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Kevin Costner – “It’s time we woke up to...
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Kevin Costner – “It’s time we woke up to reality”

Tuesday, 05 July 2016
By Frank Rousseau
Frank Rousseau

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7 min read

Ambassador for Austrian watchmaker Jacques Lemans, Kevin Costner has always been nostalgic for the unspoiled beauty of America’s wide-open spaces. The 61-year-old actor and environmentalist is determined to play his part in saving the planet, before it’s too late.

Back in time

I grew up in Compton, California. My parents were what the Californians called Okies, the families who migrated from Oklahoma. People would make fun because they didn’t have two dimes to rub together, but they worked hard so we could enjoy a happy life. When my brother and I were small, we used to play in the backyard. We thought it was heaven on earth, until we were invited over by someone who had a pool. I’d never seen anything like it. One day my dad came into my room, looked me right in the eye and said, “It’s time you knew the truth. If you look at our family tree, you’ll see we originally came from South Carolina, then crossed Missouri and settled in Oklahoma. And Oklahoma is where the Indians ended their Trail of Tears.” My Indian heritage begins in Noble County, in Cherokee Outlet, which is why I consider myself to be a true American. I love and respect my country, its Star-Spangled Banner and the idyllic vision that goes with it. I love its wide-open spaces, its history and its roots, its many resources, the opportunities it gives, and its capacity to always bounce back. If that’s what it is to be patriotic, then that’s what I am! But I’m no fool. This country is heading straight for disaster if we don’t change the way we live. Today’s society is marred by racism, greed and cynicism, and we need to fight this every single day.

On a bad day, I'd sell empty Coke bottles to get the money for a burger.
Kevin Costner
Fame at last

I didn’t burst onto the screen at 20. Far from it. I would have been 27 or 28 when I landed parts in Silverado and Fandango. That’s when my apprenticeship began. It was slow going sometimes, when the telephone didn’t ring for weeks on end. Believe me, I had time to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I worked for a construction company, just to survive, but got fired after a month. I didn’t see myself doing a nine-to-five job anyway. You know, the kind where you’re constantly looking at your watch. So, I went back to acting classes, then contacted every agent on the planet, and went to every audition going. Once in a while I’d earn my crust by helping friends set up a sound system or install a set. On a really bad day, I’d pick up empty Coke bottles and sell them to get the money for a burger. In Hollywood!

Kevin Costner
Kevin Costner
Six in the morning

I remember my first time in front of a camera like it was yesterday. It was 1980 and I’d managed to get a job at Raleigh Studios. I started at six in the morning and often worked late into the night. Anyway, I heard there was a film, Frances, starring Jessica Lange, about to be made. I knew I had to get my union card, and for that I needed a speaking part. So I psyched myself up and went to see the director, Graeme Clifford, on the set. Either he liked the look of me or he felt sorry for me, either way he gave me three words: “Good night Frances”. I made quite a few turkeys after that. If my first wife, Cindy, an air hostess, hadn’t been there to put butter on our bread, I never would have made it. You never know which way life will turn! Back then I was a tour guide. I’d watch people get off the bus and go put their hands and feet in the prints on Hollywood Boulevard. Now I have my own star on the Walk of Fame. I guess that’s the mystery of life. Of course, the day-to-day stuff is the same as for anyone else.

In praise of craftsmanship

I’ve always been full of admiration for craftsmen. In the watch industry, people produce masterpieces in the smallest of spaces. They show infinite patience, and the kind of precision that comes with years of practice. I would be incapable of doing what they do. I enjoy working with my hands, but on a much larger scale. It fills me with joy, don’t ask why. When I’m not out on my tractor all day, I like to build things. I’m not the kind of guy who could design an amazing house, but I can work alongside a professional without asking too stupid questions. In high school, I built wood frames for houses and I wasn’t even a carpenter. I wanted to learn the proper techniques, and finally convinced a builder to show me the ropes in exchange for which I worked two weeks for free. He gave me plenty of tips that I still use today. It took perseverance, practice and determination, but I was finally able to build my own house.

Sometimes I want to cry when I see the state the planet is in.
Kevin Costner
Environmental wake-up call

I look at the world, nature in particular, with the same sense of wonder as when I was eight years old, although sometimes I want to cry when I see the state the planet is in, and all because of us. But I’ll never stop believing we can change for the better. My brother Dan and I have made a battery that runs off the force of inertia. We can produce energy using the sun, water or wind power; the problem is, we don’t know how to store it. That’s why I was interested in this project, especially for developing countries, and invested $15 million in it. Then there are oil spills. Well before the BP disaster in 1989, I was watching the news on TV when aerial shots came on of the Exxon Valdez pouring sticky black liquid out of its tanks. It killed me to see one of the planet’s most beautiful, unspoiled regions ruined by oil, and not be able to do anything about it. We were told it could never happen in American waters. Once again, we were foolishly optimistic, arrogant, and that’s how five million barrels of crude oil ended up spread over 500 miles of coastline. The United States witnessed its biggest oil disaster ever.

Of course, after this government agencies required tankers to have double hulls, but given the increase in maritime traffic these past twenty years, the risk of collision between two of these giants is exponential. That’s why I invested in a machine that sucks oil from water using centrifuge technology. It is the best on the market, but the big oil companies aren’t interested, as long as they’re not legally obliged. But I’ll never give up. It’s vital we know how to separate pollutants from water, especially as factories in certain parts of the world still have no idea how to dispose of their waste water. They used to pour it into rivers, then disused mines or deep wells, even if this means contaminating groundwater for ever. It’s time we woke up to reality.

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