publicly, he endorsed the findings of the Warren Commission that
Oswald acted alone, right?

Mr. TALBOT: That's right.

DAVIES: And I was struck by one fascinating detail you described earlier,
that Kenny O'Donnell, who was the special assistant to President Kennedy, who
was actually played by Kevin Costner in the movie "Thirteen Days," he was in
the motorcade in Dallas and felt strongly that President Kennedy took shots
from in front, from the grassy knoll, not from behind, where Oswald's sniper's
perch was. But Bobby Kennedy instructed him to lie to the Warren Commission.

Mr. TALBOT: Well, that's what I suspect. It's a very revealing story. As
you say, Kenny O'Donnell's riding 10 feet behind the president's limousine in
Dallas with another White House aide named Dave Powers. These were part of
Kennedy's so-called "Irish Mafia," very loyal aides. And both of these men,
Kenny O'Donnell and Dave Powers, had been World War II veterans, they knew the
sound of gunfire, and they distinctly heard gunfire, they later said--and they
told the FBI this, and they told Bobby Kennedy this--both from the grassy
knoll area as well as from behind, as you say, the Texas Book Depository.
Well, of course, that immediately indicates there was a conspiracy if you have
two sharpshooters.

But Kenny O'Donnell, I think, was prepared to tell the truth to the Warren
Commission, as Dave Powers was, but I do believe it was not just the FBI who
told them that he didn't want to go there, which they did, but it was probably
Bobby. Because I think Kenny O'Donnell was so loyal to Bobby that he would've
taken orders only from him. And at this point, Bobby Kennedy has determined
he has no power, no official power, even though he's still attorney general,
to pursue this crime. The new president, Lyndon Johnson, loathes him. The
head of the FBI, which is taking the lead in the investigation into the
assassination, J. Edgar Hoover, also has a poisonous relationship with Bobby
Kennedy. His power to investigate the crime begins to evaporate from the
moment his brother dies. He knows that he has to wait, bide his time, which
is what he tells people.

He tells his family that weekend in the White House, a very dramatic scene
where he begins to confide in family members who are gathering for the funeral
of the president, `This is what's happened. It's a high level plot. It
involves elements of the government. But we can't do anything until we get
back to the White House and we have the machinery of the federal government to
investigate this.'

DAVIES: Let me just go back to that. You're saying that Bobby Kennedy--you
know for a fact that he told members of his family the weekend after the
assassination that this was a conspiracy. How do we know that?

Mr. TALBOT: We know this from people who were in the White House that
weekend, including Peter Lawford, who was the president's brother-in-law.
Peter Lawford's dead. I interviewed a close friend of his who reported this
to me. And we know from other people that Bobby is saying the same thing
during that period.

DAVIES: Well, I want to talk about some of the events in the Kennedy
administration that gave rise to the suspicions about the assassination.
President Kennedy faced a huge test, a disaster early on, and that was the Bay
of Pigs invasion in 1961. This was, of course--for those too young to
recall--a CIA-backed invasion of Cuban exiles who were going to overthrow
Castro, which quickly turned into a disaster when the invasion force was
pinned down on a Cuban beach. And there was enormous pressure from within the
Cuban community and the military on Kennedy to bring US military forces into
the conflict, in effect to join in an invasion of the island. He resisted and
refused, and of course the invasion force was taken captive and the whole
thing was a big fiasco. What was the effect of Kennedy's reputation among the
military and intelligence services? How was it affected by the Bay of Pigs
disaster?

Mr. TALBOT: Well, I think it's at this point in the Kennedy
administration--and it's quite early on, it's only a matter of a few months
into the administration in April 1961. It's at this point when I believe the
government cracked, that you have essentially a government at war with itself
from that point on, because Kennedy's own national security apparatus now
decides that Kennedy is weak and can't be trusted. They had thought, as you
say, that he would've gone in and reinforced the beleaguered Cuban exiles
pinned down on the beaches, that he would've brought massive US military power
to bear. And, indeed, I believe that they knew that the invasion itself, the
initial invasion, would be a fiasco and they thought they would be able to
sandbag Kennedy into sending in the full might of US military. Kennedy came
to that same conclusion himself, and he was enraged. He vowed to shatter the
CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds, while the head of the
CIA, Allen Dulles, the legendary spymaster, and others began muttering darkly
among themselves--and the military--that Kennedy was in over his head, he
couldn't be trusted, he wasn't the leader that America needed.

