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Kevin Costner talks 'The Highwaymen,' and setting the record straight on Bonnie and Clyde

In the new Netflix movie, Costner and Woody Harrelson play the Texas Rangers who killed the legendary gangster duo.

Kevin Costner attends the SXSW premiere of the

Kevin Costner attends the SXSW premiere of the Netflix original film "The Highwaymen" on March 10 in Austin, Texas.  Photo Credit: Getty Images for Netflix / Roger Kisby

There’s no question that Kevin Costner feels at home on the range.

We’ve seen him hit the frontier in films like “Silverado,” “Wyatt Earp” and, of course, “Dances With Wolves” (his directorial debut, which earned him two Oscars). He won an Emmy as Anderson Hatfield in The History Channel’s “Hatfields & McCoys,” and now stars in TV’s “Yellowstone.” And a guitar-strummin’ Costner and his band Modern West have toured the country, stopping at The Paramount in Huntington in 2014.

Now comes “The Highwaymen,” a new film also starring Woody Harrelson and launching on Netflix on Friday, March 29. Based on true events, the film (originally developed for Robert Redford and Paul Newman) tells the tale of aging Texas Rangers Frank Hamer (Costner) and Maney Gault (Harrelson), who come out of retirement to help track down the notorious bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Unlike Arthur Penn’s 1967 classic film about that duo (a glamorous take starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, and depicting Hamer as a villainous buffoon), this version — directed by “The Blind Side’s” John Lee Hancock — offers a more accurate portrait. 

Costner, 64, spoke by phone with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.

All those scenes in this film showing crowds gathered and cheering on Bonnie and Clyde — it felt oddly contemporary. I mean, if Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were robbing banks today, they’d be Instagram stars.

We see behavior like that [today], politically and everywhere else, where you realize that … anything goes.

This version offers a different view of Frank Hamer. I hear his widow sued Warner Bros. for defamation after the 1967 movie came out.

Yeah, and they settled. In [the old] version, Hamer was a combination of two characters — [Hamer] and another policeman they’d taken hostage for a while. You know, directors have to be very careful when they combine characters … especially in nonfiction. It’s made me more aware of that.

So in the ’67 film, when we see Bonnie and Clyde kidnap Hamer; that never happened.

He never came into contact with them until that final moment on the road. He’s maybe the most legendary Texas Ranger there was. [His widow] understood all the firefights he’d been in, all the people he’d [protected], how he’d stood his ground. For her to see him portrayed as a buffoon was beyond the pale. And she took them to task.

You must feel good about helping set the record straight.

Well, I got a beautiful letter this morning, from one of Hamer’s great-grandchildren. They go, we thought we were going to go watch a movie about our grandfather, and that’s not what we saw. We kind of saw our grandfather. It was a sweet letter. It was just something that this family desperately needed.

The chemistry between you and Woody was terrific, but I’m interested in your other co-star — that 1934 Ford, which you guys drive around in.

Well … I’m getting that car. (He laughs.) I have two cars from the movies. That car, and I have my '68 Mustang from “Bull Durham” — the Shelby Cobra. It’s not that I’m a car person, but it’s funny how you drilled down on that.

It felt like it was the third character in a buddy movie.

I felt the same thing.

What was it like to drive?

I fishtailed it a few times on my own. Listen, a lot of times when you’re an actor, you realize there are a lot of people who’d like to be doing what you get to do. You get to kiss the girl, you get to save the day, sometimes you get to drive the car. And if you get to drive it — DRIVE it.

The next film you’re about to shoot is “Let Him Go,” opposite Diane Lane, where you play a Montana sheriff. You’ve had success in other types of roles — in “JFK,” “The Bodyguard” and so on — but you always seem so right in stories set in the Midwest. Why do you feel so at home there?

I don’t know. I’ve always felt comfortable, I guess because I haven’t done a myriad of  sequels, so I can travel through time, put on a hat and feel like I’m there. But you know … I just … I’m trying to circle your question. It’s not like I have a great answer. My family is from Guymon, Oklahoma — they came out in the Dust Bowl. I was raised in California, but my life is rooted with Midwestern people.

You just seem to shine on the Plains.

Or a baseball field. (He laughs.)

Oh, sure. “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams” — you’re Mr. All-American.

It’s so funny — I might as well just do an apple-pie movie.

Just get it over with, right?

Just get it over with.                      

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