“Clearly Swing Vote isn't a public service announcement, but I think it might be better than that because it doesn't preach,” says Kevin Costner of his new comedy. If anything, he hopes the “comedic ride” will lead fans to ask the fundamental question, “Who am I going to be moving forward.”
Hopefully not like his character Bud, a beer swigging single dad who can’t keep a job. A charismatic loser who turns out to be the one person in America who can decide the election between President Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and his opponent Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper). With Bud’s apathetic attitude toward politics, it will take his precocious daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) to help steer him in the right direction.
Hollywood.com: Do you think it's a positive or negative that this movie is coming out in an election year?
I've had to debate that because I thought perhaps we'd be dealing with voter fatigue by now and maybe people just going, 'Enough already. I want to just 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 it might be able to help us.
HW: What's your real life opinion on today's politicians? These characters in the movie change their minds so much.
Look, 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, whomever, are competing for the biggest job in the free world and it 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.
HW: When did you first really feel like your vote counted?
Well, I think 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. That's when we're thinking, 'Yeah, I guess mathematically I don't really matter.' But when you start to think of yourself as a part of the whole, as a part of the fabric of America that's when you realize that your vote does matter.
HW: Bud is kind of a grump when it comes to his daughter. Is it easy to switch that off when you’re not filming?
Yeah, I absolutely switched off because we wanted to get it right and if we didn't go rough enough we talked about that…We took two weeks to kind of 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 and for her to be able to slug me or wake up or raise her voice to me. At first, we had to find our own trust between each other because we're strangers at first, but we bring our technique. Madeline brought a wonderful amount of technique to her acting.
HW: How much input did you have when it came to Bud’s speech at the end of the film?
The whole movie was just a good collaboration…When we got to that last speech I thought that a lot was riding on it. I felt that it was a little bit too rah rah. But it was talking about we all can be this and we can all be that, and I thought, 'No. Bud has to look deeper into his life and realize that maybe he's the enemy, that he's the enemy of democracy, complacency. So we started to take away the words 'we' and Bud started to look inward at himself. We wanted to make sure that he never kind of out stepped his own IQ, his own vocabulary.
HW: Madeline Carroll is just starting out in this business. Could you relate to her at all?
We have one thing that's really in common. I remember when my first big break happened to me. It was on The Big Chill and it's this kind of thing where you feel like the wheels are in motion and it's a gigantic secret because there's no one like this around, that movie is going to take a year to come out and in the instance of The Big Chill for me I actually never appeared. I was obviously cut out. But I knew at that moment that it had happened for me, and I think that Madeline had been doing smaller parts, some commercials or doing whatever she was doing, but this role was a really significant role. I think one of the reasons that Madeline's as good as she is, is because she has an awareness of what's in front of her. She knew that she had an opportunity to score in this movie, and you did.
HW: You were wearing multiple hats on this film including star and producer. Now, we here you were practicing with your band until 2 a.m. every night.
[Laughs] It's a pretty cool life, huh. I think you forgot that we financed it too…This movie wasn't going to be made because it was determined that it didn't have an upside economically in the foreign markets. I wasn't going to argue. Our standing in the world community is such, it was argued that 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 on Bull Durham. It didn't have an upside. Field of Dreams didn't have an upside. But I don't think that's reason enough to not make a movie. So I did wear a lot of hats…Performing [with my band] is something that fills me up and when I'm being creative I feel like I'm at my best.
HW: What are you playing these days?
I'm trained on the piano classically. I grew up in the church and so my grandma played the piano. My mom and her sister were in the choir. I was a 9 year old wise man every Christmas, but I continued on doing music. I took up the guitar so I play guitar and we write music. The band plays original tunes and that's what makes it fun for me.
HW: How did you get your band involved with the movie?
That was a no brainer for me because all the guys would work for scale. Cheap. No one would give you any lip about how big their trailer was. So I suddenly had the band right where I wanted them, doing whatever I wanted, but they're my friends so finding myself sometimes on location for three months 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 doing stuff. I just told them no [laughs]…We were always The Half Nelsons [in the script]. Some of us were always incarcerated, but the actual playing of a song – we wrote that song for the movie.
Swing Vote opens in theaters on Aug. 1, 2008