DAVIES: Well, let's talk a little bit about some of these ranking officials
in the military. You know, in 2007, it's a little hard to recall kind of the
intensity of that Cold War period and the threat of, you know, nuclear war
hanging over the nation. Were there military leaders who seriously wanted to
provoke a nuclear confrontation with the Soviets?

Mr. TALBOT: Yes there were, and in particular the head of the Air Force,
General Curtis LeMay, a World War II hero. Robert McNamara, Kennedy's
secretary of defense, had worked under him in Japan during the war. And
Curtis LeMay did indeed feel that the country not only could, but should,
launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. The United
States, at that point, had overwhelming nuclear superiority. And he felt that
if you're going to fight a nuclear war with the Soviets--and he felt it was
inevitable--that you should fight it sooner rather than later, when the
Soviets would begin to catch up with the United States. And, in fact, he had
this debate with Defense Secretary McNamara. He felt that you could win a
nuclear war if you had more nuclear weapons than your enemy at the end of the
holocaust, whereas McNamara argued that you had to take into account the
casualties, and of course the devastation that would ensue.

DAVIES: You also write that a lot of the military structure, not just Curtis
LeMay, but a lot of people in the military held really hard-line
anti-communist views and openly criticized the president as an appeaser. I
mean, this is sort of shocking for those of us who are used to thinking of the
military as being under civilian control. It was a different world then.

Mr. TALBOT: A very different world. The US military was very politicized.
There were political rallies, anti-communist rallies held in a number of
places throughout the country in which active duty military officers would
participate. General Edwin Walker, who was a very respected military
commander in West Germany at the time distributed John Birch, you know, far
right material to his troops and the ranks. He advised them how to vote in
American elections, and he considered all liberal Democratic candidates
socialists and treasonous. This man, who finally was forced out of the
military and became an arch-enemy of the Kennedys and campaigned against the
Kennedys all around the country.

But the mutinous atmosphere within the American military became so alarming to
JKF himself that, at one point, he approaches a friend in Hollywood, John
Frankenheimer, the director, and he urges him to make a movie version of the
best-selling novel "Seven Days in May," which of course was about an attempted
military coup in Washington. He does this, I believe, not only as a warning
shot across his general's bow, but also to try and awaken the American people
to the threat, the growing threat, against democracy at that point.

DAVIES: Did Kennedy truly believe a military coup was possible?

Mr. TALBOT: I believe he was concerned about it. You know, it's remarkable,
when you see transcripts of conversations in the White House--and of course,
he had a taping system, so we have some of these conversations verbatim--and
conversations he had with close friends, how often the subject of
assassination or coup, the violent specter of the end of his own presidency
would come up in these conversations. I don't believe...

DAVIES: Give us an example. Yeah.

Mr. TALBOT: Well, one day he's sailing with an old friend, Redd Faye, who
he's appointed assistant secretary of the Navy, and Faye's been reading "Seven
Days in May," the book, and brings it up and says, `Do you think something
like that could ever happen here, Jack?' And JFK, instead of just dismissing
it out of hand, says, `Well, you know, if there were a shock to the system,
something like the Bay of Pigs, people in, you know, the military might begin
to wonder about the president, particularly if the president's young and
untested,' which of course JFK was.

`If there's another shock after that, and maybe possibly a third one. Yes,
there might be elements within the military,' he tells his friend, `that would
move against the White House at that point out of a sense of national duty.'
And I believe he felt--JKF had very finely-tuned political radar. He picked
up on these tremors within his own government, and I belive, in conversations
like this, he is expressing those concerns.

DAVIES: My guest is David Talbot. His new book is "Brothers: The Hidden
History of the Kennedy Years." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: If you're just joining me, my guest is David Talbot. He is the
founder of the online magazine Salon, and he has a new book, "Brothers: The
Hidden History of the Kennedy Years."

So what you have is a situation where you have this hotbed of angry,
anti-Castro Cubans in south Florida who regard Kennedy as a traitor for not
supporting them at the Bay of Pigs. You have CIA operatives, rogues who are
doing things without the knowledge of the government, in league with the
Mafia, who have their own reasons to hate Kennedy. So you have three forces
that are angry enough at President Kennedy to give rise to suspicion once
President Kennedy is assassinated that he might have been behind it. And
there are lots of fascinating connections we can't go into here among a lot of
players. But I have to ask you one thing. You know, mob historians who
follow the Mafia, one of the things that they tell us is that they generally
want to operate and make their money, and over the years they've historically
not killed cops or prosecutors. That was off limits. What makes us believe
that they would actually order a hit on the president?

