Kevin Costner and Madeline Carroll Interview – SWING VOTE

     July 29, 2008

Written by Heather

The day before all the Comic Con madness, Disney opted to hold the press day for its new Kevin Costner picture, Swing Vote, about a go-nowhere, marginally-employed, trailer-park-living, alcoholic factory worker named Bud Johnson (Costner) who, thanks a computer glitch, winds up being the deciding vote in the national presidential election. Fresh-faced twelve-year-old actress Madeline Carroll plays his far more responsible daughter.

Costner and Carroll were paired for their press conference, and with good reason. Although she was quite comfortable in front of all of us, he still looked out for her—adjusting her microphone closer to her and gently putting his arm protectively on her back when she spoke. He is definitely a seasoned pro at this sort of thing—notice how he turns all the questions to what he wants to talk about.

Swing Vote opens Friday, August 1.

Question: So Kevin, when you’re playing a role that is kind of gruff for the little girl, in between scenes do you switch off or do you just keep in character?

Kevin Costner: Yeah, I absolutely switched off because we wanted to get it right and if we didn’t go rough enough, we talked about that. If we didn’t go nuanced enough, we talked about that. But we took two weeks to come to that place where we could be really natural with each other, where I could, so to speak, touch her bottom as her dad might. Or touch the top of her head, kiss the top of her head, pull her hair, for her to be able to slug me or wake up or raise her voice to me.

We had to at first find our own trust between each other because we’re strangers at first, but we bring our own technique. And Madeline brought her own wonderful amount of technique to her acting. Somebody who doesn’t really get credit, too, are her parents, who understood that this was what was going to have to happen and didn’t really question me, in a way. They really allowed us and gave her the confidence to know that she would know if everything was appropriate.

Question: Madeline, you did a fabulous job in this movie.

Madeline Carroll: Thank you.

Question: Being your first major film and being opposite Kevin Costner, what did you learn from him? Take away from him?

Carroll: Well, I learned so much while filming the movie. Just different things. He would test me a lot on set. He would drop his line out, and I would be waiting for him to say his line, he just wanted to see if I would say it. He showed me some many things on this tour as well. When people would pin him up with questions, I was thinking in my head, ‘How would he answer that?’ and he answered it completely perfectly. I’ve just learned so many different things from him. Whenever I watch movies, it doesn’t matter what it is, I try to I imagine somebody else doing the character. And when I tried to imagine somebody else playing Kevin, I couldn’t do it. He did so well.

Costner: (laughs) Well, thanks man.

Question: You had a lot of really emotional material you had to handle. How did you approach it?

Carroll: Even when I read the script I thought it was really sad. It was easy when I did the Mare Winningham scene because Mare Winningham made me cry because she was so good. It was such a blessing to be able to work with all these people. When we did that scene, everybody was crying—behind the monitor and everything. If you think about it, it’s really sad if your mom or your dad or somebody just rejected you right in your face, you would just cry. So it was a blessing.

Question: Kevin, when did you first really feel like your vote counted?

Costner: I think there’s a…a lot of us feel that it doesn’t and I can’t take myself out of that club. When you do the math you think, ‘I don’t matter.’ But that’s when we’re thinking selfishly. Mathematically I really don’t matter, but when you start to think of yourself as a whole, as a part of fabric of America, that’s when your vote does matter. When you’re isolated, yeah, you don’t. I’m not going to sit here and try to say something other than that. But when you think collectively as a whole, when we don’t participate that’s when we really matter. When we didn’t participate, we found a way, we let the whole scheme fall down because our democracy depends on it. The privilege we have, of lives lost in fighting for it, depends on it. When America moves together, we do matter. When we move together, people will cater to what our needs are. When we’re isolated, we don’t matter.

Question: Do you think it’s a plus or a minus that this movie is coming out in an election year?

Costner: I’ve had to debate that. I thought perhaps we would be dealing with voter fatigue by now and maybe people would just be going, ‘Enough already. I want to see another superhero. Get it up there as quick as you can.’ But, I think, I can’t see it as a negative now. I think maybe it could help us. We need help. We’re a $20 million movie existing out there among those tsunami movies. I mean, we have way more action than The Mummy (crowd laughs), and I just can’t understand why people aren’t talking about it.

