Paramount Network’s cinematic first original drama series, Yellowstone, debuted last night in the U.S., and star Kevin Costner was in Cannes today to talk up the show. Costner plays John Dutton, patriarch of the family that owns America’s largest contiguous ranch who bumps up against land developers, a Native American reservation and America’s first National Park. It’s an intense study of a violent world that hails from writer-director Taylor Sheridan.
Discussing his role choices, the Dances With Wolves Oscar winner said, “No one confuses me for anything other than American, that’s for sure and that’s OK. Movies take all forms, but I think you all agree you have things you gravitate towards. Certainly, I like to think my tastes are broad, but a lot of people think I do anything with a horse in it. It’s not true… Western themes are very hard to pull off. There’s a tendency to think white hat/black hat and it’s much more complicated.”
Yellowstone, he said is about modern-day ranching which is “alive and well.” When he read the script and saw the land it would be shot on — the Bitterroot Valley which is “very historical for our nation” — it was “enough to catch my interest.” But ultimately, “it has to entertain, you have to be able to see yourself in it. Can people gather around this idea, then can your idea pivot off that? Yellowstone was a perfect marriage.”
Costner noted Yellowstone “is not some kind of fiction… While the American west is disappearing, the DNA of the characters has a level of unpredictablilty, of danger.” There was a time in America, he said, “where if you were tough enough, if you were smart enough, if you were vicious enough you could take land and make it yours. When we figured out if we could just take it we did, and held on to it at all costs… (Native Americans) still haven’t recovered.”
Because Cannes Lions is a conference about advertising and marketing, and because Costner once toiled in marketing, he spoke to the subject. “Marketing is begging that you have a secret. You’re always looking for a secret. Every one of us when we read a great book, hear a great song, we have desire to tell somebody… we feel like we have a little secret that’s going to cheer somebody up. I know in my heart Yellowstone has a secret.”
Costner reflected on making stories for a global landscape. “I learned a long time ago movies weren’t just for Americans. That may seem like ‘wow, good job,’ but I came from a very conservative background.” It wasn’t until a trip to the Venice Film Festival with Silverado in 1985 that he fully understood. Having starred in Fandango that same year, which was not considered a success Stateside, he was shocked to be taken to a packed cinema in Venice where the movie was screening. “People were sitting in the aisles and Fandango was playing and when it was over, it got a standing ovation. They saw me and the claps wouldn’t stop. We all walked out of the theater together like we were in West Side Story.”
As an actor, Costner is often associated with such iconic roles as Dances With Wolves’ Lieutenant Dunbar, Bull Durham’s Crash Davis or Field Of Dreams’ Ray Kinsella and said in general, “A lot of people want me to make that same movie, or another version, three, four versions… Basically, back the truck up and I’ll get the biggest shovel… But I’m most gratified that my career hasn’t drilled down to just one movie.”