Mr. TALBOT: Well, let me just say, you know, very emphatically, I don't
believe the Mafia were the ultimate intellectual architects behind this crime,
behind the assassination of President Kennedy. Nor did I believe Bobby feel
that way. He was looking more, as I say, at the CIA and elements of his own
government.

But I do believe the Mafia played a role, and I do believe Bobby Kennedy
thought that, as well. You know, within 24 hours of Jack Ruby--the Dallas
nightclub operator who shoots Lee Harvey Oswald down on national
television--with 24 hours of that shocking crime, Bobby has investigators
looking into who Jack Ruby is, and they report back to him immediately that
he's not just a patriotic American who felt terrible about what had happened
to the president and was shooting Oswald out of his sense of grief. This is a
man who was a, basically, a low-level Mafia errand boy. And Bobby Kennedy
knew this. Bobby Kennedy tells his press secretary years later, Frank
Mankiewicz, `When I saw the phone records of all the people Jack Ruby was
calling before Dallas, before the assassination, it looked like my witness
list for the Senate rackets committee.'

So Bobby's putting together how the Mafia played a role in it, but my sense is
that he believed it was a high level political plot that had utilized the
Mafia in some way to carry out certain roles within the operation.

DAVIES: You know, most, if not all, of the players who would have firsthand
information about the assassination are now dead. Is there fresh source
material that's still hidden that might be mined for new clues about the
assassination?

Mr. TALBOT: Yes, there is, and it began, actually, in the 1970s with the
Church Committee investigation into the CIA and the House Select Committee on
Assassinations later in the '70s. Many of the areas that Bobby Kennedy was
looking into again were stirred up by these investigations: the CIA's war on
Castro, the gangsters, militant exiles. And a number of the people who played
a role in those investigations who came under suspicion, we could learn more
about today. As a result of a bill that was passed in 1992 because of the
Oliver Stone film "JFK," thousands of government documents were released. But
the CIA continues to sit on many of these documents, and in fact, they're
going to court this summer against a Washington Post reporter named Jeff
Morley who's played, I think, a heroic role in trying to get to the bottom of
the case. And he's trying to get the agency to release records on some of
these men, in particular a man named George Joannides, who we now know was
tied to Lee Harvey Oswald in the early '60s, before the assassination.

DAVIES: Joannides was a CIA man, right?

Mr. TALBOT: That's right.

DAVIES: Right, right.

Mr. TALBOT: Joannides was the CIA official in charge of the Cuban student
exile group that was tangling with Oswald and had some mysterious interaction
with him. We know that another CIA official, David Phillips, before he died,
intimated that he was one of the CIA's handlers for Lee Harvey Oswald. So it
goes on and on. Howard Hunt, who recently died, the legendary Watergate
burglar who was, again, part of the CIA's war on Castro, he revealed to his
son--his eldest son, before he died that he was asked to come to a meeting at
a CIA safehouse of Miami where the plot to kill the president was discussed.
There's a lot of curious things about this, and there's no good reason for
them to continue to sit on this. This is American history, and Americans have
a right to their history, and I hope that they finally see that these
documents should be released.

DAVIES: Well, David Talbot, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. TALBOT: Thank you, Dave.

DAVIES: Journalist David Talbot founded the online magazine salon.com. His
new book is "Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years." I'm Dave
Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Actor/director Kevin Costner on his new film "Mr.
Brooks" and his career
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, sitting in for Terry Gross.

My guest Kevin Costner has been one of the most recognized faces in Hollywood
for 20 years. Emerging as a leading man from films like "No Way Out," "The
Untouchables" and "Bull Durham," then directing and starring in "Dances with
Wolves," which won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best
Director. Among his other films are "Field of Dreams," "JFK," "Waterworld,"
"Tin Cup," "Thirteen Days" and "The Upside of Anger."

Costner's newest role is a dark one in the film "Mr. Brooks." He plays Earl
Brooks, a successful business owner and family man who has a secret life as a
serial killer. The film is about his struggle with an addiction to the thrill
of murder, and he frequently argues with his evil alter-ego Marshall, played
by William Hurt. In this scene, Mr. Brooks is at an Alcoholics Anonymous
meeting, where he doesn't reveal the nature of his addiction, and he's
challenged by his dark side, Marshall.

