Behind The Scenes

McFarland USA star Kevin Costner reveals dream sports TV job, “run-in” with Walt Disney

Kevin Costner in "MacFarland, USA" (Disney)
Actor Kevin Costner portrays high school cross country coach Jim White in McFarland, USA. (Disney)
“May I take a message for Mr. Weaver, Mr. Schefter?”

In the 2014 film “Draft Day,” Kevin Costner portrayed Sonny Weaver Jr. – a fictional GM of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns – tasked with making a critical first-round draft pick.

In one scene, Costner colorfully tells an assistant that he will not take a phone call from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Last week with Front Row, Costner recalled that scene and what his research told him about Schefter’s tenacity as a reporter.

“[Weaver’s] got to make a decision and [he] just can’t deal with Adam right now. ‘Tell Adam to stick it!’” Costner said.

“Schefter has to grind. It’s the nature of what he has to do. He has to play it fair because he’ll never get any more information if he doesn’t. It’s a very tough job, especially when he gets the information.”

Costner joked that the scene would not have worked substituting a legendary name more familiar to an older generation.

“We used a guy’s name who’s out there having to work the [NFL beat] now. We couldn’t say, ‘Tell [former ABC Sports commentator] Chris Schenkel to stick it!’”

If Kevin Costner wasn’t a two-time Oscar winning actor and filmmaker, he could see himself working for ESPN – but not as a SportsCenter anchor.

Costner would like to help Jon Gruden flank commentator Mike Tirico and work as a Monday Night Football analyst, a job he’s coveted ever since the franchise began in the early 1970s.

“I was really enamored with [MNF]. Sometimes, I would take a tape recorder and turn the TV sound off and try to do the game,” Costner said while visiting ESPN last week in advance of his Disney movie McFarland, USA.

“Then I would shut that [recorder] off and listen to [former MNF commentator] Frank Gifford and [analysts Don Meredith and Howard Cosell]. I flirted with the idea, even then.”

Costner, 60, displayed his love for sports commentary during several stops on his second ESPN Car Wash since April 2014. He admires fellow actors Billy Crystal and Ken Jeong for their stints as SportsCenter anchors but would prefer the game analyst gig.

In McFarland, USA, which premieres Friday, Costner plays coach Jim White. Beginning in the late 1980s, White helped mold the sons of farm workers in California’s Central Valley into a powerhouse cross country team. The film is based on a true story.

“When you give young people a chance, they sometimes can exceed beyond their wildest expectations,” Costner said regarding the film’s message. “They can go places that they never thought possible. In fact, this team did.”

That Costner is starring in his third Disney film – The Guardian and Open Range are the others – seems appropriate.

He remembers literally running into Walt Disney himself more than 50 years ago at Disneyland. A 4-year-old Costner enthusiastically jumped off the ride – perhaps it was the Rainbow Ridge Pack Mules – and darted directly into the knees of a very important person.

“I kind of buckled him,” said Costner, whose mother witnessed the encounter. “He asked me if I liked that ride I was just on and I told him I loved that ride.”

His film career seemingly has been a thrill ride.

Costner won two Academy Awards for the 1990 film “Dances With Wolves” and has played a myriad of roles. Still, he’s long been associated with starring in iconic sports films including “Field Of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Tin Cup.”

If he were to film a sequel to one of those movies, Costner would reprise his role as glib catcher Crash Davis in “Bull Durham.”

“Some of these players who never make it to the bigs, which made ‘Bull Durham’ so special, go on to become incredible coaches,” said Costner, who also said he “really loves” ESPN’s Films’ 30 for 30 documentaries.

So will we see a “Bull Durham” sequel? He leaves that to the film’s writer and director Ron Shelton.

“I would not insert myself into that [planning],” he said. “But I hear it’s going to be a musical.”

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