Question: With your producer hat on, the title, “Swing Vote,” were there ever any thoughts about changing that with what it does imply?

Costner: ‘Swing Vote’? No, I actually didn’t. What do you mean ‘imply’?

Question: Give the public a movie that they perceive as being about current events right now and they stay away in droves.

Costner: I see what you’re saying. Nope, I didn’t make that leap at all. I didn’t really care that it’s an election year because if the movie hinged on it, I knew that I didn’t have a good movie. This movie I think could be relevant five years from now just because of its entertainment value, its comedy. But more importantly, it’s got an emotional bottom that I think is nice to revisit. I’ve talked to a lot of people, a lot of men actually told me they got choked up. I don’t think that was an experience most men—and I’m not excluding women, it’s just that sometimes men come and whisper it to me—that they didn’t expect that to happen. And I think American cinema is at its best when certain things happen, obviously of a positive nature, that you didn’t anticipate. In a way, that’s gettin’ your money’s worth.

Question: I understand that you wrote the speech at the end prior to the debate. I’m wondering what were the former drafts the writers had written? How much does your final version resemble them?

Costner: It was a collaborative thing. I insisted on it moving from where it was, but when I was able to explain to the writers what I was looking for, I did write on it as did they. The whole movie was just a good collaboration. It was interesting because I thought the razor edge they were able to ride—and I don’t mean that from a dramatic standpoint, I just thought it was interesting. They didn’t have to demonize either party to make their point. They were able to take hot button issues like immigration and gay rights and abortion, things where you can actually lose your friendship over a dinner table sometimes, and actually have you all laugh. You got it. You got what it was. It doesn’t change your stance, but you understand that nature of a political mind that to gain one vote might be willing to flip-flop themselves.

What was interesting is that they were able to capture that so gracefully, I think. When we got to that last speech, I thought a lot was riding on it. I felt it was a little bit too rah-rah, but was talking about ‘We can all be this, we can all be that.’ And I thought, ‘No, Bud’s got to look deeper into his life and realize that maybe he’s the enemy. That he’s the enemy of democracy. Complacency.’ And so we started to take away the words ‘we’ and Bud started to look inward at himself. We wanted to make sure he never out-stepped his own IQ, his own vocabulary. But I think in doing so, I think we really did something. I think we managed to, even the elitist, even the intellectual understood what Bud meant when he said, ‘We need a giant.’ It’s a thoughtful word. It’s a word that would not have been used by somebody who’s really going to lay it out for us. But when Bud says that maybe he’s the enemy, when Bud says we need people bigger than their speeches, I think he didn’t outstrip himself. And I think for Bud to understand and admit that he was embarrassed, it was much better that that speech be about what his feelings were, about what he was experiencing than suddenly him to become somebody else that he wasn’t capable of saying. And I think the triumph for Bud and his daughter was that that was him talking.

Question: Do you know who Bud voted for in the end?

Costner: No, I don’t. I think that’s the charm of the movie. We probably would have completely ruined our movie if he was to choose between those two men. Because I think again, Bud kind of came to the conclusion that an average man was going to have to choose between two men who would try to do something with their life, and to Bud he now realized that seemed a little unfair.

Question: So you didn’t even make it up in your mind for yourself?

Costner: No I didn’t, and there was no notion that we would ever give that to an audience.

Question: What is your opinion about flip-flopping politicians in real life?

Costner: It’s a complicated thing. What you start with is a human behavior. So while we comedically show that they’re willing to flip-flop, there’s not any of us that don’t really understand that if two men or women or whoever, competing for the biggest job in the free world, coming down to a single vote, it’s not unrealistic to think that they would in their deepest, darkest recesses be willing to flip-flop. It’s not unrealistic to think that those who are guiding them would say, ‘Look, just do this, okay? Just do it. We’ll fix it tomorrow. We’ll do the wrong thing today in order to do the right thing tomorrow.’ It’s a slippery slope, it’s something that we tell ourselves, maybe we even tell ourselves in our own personal lives. So that to me is a very real behavior.