(Soundbite of "Mr. Brooks")

Mr. KEVIN COSTNER: (As Earl Brooks) Hi, my name's Earl. And I'm an addict.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Actor: (In character) Anyone else?

Mr. WILLIAM HURT: (As Marshall) If you were honest, you'd step up there and
say, `Hi, I'm Earl, I killed two people last night. I really got off on it,
but I need your help to be cured.'

Mr. COSTNER: (As Earl Brooks) I'm different, Marshall, I won't argue that
with you. This is the only place that has ever helped me be normal, and I
have been straight up until last night. For the past two years. I'm not
going to kill again. And I am not going to quit coming here because it upsets
you.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: Well, Kevin Costner, welcome to FRESH AIR. This new film you're in,
"Mr. Brooks," you know, I haven't seen all of your movies, but I can't
remember you playing anybody as creepy as this.

Mr. COSTNER: Right.

DAVIES: Describe your character, Earl Brooks, and what appealed to you about
this role.

Mr. COSTNER: Well, I have played characters that had some sinister sides in
"Perfect World" and "3,000 Miles to Graceland." One might argue that Wyatt
Earp had some killer in him. But, yeah, I think I know where you're going
with this. As for describing my part, you know, why I wanted to do it, I
actually don't go about it that way. I have to make sure I enjoy the script
first. If I make the determination and I think, `Yeah, this has a
playability, either a wide audience or a narrow one,' but it must have an
audience. And so, when I read that, I was attracted, first, to how the
screenplay read, all the parts included, and at that point, knowing that I
thought this was a good movie, I felt that it had a chance to be a classic.
Once I made that determination, then I had to figure out if there was a part
in there that I thought that I could play, and Earl Brooks, I saw it. I
understood the darkness; I also understood the empathy that might be evoked.

DAVIES: How did you figure out how to play a serial killer? And, as you say
in this case, one who's a very empathetic character in parts of his life?

Mr. COSTNER: Yeah, it almost does a disservice to start off with "serial
killer," because immediately you're just going to eliminate a certain part of
the audience, probably including me, that says, `Gee, I just don't want to go
see a movie about that. Sorry, I like you very much, but thanks but no
thanks.' I don't like serial killer movies. I don't like finding myself in a
room with blood on the walls or, you know, too much silence. I don't like
scary movies. You know, I don't like the haunted house situations. They
genuinely, I guess, scare me. Hate to admit that since I play a lot of
superheroes.

But in terms of how I played it, I obviously had all the research at the tip
of my fingers. Unfortunately, that's the condition of our society that we
have these people all around us now, and there's probably not a channel, not
an hour in the day that you can't find some channel devoted to this horrific
situation that we see played out almost daily and weekly.

DAVIES: One of the things that William Hurt said in the production notes was
that that interplay between you and he reminded him of mirror exercises. What
does he mean?

Mr. COSTNER: Well, you know, one of the things that I think we both really
loved is, you know, we've had these careers where now we're kind of known
around the world and among our own colleagues, but I think sometimes it's so
fond to look back at your journey and how, before anyone knew you, you know,
you look fondly back at class and exercises that you performed and how you,
you know, mimic each other. And there's 100 games you play as an actor, and I
think those that love acting the most love all the games. And William's
talking about exercises that one does in mimicking each other and voice
quality and kind of value-for-value acting, whether it's voice or a physical
movement.

DAVIES: So that's what--you're not standing in front of a mirror, you're
standing in front of another actor and looking at...

Mr. COSTNER: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you're--and again, we're playing the same
guy. It just, it forced us to go into our bag of tricks.

DAVIES: I want to talk a little bit about your, you know, career. You grew
up in California. From what I gather, a more or less normal existence, to the
extent anybody has one, played sports in high school and--I wonder, what was
the impulse that pushed you into performing, into acting?

Mr. COSTNER: Well, I really--yeah, I was born in Compton, lived for seven,
eight years, and then kind of moved around a lot, went to four different high
schools. But I just, I really had a very normal childhood. I mean, we
weren't poor, but we weren't rich. It was only when I started seeing other
people's backyard that I understand that we didn't have some of that stuff.
But it was a childhood I wouldn't have traded. My upbringing was incredibly
conservative, but has served me well. There are moments where I had to break
out of that, and clearly the choice to become an actor was one of those. I
needed to kind of get out of this maze of--you know, what was a young man
supposed to do? You're supposed to go to college, go to business, get a job,
work and--but something inherently in me was a voice that was coming out
saying, `Man, you've got to find out, really, what you need to be about.' I
mean--and when I started to contemplate acting, because I always knew that I
was performance-oriented, the voice kept coming back, `Yeah, you're just
trying to postpone going out there into the real world and working.' You know,
I mean...

