During a quiet moment just before the climax of the movie Draft Day, fictional Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr., portrayed by Kevin Costner, looks thoughtfully at his colleague and love interest, played by Jennifer Garner.
"No one can stop a ticking clock, but the great ones find a way to slow it down," Weaver says.
The clock is a central theme in Draft Day. It begins to tick down 12 hours before the start of the NFL draft and serves as a persistent reminder of how much time Weaver and the Browns have left. Once the draft begins and teams are on the clock, action flows through the nervous energy of several GMs who have to make their picks.
A clock that ticks away after years of use is a more appropriate metaphor for Costner, a versatile actor known for turning sports film leads into iconic figures: Crash Davis inBull Durham, Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams, Roy McAvoy in Tin Cup and Billy Chapel in For Love of the Game.
"I'm in a field (where) it looks like somebody's going to be something and then, 'Where did they go?'" Costner told USA TODAY Sports. "I've been around for about 30 years. … It would have taken a GM to figure out who you're gonna bet on in this acting world. I don't know.
"I'd bet on myself, but if somebody was having to be an outside person tapping, picking, if you will, I don't know that I'd have been picked for 1,000 different reasons."
In Draft Day, he mingles with Houston Texans running back Arian Foster and actor Chadwick Boseman (best known for his role as Jackie Robinson in 42), who play draft hopefuls, as Weaver's moves are picked apart by ESPN and NFL Networkpersonalities. Costner's character is another sympathetic figure caught in a career-defining moment as the movie builds toward its denouement from New York's Radio City Music Hall.
Costner, 59, spoke with USA TODAY Sports ahead of Draft Day's April 11 release this week.
Q: A lot of your roles in your sports-themed movies have been as an athlete, and now you're playing an executive, the management role. How does that role differ for you? The preparation, that sort of thing …
A: Well, it's more fun to throw the ball around ... right, it's more fun to hit it, for sure. but in terms of the preparation, I think I understood what was happening. I needed to understand the language; more importantly, that understanding the language is understanding when it's not authentic. If I go, "Wait a second, that doesn't sound right. That's not how somebody's gonna talk under these circumstances or under this situation. I added some lines that I thought were important … I would add some lines that I thought were better rhythms, and actually things that were more biting and got to the point.
Q: How do you know when you have something good in this type of genre? Is it because of the script? Does it come to you during the shooting?
A: It's really the script, because a good idea doesn't make a good movie, (nor) does a good story. … One of the great stories, Lou Gehrig, one of the great stories, Ty Cobb… Unless it's a great script, right, it's hard to tell that story. The script has to be the driving force. The story itself has to be compelling, but you've gotta figure out a way to condense it down into a script form that hits on those notes, that suddenly somebody is being drawn into it in a way only a movie can do.
Q: How does the script compare to some of the others you've done, like "Field of Dreams" and "Bull Durham?"
A: It compares really favorably, and that's why I did it. I don't go looking for these movies. They come across my desk and, a lot of times, they just aren't any good. A lot of times, the work hasn't really been done. And I'm not gonna do the work, in this case, unless I'm directing it. And this movie came very mature, and I was really surprised, and I felt like, "Yeah, I would want to make this a part of my filmography." I think it would stand nicely alongside those other movies that you mentioned.
Q: Each of those movies has a distinct story line that doesn't hinge, necessary, on the result of the game, so to speak. There's character depth to Ray Kinsella, Crash Davis, Roy McAvoy, Billy Chapel. Do you see that depth in Sonny Weaver, in the character you play?
A: I think what you mapped out right at the first, and it's a very intuitive person that understands that the game always doesn't have to be about the winning shot, doesn't always have to be about winning. That a lot of heroism can come out of defeat, a lot of level of high understanding, empathy, can come out of somebody who just can't get out of their own way but is true to themself even in the most crucial, critical moment of their life. And so, there's a certain poetry that these characters have, vulgarity aside (laughs).
Q: What characteristics of the NFL draft do you think most lend themselves to a movie?
A: Well, you don't know at first. It takes a really good writer to figure that out, because, for as fast as it goes, if it was in a movie in normal time, it would be like watching paint dry. But the way it was constructed was really artful. ..., almost to the point where — I'm a guy that likes his stuff, right? I don't like the draft, I'm not a fantasy football guy, but I am interested in who goes No. 1 to a certain extent, just it's a higher curiosity. A guy still has to play come Sunday. But I just thought it was remarkable that somebody could make me even excited about what Sonny might do. I felt like he dug himself a really big hole. I didn't know how he was gonna get out of it. And what I like about the movie was, in truth, he didn't know, either. But what happened was, an opening presented itself right around the same time he was really deciding that he was gonna be true to his own convictions, and a little daylight appeared, and he kind of stepped through it. And the minute he did, it threw everybody else in a conniption fit. The minute he did what he thought he should do, It caused everybody else to blink. It was interesting. I don't know if you see it that way, but that's how I saw it.
Q: How about the aspect of the movie taking place, as you mentioned, very fast-paced, over a 12-hour period. What does that lend?
A: Well, it certainly put a fuse on everything. The day started bad for him — well, after he saw Jennifer in the shower; that was pretty good. But then he goes on, and he hears people trashing him on television, she asked him a very fundamental question about maybe the biggest moment of their life together and, he says, "Could this wait till the next day?" And in typical woman fashion, she says, "No." So right away you know you're watching a human drama. And he drives to work, the radio guys are after him, his mom's telling him what he should do. It's not a great day for him. And he starts making mistakes; he doesn't have a lot of traction. But eventually it starts to happen, and I think the 12-hour day lends itself beautifully to this movie. I think (director) Ivan (Reitman) and the writers handled it just right.
