kevin costner at the premiere of mcfarland usaWhen you watch "McFarland, USA," the wonderful new Disney sports movie about a coach who, in 1987, took a group of untested kids in California (mostly sons of migrant field workers) and turned them into track champions, it's hard to imagine that Kevin Costner, who plays the coach, hasn't been in one of these films before. The actor, who has seen his career rebound in recent years thanks to brief roles in big movies like "Man of Steel" and "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," is perfect as the grizzled coach who crafted this nearly legendary team.

We got to sit down and chat with Costner recently, which is pretty amazing given his legacy not only as an actor (in things like "Revenge" and "JFK") but as a filmmaker (including the Oscar-winning "Dances with Wolves" and underrated Western "Open Range"). We chatted about a whole range of topics -- everything from how many enchiladas he ate during a dinner sequence in "McFarland, USA," to the validity of director's cuts, to what went wrong on his Euro action movie "3 Days to Kill." It's a wide-ranging and incredibly fun chat.

Moviefone: First, a hard-hitting journalistic question: How many enchiladas did you eat during that scene?

Kevin Costner: It was hard because I had to eat a little bit. A lot of the times you can fake it. But this one I had to eat a lot -- I probably had eight or nine of those.

Were you a fan beforehand?

Oh, I love enchiladas. But at a certain point you're like, What the f*ck? And part of it had to show me eating it, and I found myself in situations where it's like, when in Rome, you've got to do something like that. So it was a clever scene.

It could have been worse.

Yes, it could have been one of those dumb TV shows where you're eating beetles.

What initially drew you to this project?

They pursued me for this. They just felt that I was the person to do this. And I had read about this story about 15 years earlier in Sports Illustrated and I thought, Whoa. And it interesting because it was a school I had played against in high school. I had played McFarland. So I know the central valley and I know the kids and I fought with them and I played with them and everything else. I knew their families. It wasn't lost on me what was going on here. And that story, then to circle back around to me 20-something years later and for them to ask me to play this, it's like, Whoa. It's kind of a weird circle. I thought it was very inspirational. Number one, it's true. And it's this part of the world that people just don't talk about and don't recognize. It wrapped itself up in a movie very nicely. Don't forget – they paid me.

After giving $9 million to "Black or White," you've got to recoup some of that.

Well, I've never really grown my wealth as much as I've used it to do the things that are important to me, or that I've wanted to do. Not wise business, usually. Let's invest this here, let's invest that there; it's never really been my way.

Part of that has been directing your own projects. Are you going to direct again soon?

I think so.

Another Western?

I hope so.

You've done these movies based on historical fact before -- has your approach been the same over the years, or have you switched it up?

It's always a little different. With "JFK," Oliver [Stone] didn't want a physical resemblance between Jim Garrison and me. He just didn't want that. He said, "I want you to be the essence of this man." Kenny O'Donnell in "Thirteen Days," I mimicked myself after he behaved -- his language, his accent, his movements, his haircuts. I did that because I felt that is what should happen in that particular movie. But in "JFK." it was really playing the essence of somebody. In this instance there was a physical resemblance to Jim and I. But the minute certain facts weren't factual to his life, that's when, for me, all pretenses of "oh, I'm playing him exactly" drop away. So what the essence of a coach is and what he was to these young guys in McFarland became more important to me than any twitch. It wasn't important how he carried his body -- it was all out the window. Because for me, you can't have both.

You said you played these guys. Did you incorporate anything from your coach?

No. But I obviously know what a coach can mean to kids and there's a thing called tough love that's very important. Like anything, they resist stuff because they're teenagers, too. But the script was crafted and we made sure that it was crafted, so that you saw the arcs. Scenes have been cut out of it for running time, which I'm not a fan of. I'm more like, If you thought it was important and you shot it and edited it and thought it was good, why are we cutting it? They say people won't stay over two hours and I go, "Really?" So I always come from a different camp.

Well, was there something you had shot or something you had discovered while working on the movie that you wish was still in there?

There are some great scenes that I wish were in there. Niki [Caro] had the hard job. Every day, she had to direct this, and every day and she was just great and I'm sure, for her, she hated to lose some scenes. The way American cinema is today, running length is a really big deal. It isn't to me.

You've been involved in a number of movies that have had director's cuts.

Well, when it comes to my movies, the cut is the director's cut. I invented the three-hour thing. The studio started to understand that people really like to look deep behind the thing and the scenes going on. And that became a whole cottage industry -- "See the director's cut!" I don't get that.

"Dances With Wolves" was a solid three hours.