DAVIES: Are we talking about college, or after college, or...

Mr. COSTNER: We're talking about during college.

DAVIES: Uh-huh.

Mr. COSTNER: Because I could tell that I was not equipped. I mean, I know
what a good student is. I think probably one of my strengths, if I have any,
is the recognition of who is kind of good at what they do. And I've never
been intimidated by, you know, knowing that I wasn't the guy. I was just
encouraged knowing that the guy we needed in the right spot was in the room,
or we better go find him because we don't have the right guy. And if I would
assess myself, I was not an academic. So I wasn't going to do well in school,
and I could see that.

And when I finally did stumble onto acting late at night one night in an
accounting class, where I was on the left side of the bell curve, all the way
to the end, I just, I read about a play in the student newspaper,
"Rumplestiltskin." And if I had a tail, it would've started wagging. I
immediately started to get interested. `Oh, I mean, I can, tomorrow at 12:00,
I can go in for an audition somewhere?' I was clearly excited about 12:00 the
next day and had no interest in what was happening at that very moment with a
professor who was talking about accounting. But I was excited about that
possibility, and I just decided to chase that. And I obviously didn't get the
audition.

But from there I realized that they were providing classes one night a week.
So I started to go one night a week, and one night a week turned into five
nights a week. And I found it.

DAVIES: You know, there's a story--sometimes these get mangled in the
telling...

Mr. COSTNER: Mm.

DAVIES: ...that an encounter with Richard Burton...

Mr. COSTNER: Right.

DAVIES: ...drove you to acting seriously. Is that right?

Mr. COSTNER: No, it didn't--it was a significant moment, make no mistake; I
think that's why it's lived a little bit in the consciousness of people. I
did see him on a plane, and it was right around the time when I was
thinking--I was already taking these classes, and I was thinking, `Do I want
to do this?' And I desperately wanted to talk to him, and he had bought all
the seats around him on the plane so that no one could talk to him. And,
clearly, everybody was watching him, and I was watching him. But at one
moment, I just felt so compelled to go up to him. And his reaction could have
been 100 different things to me, but it was incredibly generous. I think he
was reading Gore Vidal's "Lincoln" at that moment, and he said, `Well, yes,
I--you know, I will an answer a question when I'm done reading,' or something
like that. So I literally watched him for the next hour, and when he finally
put the book down, I thought it was my moment, and then he leaned his seat
back and went to sleep. And I thought, `Hm. He's forgotten about me.' And he
took a little cat nap, and in about 15 minutes he kind of woke up and he
looked back at me, and he kind of waved me up.

And what we talked about was very sweet. And I asked him a couple questions,
which to this day I wish that we could have circled back to each other to talk
about, but it was significant, but how important, I don't know. I just saw
him, and I--it just--I thought, `This is what I want to do.'

DAVIES: Our guest is Kevin Costner. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: If you're just joining me, we're speaking with actor Kevin Costner.
His new film is "Mr. Brooks."

Well, you got into acting, and I know that Lawrence Kasdan cast you for a role
in "The Big Chill."

Mr. COSTNER: Yeah.

DAVIES: Which is the answer to a trivia question. You're the guy at the
beginning of the movie who's the cadaver who's being dressed for the funeral.

Mr. COSTNER: Right. What's that worth now on Trivial Pursuits? Is it 50
points or what?

DAVIES: And then you're in "Silverado," that great, sweeping Western that he
makes.

Mr. COSTNER: Right. Right.

DAVIES: And you had a string of really successful films early. I mean "No
Way Out," where you played the Navy ensign, and "The Untouchables."

Mr. COSTNER: Right.

DAVIES: And then kind of that enduring favorite "Bull Durham." You know, this
is taking you back 20 years now, I know, but those of us who still love and
admire that movie just continue to quote it at ballgames and all. Does it
hold a special place in your heart, too?

Mr. COSTNER: Well, it does. I--"Field of Dreams," "Bull Durham," those
movies--and for that matter "or Love of the Game." Those three particular
movies are, I guess, represent my franchise. They're my sequels, I guess.
But they just, you know...

