Kevin Costner did a Western his own way with ‘Horizon’

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Kevin Costner plays Hayes Ellison in ‘Horizon.’
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Kevin Costner has been looking to make ‘Horizon: An American Saga‘ for over 20 years, but back in 2003, it was pitched as just one film—that no one wanted to make.

“I thought it was really good and well, they just weren’t that interested in it… And I thought, well good, I’m going to make four more,” Costner recalls. “I got a little stubborn, got a little bit pissy with everything and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to make this Western different.”

As a Western aficionado both in front of the screen and behind, Costner has had a chunk of his career spent in the genre with films like ‘Wyatt Earp’ and ‘Dances with Wolves’, with the latter earning seven Academy Awards in 1991.

With ‘Horizon’ and specifically Chapter 1 of the planned four-part series, the actor-writer-director decided to take the typical plot point of a Western town and really turn it on its head and show the vantage point of a diverse source of characters—like a family broken apart early on by tragedy, a caravan of settlers traveling out West, a Native population dealing with the white settlers invading their land, military men trying to create order within chaos, and other tales.

And to Costner, that’s what makes it relatable.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

“Yes, it’s a Western. Yes, it’s rough and it’s raw, but they’re not too different than us. They have different circumstances and they have to hold on when they’re out there… And it’s not easy,” he explains. “But in the midst of all of that, they will fall in love. They will fall out of love, they’ll be disappointed. They will have highs and lows. They will have children. And if they don’t put those children first, they will lose everything.”

Another facet to ‘Horizon’ is the ensemble provides a female perspective within the genre. We see it through different characters played by Sienna Miller, Abbey Lee, Jena Malone and others stepping into roles that are weaved throughout the three-hour run time of the feature.

“The women are the reason we kept going. The West doesn’t make it if the women don’t make it,” says Costner. “The women were the ones who suffered out there, but who also did the cleaning and the cooking and the raising. They basically worked themselves to death.”

You still get to see your fair share of Western chaps within the film though, with Costner playing one of them. His character in ‘Horizon,’ Hayes Ellison, comes in to town as a “loner” but under different circumstances ends up caring for a woman and a child on his way out. The character’s name also holds significance for Costner, whose 15-year-old son (named Hayes after the figure in the film) also made his acting debut in Part 1 early on in the plot.

Luke Williams, Sam Worthington, Owen Crow Shoe and Danny Huston are among some of the other big names peppered throughout the story, but what you find out quickly with ‘Horizon’ is just when you think you’ve met everyone who could possibly be in the film, someone else comes out of the woodwork. You need a lot of groundwork for four 3+ hour ventures, and luckily, Costner was prepared to do just that.

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Kevin Costner and Abbey Lee are pictured in ‘Horizon’. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The original concept for ‘Horizon’ actually came to the actor in 1988, but after spending time really honing in on the story with Jon Baird, the four-part endeavor was conceived.

“It took us about four years to get this and it became four movies because you want to invest with people and you want to see it on the big screen,” says Costner. “This isn’t just a movie where one person kills somebody, somebody kills his family, and so now he gets to kill people the rest of the movie and we know where he’s going to finally kill the bad guy last. This movie’s not about that. When you get to the fourth movie, you’re going to find out that a lot of what happened…and that the origin of this town was a lie.”

Something else that sets ‘Horizon’ apart for its director are the scenes that some may consider not the typical Western shoot-out moments, but instead, the instances of normal people just trying to survive—and what was at stake during the very early years of the country.

“That’s all just as interesting to me as a gunfight. And it all starts to add up and Part Two continues the story. And Three, I’m filming right now. It feeds into all this, and Four changes the way you think about things,” he explains.

At the end of Chapter 1, audiences will get a sneak peek in the form of a montaged preview of what Chapter 2 will hold, and it does continue the story for many of its characters (but as you can imagine, not all make it out alive.) It’s an ambitious project to say the least, and one Costner has put his own money into. But, it’s par for the course for the entertainer, and if the rest of the series pans out like its first feature, it’s not just a Western, but a story of love, loss, pain and hope wrapped up in a nuanced and very detailed package.

“I have a relationship with viewers I believe, and that’s not to do what everybody else does… it’s just do what I think is entertaining. And I think it’s a family movie, believe it or not. I feel like it’s a Father’s Day movie and I think it’s a turnaround and look at your husband and say, do you think Billy can see this? And he goes, yeah, I do. I actually think he should see it,” finishes Costner.

“The truth is, what you get out of the [end] montage is people just kept coming to the West. It didn’t stop them. The fact that somebody died, what are you going to do about it? You have to get tougher. You have to have more hope. And the West was built on hope and a promise.”

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Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Horizon: An American Saga’ Chapter 1 hits theaters June 28. Chapter 2 hits theaters Aug. 16.