And "Open Range" was 2 hours and 17 minutes. And "Postman" was 2 hours and 24 minutes. They were what they were. I'm happy with what "Postman" is. Is it cut in a conventional way, down to 2 hours? Is that more enjoyable? Maybe it's more enjoyable to you. But I make a movie that I enjoy and then want to share. That's how I approach it.

And then you did the miniseries "Hatfields & McCoys." So you had a whole week.

Well, no I didn't. Because they wanted to cut it down to a more conventional thing, it was only going to be two nights. And I said, "Tell me what scene in here you don't like." And they said, "Well, we like every scene." And I said, "Me too." And I said, "I think it needs about three or four more scenes to have a level of meaning. I'll write them and I'll show you what I mean." So I did that and they loved them. So I said, "This is going to be three, maybe four nights." They said, "We don't do that." So I said, "I can't change your mind, I can only decide what I'll do, and if it's not going to be three to four nights, I'm not going to do it." And through real, honest discussion, it became that. And now everybody is doing these five-night miniseries, which I think audiences are really enjoying... if they're done well.

Would you do it again?

Yeah, I would do it again. I have a Western that could either be four features, all about the same story, or it could be 12-hours of TV with the last being a feature film.

Is that what you're trying to decide right now?

Yeah, I'm trying to decide that right now.

"McFarland, USA" is a Disney sports movie, which has almost become its own genre. Do you like those movies?

Yeah, I love Disney. I've always loved Disney and what they've stood for and what they've been for. And this movie had a bit of an edge and I hope as much of it could stay in it as possible.

You're a filmmaker yourself. Did you make any suggestions?

Niki was really good to me and really open in the scripting process. But at the end of the day, once the movie was shot, I wasn't consulted with what would stay and what would go.

Were you happy with the final movie?

Yeah, I was happy with it. You kind of have to take a minute and absorb things because you're thinking about things you did or didn't do. It's what happens in life.

Were there any of your movies that you'd like to see expanded into director's cuts?

Yeah. They weren't movies that I directed but they followed the script at one point and then certain stuff is taken out, with people saying, "Oh, that's too hard on the audience." And I'm saying, "You're wrong. You're wrong to take that out." I don't think there was anything like that here in this movie. But I often say, "You try to soften it, you try to move it into another demographic, you moved it from an R to a PG-13 because you thought more people would see it." But the truth was that the people who would really appreciate it would only appreciate it as an R. You lost those adult bones that make it an R. I don't know if you've seen "Black or White," but there's a line where he says, "Maybe you're not a drunk. Maybe you're just an angry f*cking motherf*cker." And they were going to give me an R for saying it one time. In "Django" they say it a million times. I had to go to them and say, "Please don't give me an R." But I would have not compromised the movie.

Did you end up getting a PG-13?

Yeah. But I had to go before a board and beg for it and they were really cool to me. But what I'm saying is that if they hadn't, because it was my money, I would have kept it as an R.

Did that happen with "3 Days to Kill?" It seems like it was softened.

Yeah, it was. There were some subplots that were never in the script. Like The Wolf. They said we needed a bad guy. I said, "No you don't, you just need guys that he'll go kill because he's f*cked up his life. And what guys do is throw money at problems." So this guy would kill anybody. He doesn't have to kill an important person. All I have to do is kill a bad person. We didn't need the ultimate criminal. At least that movie didn't. And the original writer wrote it that way. We didn't need the big shoot out. But there it was. My guy was not going after the best criminal in the world and I wasn't the best CIA agent in the world. I was a jobber. Sometimes people think that you have to blow things up more than it already is.

In "McFarland," they say we win nine times. We don't say they won 11. And because it's a true story, we don't have to say six. They won nine times. These little guys. It's pretty amazing. They had a goal and they just succeeded wildly. It's really life affirming. We didn't have to make stuff up. That's why I made "3 Days to Kill," because it could have been a perfect action movie for me, because it had a lot of character and a lot of funny scenes mixed with these scenes of violence. That's what I can do. That could be really mature. But it slipped in several key categories.

You brought up "Django Unchained." You were supposed to be in the movie, right?

Yeah, there was a possibility that I could have been in it.

Is Quentin Tarantino somebody you still want to work with?

Oh yeah. I would work with him in a second. I hope that I do. But with that one, at the end of the day, it just wasn't right. And maybe you just get one chance with Quentin. Look, people's feelings are important and his process, and he made a Western and didn't ask me to be in it, so maybe that was a problem.

Are you coming back for anymore Superman movies?

I don't know. It has to be what it has to be. Didn't he already save the world? Is it in peril again?

"McFarland, USA" opens everywhere Friday, February 20.
categories Interviews, Movies