DAVIES: The Costner baseball collection. Yeah.

Mr. COSTNER: Yeah, I guess they are, you know. They're really stand-alone
movies, and the architecture of my career has been the stand-alone movie, for
the most part, and those movies were absolutely individual, yet, you know,
circle the same subject.

DAVIES: Let's hear a clip from "Bull Durham." This is--you, of course, play
"Crash" Davis, who is a...

Mr. COSTNER: Right.

DAVIES: ...veteran catcher with almost enough talent to make the big leagues,
but basically has spent a career in the minor leagues. And in this film, he's
at the Durham Bulls and his job is to groom a young pitching talent.

Mr. COSTNER: Right.

DAVIES: Nuke LaLoosh, and you dispense advice.

Mr. COSTNER: Right.

DAVIES: This is late in the film, where Nuke has finally gotten called up to
the big leagues. You're kind of feeling down about your own career, but you
sit and give him a last piece of advice. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of "Bull Durham")

Mr. COSTNER: (As Crash Davis) Look, Nuke, these big league hitters are going
to light you up like a pinball machine for a while, right? Don't worry about
it. You be cocky and arrogant, even when you're getting beat. It's the
secret. You got to play this game with fear and arrogance.

Mr. TIM ROBBINS: (As Nuke LaLoosh) Fear and ignorance?

Mr. COSTNER: (As Crash Davis) No, fear and arrogance. All right, you
hayseed, not ignorance?

Mr. ROBBINS: (As Nuke LaLoosh) I know, I know. I just like seeing you get
all worked up.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: And that's Tim Robbins and my guest Kevin Costner, from the classic
"Bull Durham."

You know, I just--it's one of my favorite films, and you seem to just
perfectly embody the swagger of a ballplayer. Where did that come from? Did
you have a history with baseball before that?

Mr. COSTNER: Yeah, I played it early in my life, and it's really a game that
I always felt like I understood and played it in the street, played it on an
organized level. I mean, a lot of people dream about being able to play
professional baseball, and you could put me in that same category. And I've
been able to now play it. I've been able to pitch a perfect game in Yankee
Stadium with Vince Scully announcing it, so it's a, you know...

DAVIES: Right, that was the film "For the Love of the Game."

Mr. COSTNER: Yeah. It's been a really good ride, where that's been
concerned.

DAVIES: Did you do anything in particular for that film to get a feel for the
culture of pro-ballplayers, what the dugout, what the clubhouse was like?

Mr. COSTNER: No, I--yeah, I did my research, but, you know, I've had it, and
it is a--I've seen that thing that was described, athletic arrogance. I've
seen it all. So it was not one that was a foreign--I would not, for instance,
play a hockey movie. I would let someone else do that because I don't know
the nuance of it, I can't skate. But I was very confident about "Bull
Durham," and in this minor league situation about what was happening. And I
had this perfect road map.

DAVIES: Well, we should talk about "Dances with Wolves," which just looms
large in your career. And this was a Michael Blake novel adapted for the
screen, and I read that--now, this was, you directed this film, and of course
won the Oscar for Best Director. It also won Best Picture and five other
awards that year. But I read that you actually envisioned someone else
directing it, right?

Mr. COSTNER: I did. I initially asked two very prominent directors--I won't
name them--and both of them saw flaws in the script. I don't think they saw
them as--they might have saw them as flaws in the script, but they--I think
they recognized the conventions of modern-day filmmaking, and the first one
identified that he felt that maybe the Civil War sequence--because I told them
that the movie was long. And as they looked at it, they immediately thought
that maybe we didn't need the opening Civil War sequence that took up about 15
or 20 minutes where, you know, it establishes kind of who he was. And, you
know, you could see that was a natural cut in the film, but I thought, `No, I
don't want to do that.'

And then the other one suggested that maybe the Mary McDonnell character
should be, you know, a Native American woman, that her being a white captive
was maybe a bit cliche. And I thought, `No.' I mean, I can understand why
they might think that, but if you know anything about the American frontier,
white captives was a way of life. It was a way of commerce. It just is what
happened when you had this migratory march across this continent without any
kind of military being around. A lot of people think of it in a sense about
Indians, about movie, about Native Americans, and I take--I'm happy that they
think that, but it really was a white man's story who ventured in.