What you would also hope if these were the two guys that were the cream rising to the top, you would also hope that they would catch themselves, too, at some point. So to show themselves at their weakest moment, at their most vulnerable, when those around them would challenge them to do this thing, and give them a thousand good reasons why they should is not unrealistic. It’s also hopeful to think that those two guys would say, ‘You know what? Stop talking to me. Stop putting words in my mouth. This is what I’m going to do.’ And we have to in our own deepest, darkest recesses hope that that’s the kind of men or women who are gonna lead us. Because they are going to find themselves in a room all by themselves with nobody watching, and are they going to make that same conclusion? I’m going to do the wrong thing today, and it will somehow make it right. Now, that’s not a bad thing. But if someone says, ‘I’m going to do the wrong thing today so I can get elected tomorrow,’ that’s where we’ve gotten into trouble because we have people who have made a career out of doing that and have somehow justified it.

Question: Madeline, what do you find most interesting about the current presidential campaign?

Carroll: What’s really interesting to me is there are so many people fighting over who’s going to win. It’s kind of scary to think about it, if they’re fighting over each party and people are disagreeing, it’s scary to think that we’re at some point going to have to come together and make a choice. And there’s only one president that’s going to be there, there’s not going to be two. I think it’s going to be really harsh when somebody gets elected because I think a lot of people are going to be angry, a lot of people are going to be happy either way it goes.

Question: Kevin, it seems to me that you really had your hands full when you were making this movie. You took a producer’s credit, you starred in it, you’re in a way parenting this young actress, and yet every night you’re playing with your band up ‘til 2 o’clock in the morning?

Costner: It’s a pretty cool life, isn’t it? (laughs)

Question: What’s up with that?

Costner: I think you forgot we financed it, too, Christine and myself. This movie wasn’t going to be made because it was determined that it didn’t have an upside economically in the foreign markets. And I wasn’t going to argue; our standing in the world community is such that it was argued ‘No one wants to see a movie about an American election’ because a lot of people aren’t very happy with us. But I had the same thing thrown at me with Bull Durham. It didn’t have an up-side. Field of Dreams didn’t have an up-side.

But I don’t think that’s reason enough to not make a movie, so I did wear a lot of hats and one of them was committing financially to making the movie just because I thought it had a chance to be classic if we ran it’s edge, whatever that edge was. I do try to make fun for myself. Performing is something that fills me up and when I’m being creative, I feel like I’m at my best.

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Question: What are you playing these days? I know in high school you were drumming. So what are you doing now?

Costner: I trained on a piano classically. I grew up in the church, so my grandma played the piano, my mom and her sister were in the choir, I was a 9-year-old wise man at Christmas. But I continued on, I took up the guitar so I play guitar and we write music. The band plays original tunes. That’s what makes it fun for me.

Question: Could you talk a little bit about using Modern West in the film?

Costner: That was a no-brainer for me because those guys would all work for scale, cheap. No one would ever give you any lip, how big their trailer was. I suddenly had the band right where I wanted ‘em, doing whatever I wanted. But they’re my friends, so, finding myself on three months of location, it’s nice to have friends around. They were only around for a week or so. They all wanted love scenes, they all wanted to be, you know… I just told them no! But it was originally written into the script, so it’s not really a vanity piece. I guess the only vanity was [director] Josh [Michael Stern] knew I had a band, and he was the one that actually wanted us to play a song in the movie. That was not originally scripted. We were always the Half Nelsons, some of us were always incarcerated, but the actual playing the song, we wrote that song for the movie.

Question: Madeline, what was the audition process like for you? Once you get to set was it more overwhelming or were you pretty comfortable once you got there?

Carroll: When I first got the lines for Swing Vote, I loved the script. I loved everything about it, I loved the character. I had just gotten back from New York, I was testing for another film and I didn’t get it. So I was just devastated and I was really upset. I went to the audition to Swing Vote and I was so happy I got even the chance to be there. They liked me a lot and they just had me come back. So I came back a couple of times and Josh had me improv a little bit and I did different things.

My mom and my dad and my brothers and I, we just kept praying and asking God to bless us with something good. Then we got a call. We were originally going to have to wait over the weekend because Kevin was going to look at my tape and everything, but he just signed off on me and he hadn’t even seen me. We just started thanking God and screaming and we were just so happy and grateful. So thank you, Kevin.

