Kevin Costner partly attributes his four-year break from the movie industry to becoming a father of three in his 50s. But now the Oscar-winner is back. He talks to John Hiscock about the pressures of parenthood, his new film and why he'll never consider a career in politics.
There are several very good reasons why Kevin Costner hasn't made a film for four years. During that time the 55-year-old Oscar-winner's wife has given birth to three babies, now aged three, one and six months and, he says, "It's noisy, really noisy".
Costner, who has three grown-up children from an earlier marriage and a teenage son from a liaison with another woman, admits he had his doubts about starting a second family when he married model Christine Baumgarten, almost 20 years his junior, six years ago.
"But they're really good children," he says, "and I see them making steps every day, and the one thing I pray for in life is not success but being able to raise my children and that nothing happens to me in the next 20 years.
"I want it to be me who tells them about the secrets, the beauty, the treachery and everything that is in life. I don't want them to learn from someone else."
As well as the babies, Costner has been busy with other projects: he has toured Europe singing with his band; he has written songs and scripts; and he has spent more than £20m of his own money developing a centrifuge machine that separates oil from water. He has testified several times to the US Congress about the technology, which was created by his brother and which has been judged so efficient that BP placed an order for 32 machines to help clean up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Now he is returning to the screen in a co-starring role with Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones in The Company Men, a topical story of three men who lose their jobs through cutbacks and are forced to redefine their lives.
"It asks how men deal with not being in the position they once held," says Costner. "What are we going to do without our golf club membership or our car? We have to get used to doing with less."
Financial hardship is not something Kevin Costner has had to deal with for a long time, although when he embarked on an acting career he had worked at times as a fisherman, a truck driver and a Hollywood tour guide.
He has given up the Los Angeles bachelor pad that was his home until he met Baumgarten, and the family now live with their two white Labradors on a 10-acre ranch overlooking the sea at Santa Barbara, 80 miles north of Los Angeles. There he rides horses and drives a tractor; it will be, he says, his last home.
"I've been very lucky with the movies, but I think essentially I'm a blue-collar kind of guy," he says. "I worked on commercial fishing boats and always thought that's what I'd do, but I've had enormous good luck. I have too much. I have the health of my children; I've had worldwide fame; I have a lot. When I travel the world, I see that people have very little, and I don't need everything I have."
It is almost 20 years since he won two Oscars for writing, producing and directing the western epic Dances With Wolves. Despite his other interests, producing and directing films is still very much on his mind, but his plans, like many other people's, have been adversely affected by the economy.
"I haven't worked for a really long time because I tend to make movies that aren't sequels, so I'm not exactly in vogue. I can make a movie for $6m, but most of the time it's going to be around $30m or $40m and Hollywood is very leery of movies that cost between $10m and $150m.
"I won't make a movie unless I have the ability to do it the way I want, so I hold my breath for a very long time. At this point in my life, I don't want to make a movie I don't want to make, or one that somehow gets manipulated in a way I don't feel comfortable with."
Although he famously began his movie career with a role in The Big Chill that ended up on the cutting-room floor, it was his role as Eliot Ness in The Untouchables, quickly followed by his legendary night-time limousine tryst with Sean Young in the 1987 thriller No Way Out, that established him as an A-list leading man and put him on the fast track to stardom. Since then, he has been in 40 films, some wildly successful and others that were box-office disasters.
He had a series of hits with JFK, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and The Bodyguard, but he also directed and starred in the huge flop The Postman, in which he played a postman still trying to deliver the mail in a war-ravaged future, and also starred in the critically mauled Waterworld and The War.
His two most successful films in the past decade have been Open Range, the western that he produced and directed, and the weepie Message in a Bottle.
"I'm not afraid to fail, and I'm not overly impressed with success," he says. "I've learned that failure doesn't kill you."
He went through a rocky period in his personal life when his marriage to childhood sweetheart Cindy Silva broke up in 1994 after 16 years. His divorce settlement reportedly cost him £50m. Two years later he acknowledged fathering a child, Liam, now 14, with Aspen socialite Bridget Rooney.
Although he is active and outspoken in environmental and liberal political causes, Costner has no illusions about the possibility of running for political office. "I've had a very colourful life, and I don't care for it to be brought up by an opponent," he says with a smile. "In American politics, if you can't defeat someone on the issues, you attack what they've done in their past, and, because I've lived a really full life, I wouldn't want to put myself in that position."
The Company Men opens on March 11