DAVIES: Well, let's hear a cut from "Dances with Wolves." This is a moment
well into the film where you, as Lieutenant Dunbar, have settled with this
Lakota-Sioux tribe. And they are going off to fight a war. You wanted to be
involved, but Kicking Bird, who was one of the men that you come to deal with,
has said, no, you should stay behind. And this scene is translated through
the Mary McDonnell character, whose name is Stands with Fist, I think.

Mr. COSTNER: Yes.

DAVIES: So let's listen to this cut from "Dances with Wolves."

(Soundbite of "Dances with Wolves")

Mr. GRAHAM GREENE: (As Kicking Bird) (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. MARY MACDONALD: (As Stands with Fist) He also asks that you watch over
his family while he is gone. This thing he asks is a great honor for you.

Mr. COSTNER: (As Lieutenant Dunbar) Tell him that I would be happy to watch
over his family.

Ms. MACDONALD: (As Stands with Fist) (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. GREENE: (As Kicking Bird) Mm. (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. MACDONALD: (As Stands with Fist) He thanks Dances with Wolves for
coming.

Mr. COSTNER: (As Lt. Dunbar) Who is Dances with Wolves?

Ms. MACDONALD: (As Stands with Fist) It is the name which all the people are
calling you now.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: And that's from "Dances with Wolves," directed by our guest Kevin
Costner.

One of the things that was interesting about this film was that so much of the
film is actually in subtitles with the Indian characters speaking the
Lakota-Sioux language.

Mr. COSTNER: Right. Right.

DAVIES: And I imagine that might not have been so easy for a studio to
digest. Talk a little bit about how you decided to use the Lakota language
and, you know, mechanically. I mean, not that many people speak it.
You...(unintelligible).

Mr. COSTNER: Right. Well, as we took the movie around, it was passed on.
You know, we did the whole circuit through town, and it was passed on. I was
on my second lap and literally at the last studio, and the comment that came
back was, `Kev, we really--we understand what you're talking about. We
understand that you want to make this movie long, but the thing that is
bothering us is the subtitles. We're just not sure that it's going to fly.' I
thought, `You know, it's so funny, because I think that what's makes the movie
is the sense of humor, the sense of a kind of a--what really caused so much
conflict on the frontier was our inability to communicate.' And that was kind
of the pivot point for me on this movie, that these people who desperately
should be talking to each other, want to talk to each other, couldn't. And
the simple language allowed fear and everything to slide in.

So I looked at everybody in the meeting, I go, `You know, it has to--no, the
subtitles have to be there.' And at that point, they really couldn't make the
movie. And I decided to throw a last chip into the pot, if you will, and I
said, `By the way, I also want to have final cut on it.' I remember, as I left
the room, my partner, as we shut the door, he pulled me right against the
wall, just literally, you know, just outside the door and goes, `What was that
about?' I said, `What was what about?' He says, `The final cut. What was that
about. Why did you have to throw that in?' And I said, `Well, Jimmy, you
know, it just dawned on me that if people don't understand completely about
how the movie is, how can we also put somebody in the position of cutting this
movie?' It was kind of a bold move, but it--kind of almost like becoming an
actor--a lot of things just became clear.

DAVIES: My guest is Kevin Costner. His new movie is "Mr. Brooks." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: If you're just joining me, my guest is actor Kevin Costner. His new
film is "Mr. Brooks."

The stories about Kevin Costner's career always talk about, you know, there
was the enormous success with "Dances with Wolves," and then there's what's
called the slump, you know, "Waterworld," most expensive film ever made at
that time, you know, mixed reviews. And then "Postman," not so good reviews.
Do you look--how do you look at that period? I mean, do you see it as a
slump?

Mr. COSTNER: Well, I, you know, I think if you look at things
empirically--well, if you want to look at things empirically and talk about
money, then "Waterworld" certainly paid for itself multiple times. It's very
difficult to get anybody to write that. But that was a very financially
successful movie, and a movie that's kind of loved around the world. People
are almost ashamed to say, I get it all the time. `Hey, Kev, by the way, I
liked "Waterworld."'

DAVIES: Uh-huh.

Mr. COSTNER: It's flawed, as are all movies that I've been a part of, and it
has its flaws, but I understand kind of what you're asking. I've just always
kind of put my stock in an individual movie. And I just, I go forward. I
like "The Postman," but I can't, you know, sit and try to convince someone
else to like it. I like it, that's why I did it. And I don't like turning my
back on my work, but I certainly should allow other people their opinion about
it.

