Life + Arts Movies

Costner discusses sports film genre with ‘McFarland, U.S.A’

Academy Award-winner Kevin Costner has been frequently appearing in films in the last couple years, each a bit better than the previous film. The “Dances with Wolves” star and director has been pursuing more passion projects and again finds himself in the middle of a sports film. Costner got personal with the story and in the following conference call with The Cougar and other media organizations. “McFarland, U.S.A” follows Costner as he attempts to coach a group of teenagers who need to find purpose in their life.

On what drew Costner to the project and his prior knowledge of the inspiring tale:

 “I remember 15, 20 years ago…I read a story about McFarland in “Sports Illustrated” about Coach White, and I was just thinking, ‘Wow, what a great story!’ And obviously, you know, once I finished the article, I didn’t think anymore about it until…I was approached to be in this movie and I thought ‘Wait a second, I know this story.'”
“I lived…in the Central Valley…going to a little high school in Visalia, Calif. I played McFarland baseball. It’s funny how…I realized…I’ve actually played against this community. So it’s a big full circle for me and for Jim.”
On what Costner wants audiences to take away from the film:
“Yeah, you’re asked this question in different ways but it comes down to sometimes a very basic thing: You want people to get their money’s worth. And what does that actually mean? Because films are emotional experiences. They’re not intellectual, they’re emotional. (I think we hope movies) become about moments that you’ll never, ever forget. And I think the things that get set in McFarland: Seeing these people first hand, up close in these fields…these incredible hours through very difficult weather conditions, every day of their life for one reason and one reason only, to advance their children and to give their children a better opportunity achieve that.”
“So at it’s very core. This is not a movie about running. It’s not about Cross Country. This movie is really about the American Dream, and the American Dream in McFarland is alive and well. There’s nothing more American than a parent trying to make life better for their children.”
On the process of getting into character and finding qualities of Jim White:
“The part was written very well, so I didn’t have to try to invent little gags to make Jim interesting. Jim doesn’t, on purpose, doesn’t try to act very important or really interesting. I think he’s very level with these kids, and he’s so level to the point that he’s also able to tell them when they’re off course. You know, it’s very important to be able to coach in a lot of different ways, and coaching is not always about the finish line. Coaching is about the big picture…and while it couldn’t have been pleasant for Jim, there were probably moments in time where he had to risk his teams.”
“By disciplining them…they have the ability to turn around and walk away and never come back. But if Jim didn’t stand his ground, didn’t have the integrity to say no, this isn’t the way we’re gonna do things, then the goals that these young men were able to achieve would never have been possible. You have to be able to stand in the face of a young man and say ‘I need a better effort out of you. I need more discipline out of you, and if you want to be on a team, you have to act like a teammate.'”
On what makes this film stand out among other inspirational sports films:
“I think when you want a movie that has to do with sports, one of the keys is not make it about too much of the sport. It has to be the backdrop. And if they’re not doing it the way Jim did it, or way some of the coaches I’ve had in my life, they can also turn you off completely…It’s a very delicate thing when you put the life of a young person in your hands and say, ‘I’m going to coach you.’ I think that the thing that made this inspirational was not so much the finish line – yes, that’s a Hollywood ending – but in real life, this actually ended that way, so that’s the joy of this movie.”
“You know, McFarland is a small little community. Big deal, right? A little community wins 9 state championships. That’s a curiosity, but when you dig down deep and understand where these young men come from…sometimes to these boys who may be asked a question point blank, ‘Are we as important as these boys?’ That answer was always, yes, of course you’re important. But I have to give these men attention.”
“What you’re really watching when you watch a sports movie (is) what makes it inspirational. Just the fact that there’s a level of authenticity…can be very entertaining to watch, and when you layer those things into a sports movie, I think (it) has a much better chance to work.”

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