Question: And your first week on set?

Carroll: It was really fun because I didn’t know what everybody was going to be like. And when I met them, everybody was really nice. I was really happy. When I went on there, I just loved watching them all do their own thing. Each person in the film has a different appearance and they have different ways that they go about acting and about their job and everything. So it was cool seeing all the different ways and watching them. They’ve been around for a very long time, so it was nice to see them play something different.

Costner: Sometimes you think, ‘How can Madeline and I relate to each other?’ You know, age and everything else. We have one thing in common. I remember when my first break happened for me on The Big Chill. It’s this kind of thing where you feel like the wheels are in motion. And it’s a gigantic secret because there’s nobody like this around, that movie’s going to take a year to come out. In the instance of The Big Chill for me, I actually never appeared, obviously being cut out. But I knew at that moment it had happened for me.

I think Madeline had been doing some small parts, and doing commercials or doing whatever she’s doing. But this role was a really significant role, and I think Madeline, one reason why she’s as good as she is, is because she has an awareness of what’s in front of her. And she knew she had an opportunity to score in this movie. And you did, sweetheart.

Carroll: Thank you.

Question: Kevin, do you think your character Bud will inspire the American public to get out and vote?

Costner: Clearly Swing Vote’s not a public service announcement, but I think it might be better than that because it doesn’t preach, it doesn’t hit you over the head. Everyone one of who you sit in the dark and get to the end, and you can ask yourself a fundamental question. Because you’ve had this comedic ride, you’ve even maybe had a tear well up—because you know at it’s essence it’s about a man and his fifth grader set against the backdrop of politics. But interestingly enough when you get to that last speech that somebody brought up, and we were talking about why we worked so hard on it, you can ask yourself that fundamental question, ‘Am I Bud? Or am I a participant? And who am I going to be going forward?’ And it’s not going to change the world, but I feel good about what we tried to do.

Question: You and Kelsey [Grammer] are pretty much on opposite sides of the political spectrum. When you do this film, do you just agree to disagree?

Costner: I don’t know what side you think I’m on, and I’m not even sure what side Kelsey’s on. Is Kelsey a Republican? We never talked about that. You know, because I think there’s something really graceful about when Bud closes the curtain. Those hot button issues, we have the ability to vote in private and whoever thought of that was a genius. Because you’re exercising your duty, but you can also do that in private. But we did not engage in that process, and probably if we had, I might have learned something from Kelsey that I didn’t know. It was interesting, it didn’t get brought up.

Question: Madeline, do you have any new projects coming up?

Carroll: Yes, I do. I have something in September coming up and there’s a couple things that we’re trying to see if we’re going to do, so hopefully everything will work out.

Costner: (laughs)

Question: Kevin, The New Daughter, is that the next one for you?

Costner: Yeah, I finished The New Daughter. It’s a horror movie, you know one of those movies like ‘Why don’t you get out of the house if it’s so scary?’

Question: Are you the bad guy or the good guy?

Costner: I’m the good guy. But then again, I thought I was a good guy in Mr. Brooks, too. I’ll say this and it will sound odd: It’s very much like Field of Dreams—in the sense that we didn’t know if we could pull off Field of Dreams. We didn’t know if people were going to ultimately at the end of the day buy people coming out of the corn, have Burt Lancaster step over that line and not be able to go back, and be moved by that. Ask your father to play catch. We didn’t know. We thought that that was possible, we saw it in the writing.

In this particular movie, it is ‘Why don’t you get out of the house?’ There’s a reason why we don’t. Hopefully we show that, there’s a certain intellect to that. And then at the end, a very big thing happens. And I don’t know if we’re going to pull it off. I hope we do. But that’s what I like about movies, when they’re not a sure thing. Because if I were in the sure thing business, I sure would have done Dances III and Bodyguard III.

So I hope that we pull it off. It’s not my favorite genre because I don’t actually enjoy being scared in movies. I don’t like that feeling. There’s nothing, no rush at all, just the rush to get out. When I was six years old, I was at the theater and I saw Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and I had to have a nightlight on in my room for like 15 years. I was terrified. So I don’t like it, but we made one and hopefully we’ve made a little classic in that genre. I don’t know if we did, but that’s what we were trying to do.

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