DAVIES: I thought we'd talk about another one of your more recent films, "The
Upside of Anger," where you play a retired ballplayer who lives next door to a
woman, Terry, played by Joan Allen, whose husband has apparently taken off
with another woman to Sweden, and...

Mr. COSTNER: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: And your character, Denny Davies, the retired ballplayer...

Mr. COSTNER: Right.

DAVIES: ...has kind of developed sort of a drinking relationship. And I
wanted to play this clip. This is after the two of you have finally gotten
close enough to have intimacy, and this is the immediate aftermath.

Mr. COSTNER: Right.

(Soundbite of "The Upside of Anger")

Ms. JOAN ALLEN: (As Terry) Oh, God. Now that was a real misstep.

Mr. COSTNER: (As Denny Davies) Aw. That was a sweet thing to say.

Ms. ALLEN: (As Terry) God. What am I doing? Why am I here?

Mr. COSTNER: (As Denny Davies) You're here because you're sad and lonely,
desperate. You need someone, something, anything to fill you, any port in a
storm.

Ms. ALLEN: (As Terry) I asked why I was here, not you. What's my story?

(Soundbite of laughter)

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: And that's Joan Allen and my guest Kevin Costner in the film the
"Upside of Anger."

That's a film where you could be seen as playing sort of an aging Crash Davis.
Did you actually deliberately gain weight for that role?

Mr. COSTNER: Yeah. Well, I think that people--you know, it's so funny out
there. There's this weird thing where half the world doesn't want people to
work out because it would go, `Gee, most of us don't look like that; why would
you look like that, all buffed out, look like you just come out of prison or
something? ' You know? And, `We want you to be just like us.' And then when
you actually--somebody like myself that has played, say, traditional leads in
American film, comes out with a potbelly, it's amazing how critically people
come after to that and don't tie that necessarily to a character choice. It's
funny. But, yeah, I let him be soft. Clearly, he's gotten--he was an athlete
that went to the highest level, and he's not doing that now. He's signing
autographs at shows for guys he doesn't want to be around. So I thought
that's just a choice.

DAVIES: How did you gain the weight and lose it?

Mr. COSTNER: Well, when I want to lose weight, I just quit drinking milk,
because I'm a milk drinker. I mean, I've never done one of those commercials,
but that's all I do is drink milk. So when I'm drinking milk, everything that
goes with it, you know, apple pie, all of this stuff late at night, everything
heated, you know. I heat Twinkies, man, for crying out loud, just so they
seem really great, and then there goes the milk. So if I want to lose weight,
I just quit drinking milk.

DAVIES: All right. Diet tip for those of you out there that who want to...

Mr. COSTNER: Yeah, it's that scientific.

DAVIES: You recently directed and starred in "Open Range," a Western with
Robert Duvall. I mean, this is--you've done Westerns, a fair amount, over
your career. I'm thinking back to "Silverado"...

Mr. COSTNER: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...which was, you know, you were very young and a different kind of
cowboy.

Mr. COSTNER: Right.

DAVIES: What do you love about the genre?

Mr. COSTNER: I think it's our Shakespeare, you know. And I think they're,
number one, very difficult to make. They're not easy. They're a lot more
sophisticated than just `Yep' and `Nope.' And yeah, there's the black hat and
the white hat, but how you get to those is if you actually really try to
understand the time, that people were having to live by their wits back then.
It's not Frontier Land like in Disneyland. It's, you know, sometimes the West
has become mythical. But it was a very real place 150 years ago where people
were living and dying based on decisions, based on going left and right. And
I think, when you treat the Western that way, you have a chance to make, you
know, a movie that can relate to a contemporary audience. But you don't have
to kowtow to them by trying to make everything modern. If you just exist in
the moment, you--that's why I say it's Shakespeare--you will begin to
understand.

I don't completely understand Shakespeare, but when I see it performed
beautifully, I suddenly, 10 minutes in, begin to understand everything that's
said, every nuance that's there. And the West is the same thing. I think you
find the Victorian language that was going on there, the simplicity of what
one man would say to another when he wanted him to get his message. And
pretty soon, you don't have to be just an American to understand that what he
said was really serious.

DAVIES: Well, Kevin Costner, thanks so much for spending some time with us.

Mr. COSTNER: Well, thank you, Dave.

DAVIES: Kevin Costner. He stars in the new film "Mr. Brooks."

(Credits)

DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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