Sometimes Kevin Costner imagines that he’s watching himself in a film about Kevin Costner. He pictures himself in a theater; it’s dark and he’s gazing at himself in the same way we have over the years, rooting for him to succeed. In times of embattlement or stress, he says, “I’ve got to be my own movie.” In Westerns, Costner’s preferred genre, the hero tends to ride in, outmatched and outgunned, only to come away victorious. This often seems to be the way Costner sees himself too. Famously, Costner’s first big break as an actor was being cast in 1983’s The Big Chill; then, after shooting, all his scenes were cut. Before he was dropped from the film, “I had all my friends going, ‘Kevin, you’re in that movie. You should do press. You should ride this wave,’ ” he told me. “And I said, ‘No. It’ll be a more interesting story once I do what I know I’m going to do.’ ”

Costner is a lifetime devotee of the hard way. When Ron Shelton cast the actor in 1988’s Bull Durham, he tried to hand Costner the part, only for Costner to insist on auditioning anyway. “So we went from having lunch to the batting cage on Sepulveda with a bunch of quarters,” Shelton told me. “And we’re putting quarters in there and he’s hitting line drives right-handed and left-handed, and we’re playing catch in the parking lot. Girls are walking by him. They don’t know who he is. Three months later, they’re going to know who he is.”

A few years after Bull Durham, once Costner had become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, he used every bit of leverage he’d accrued to produce, direct, and act in a movie most studios did not want: Dances With Wolves. “I had a chance to do The Hunt for Red October for more money than I’d ever seen,” Costner said. “I felt like Gollum with the ring. I thought, Oh my God, I’m going to take that ring. But I made this promise that I would go do this movie. I had to watch my own movie.” When Dances came out, in 1990, it was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won seven, including best picture and best director.

Costner is now 69. In the past decade, he has experienced a revival of sorts, doing nuanced and charismatic character work in film after film while starring on Yellowstone, the most popular show on television. Other actors might be content with their late-career good fortune. But other actors are not Kevin Costner, who is prone to obsession, regardless of what that obsession may cost. “I’m so grateful that I’ve never seen a UFO,” Costner said. “I’m a pretty sane person, although some people would think maybe something else. But what happens once you see one? You can’t let it go.”

One of those obsessions is a Western called Horizon, which Costner—as cowriter, director, and star—has been trying to make since 1988. Over the past 36 years, the story has evolved, from a two-hander about a couple of guys to a vast, panoramic portrait of the founding of a town—called Horizon—during a particularly bloody chapter of America’s western expansion, but Costner has never fully left it alone. In 2003, he was going to make Horizon with Disney, but the director and the studio were $5 million apart on the budget, and so Costner—never one to compromise on something he regards as important—walked away. Then, in 2012, Costner picked the script up again and, with the screenwriter and author Jon Baird, turned it into four scripts. “And what’s ironic, or if not ironic, maybe a better word is what is typical of me,” Costner said, “is that if my psychiatrist looked at me and they said, ‘Kevin, let me get this straight. Nobody wanted to make one, right? At least at that point when you stopped, they didn’t want to make it?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And she goes, ‘Why do you then go out and write four more? Why do you go and do that?’ And I guess the answer is: Because I believe. But I can also see that psychiatrist going, ‘Yeah, but no one wanted one, and you just did four.’ As if I didn’t hear her the first time. And I can’t defend that psyche. I can’t defend anything other than the story just kept getting better and better for me.”

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