Q: There's a lot of non-NFL draft stuff in the movie; there's a lot of personal stuff about his life. I'm sure that makes it kind of a fuller picture and makes it easier for you to portray the role.
A: Well I think it makes it easier for people to watch; otherwise, we might be looking at a documentary. And I think if you want to make a good sports story, I guess my advice would be: Don't put too much sports in it. Make it be about the moments in people's lives that have to deal with the sports world.
Q: What did you do or who did you talk to in order to prepare and research for this role?
A: I talked to a few GMs, but there wasn't anything that surprised me in what the script was, and I wasn't going to change it unless there were things in it that I thought were not authentic. I asked them fundamental questions, but, in truth, ESPN has taken us all, the last 25 years, into the locker room. I mean we've had, really, access now that we never had back in the '60s, and it's just only increased from what's going on in the combine, what's going on at Radio City Music Hall. I could tell we were on the right track, talking about the right things.
Q: How about the non-football aspects of the role, like the way Sonny talks. What goes into preparing for those sorts of things?
A: The language has to really reflect the NFL at that point. There's not two sets of language ... you live and eat that world. And he's being called at his home, he's being called in the car, and there's no office demeanor. It's like all day long. These are guys trying to gain advantage on each other, the best they can, inside information, so my character's consistent all the way through. He just has to deal with his mother; he has to deal with the kind of legacy of his father. There's a lot of, kind of, circumstances that are pressing in on him.
Q: There's a lot of realistic aspects to the movie. I know you shot at the Browns' headquarters and you shot at the NFL draft.
A: Yeah, Ivan went with about six cameras, and they gave us access. We had to dance around quite a bit, because even though they were friendly to us, they weren't waiting for us. We got (NFL Commissioner Roger) Goodell to participate and some others to participate, and that was really cool. I would not have done this movie had the NFL not given us their stamp of approval early on, because I simply wasn't gonna make a movie with teams that I didn't recognize the name and jerseys that I didn't recognize. That would have blown the deal for me.
Q: How about working with Arian Foster?
A: Well it's fun because you do one thing well and people think that maybe you're out of your league in another area, and I love to see that he doesn't feel that way, and I thought he came to it in the way you're supposed to, which is on time, and he was prepared. I think he wants to do more of it. Good for him.
Q: Now when you agree to a picture, you don't know which other actors are gonna be in it yet, you're just basing it on the scrip. Is that accurate?
A: Yeah, they kind of zero in on me first. I'm sure the director had some people in mind. He threw around some names, but they kind of start with me.
Q: How about if you just talk about a couple of the other characters in the movie, like Denis Leary, for example. What were you impressions of the way he played the coach of the Browns?
A: Denis really leaned into the part. He didn't write it, and so he said, "OK this is what you want me to do," and he just really embraced it. Very funny on the set for all of us. He has a real love of sports, and he played the guy that simply didn't agree with me, had his own way of doing things, was a guy that leaned heavily on his past success, and I remind him that that probably could be argued, which he doesn't want to hear any bit of it. So he was great for me and he was great for the movie.
Q: Does it make it more challenging for you when you're in a role where you're arguing with someone else in the cast constantly?
No, not really. It's funny, you know, we're having lunch together (laughs) and then we go on screen and just disagree with each other. No it doesn't. There's not that problem.
Q: How about Chadwick Boseman — what was it liking working with him and what were your impressions of him?
A: Well, I think Chadwick is really enjoying the moments of his career right now, and I think rightly so. I think he's choosing carefully the movies he's in and what he does and I think he really served us well. He really played that part of a middle linebacker with the right amount of arrogance that comes with an athlete and the right amount of emotion when he actually finds out what happens. Athletes go up and down that emotional roller coaster. People don't think so, but athletes can really suffer. I mean, they're maybe perceived as arrogant, but sometimes when the game is really on the line, where something very important is happening and there's unexpected loss or some kind victory that's just snatched out of the jaws of defeat, it brings men to little mud puddles. (Laughs.) It's part of the game, and I think Chadwick understood that, and he was really good for us.
Q: Did you get a chance to talk off the set or on the set when you weren't acting with some of the NFL talent that was in the movie?
A: A little bit. Some players and some management people. People really hang by a thread. Players and management, to be honest. You know, wWe're used to writing about the guys that hang around in the league, that have long careers. It's a unique thing that men are making decisions about other men's lives in a game (laughs) that really takes on almost a life and death consequence out there.
Q: You played some sports growing up in high school. How much of a sports fan are you?
A: I'm a big sports fan. What I'm not is a fanatic. I don't do fantasy football. I don't really need to watch the combine … I played all three sports, so there's a moment where I want to let go of football and dive in to basketball and then dive into baseball and then start all over again with football. I'm more interested in who's playing on Sunday, Sunday night, Thursday night. That's more interesting to me.
Q: So you don't regularly watch and follow sports or you do?
A: Oh, I do, but I don't follow baseball. I watch playoff baseball. I can't watch all the games. I watch all of football during the season. I catch every weekend, just about, unless I'm out of the country, so that I'm able to really follow and love it. I don't watch basketball, for the most part, till playoff basketball.
Q: So would you say football is your favorite sport?
It's my favorite sport to kind of watch on television, yeah.
Q: Do you have a favorite team?
No, once L.A. left I just really follow teams that play well. I just do. I like watching the better teams play.
Q: Is there a sports figure or a member of the sports industry that you admire?
No, but there's people who have conducted themselves really well in sports and outside of sports and that's a good list of people, so I don't want to start the list. Yeah, there's people that I think have handled themselves really well, that have dealt with a lot of kind of adversity and still hold themselves and conduct themselves both on the field and off the field in a cool way.