Bitter rivalries, a tempestuous love affair and cold-blooded murder? It may sound like an episode of “Revenge,” but in reality it is a story based in fact when the History Channel presents its epic three-night miniseries, the “Hatfields & McCoys.”
Starring Kevin Costner as Devil Anse Hatfield and Bill Paxton as Randall McCoy, the “Hatfields & McCoys” us back in time to the Civil War and the beginnings of the legendary family feud that lasted well into the 20th Century — and nearly launched a war between Kentucky and West Virginia.
The story begins with Devil Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy. Close friends and Confederate soldiers in the same unit until near the end of the Civil War, they return to their neighboring homes — Hatfield in West Virginia, McCoy just across the Tug River border in Kentucky — to increasing misunderstandings and resentments that eventually explode into all-out warfare between the families.
As the hostilities escalate, so do the participants and soon friends and neighbors join the fight, bringing the two states to the brink of another Civil War. “Devil had 13 children and Randall had 13 children, and for a while in America that substantiated a farm,” Costner told Xfinity TV during a conference call to promote the miniseries. “But as we were approaching the end of the century, most of these kids should have been leaving for the big cities because these little valleys couldn’t support a clan of 70. But they didn’t in this instance, and they drank, they hung out, they got angry and they created old feuds. They’d tear the scabs off of old memories for their own purposes.”
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Despite the bad blood between the family, Randall’s daughter Roseanna (Lindsay Pulsipher) falls madly in love with Johnse Hatfield (Matt Barr), Devil Anse Hatfield’s oldest son, and the consequences are disastrous as the body count rises.
Rounding out the cast are Tom Berenger as Jim Vance, Powers Boothe as Wall Hatfield, Mare Winningham as SallyMcCoy, Noel Fisher as Cotton Top Mounts, Boyd Holbrook as Cap, Andrew Howard as Bad Frank Phillips, Jena Malone as the ruthless Nancy McCoy; Sarah Parish as Levicy Hatfield, and Ronan Vibert as Perry Cline. The “Hatfields & McCoys” premieres Monday, May 28 at 9 p.m. on History and continues on Tuesday and Wednesday at the same time, but before tuning in, read more of Costner has to say about the miniseries based on the U.S.’s most famous family feud.
Learn more about the Hatfields & McCoys here.
How did you decide to get involved with this project? I had been asked a variety of ways, like, “How much did you know about this story?,” and I guess really the truth is I probably knew a little bit more than the average bear. I like American history. And so I was aware of the participants and a lot of it. Obviously, I became more aware of it as I read this script and began doing my own research. So I got involved with it the way I do all the projects that I get involved with, I liked the writing.
Can you talk a little about the research and maybe what surprised you as you started to delve deeper into the character? I started to go a little heavier into the socio-economic issues that were going on in that time, because so often audiences try to overlay their own sensibilities about something that was happening in 1860s. We had come out of this terrible Civil War, and the repercussions of that lasted 50, 60 years, or more. So when we came out of the Civil War, there was incredible anger. And people started to think of you know Hatfield and McCoy, think of it as Randall McCoy and Devil Anse Hatfield. But I think the more you study, you begin to understand that the children and outside people were really the provocateurs of this feud that endured. So I try to go into actual human behavior instead of, again, putting my own sensibilities on it. I try to go back to that time. You know 500,000 people died in Civil War you know; 56,000 died in Vietnam. You know 7,000 have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. So you understand the magnitude of that time and what was overlaid there.
Were you someone who growing up always loved history? I guess I was always thrilled by it. I actually, when I saw “How the West Was Won” as a little boy. That probably put me on my way to long movies, because I didn’t even leave during the intermission. I just sat there. I was 7 years old, and listened to the overture and waited for the second half of it to play. And I remember seeing Jimmy Stewart in a canoe and I loved the idea of how the only possessions he had were in that boat. And so I went ahead and, even though I was born in the inner city — Compton, Calif. — I went ahead and built three canoes myself and ended up going down the same rivers that Lewis and Clark went down. So I guess history’s pretty thrilling for me, and the violence and the exploration and the resourcefulness that it actually took to cross America.
How historically accurate do you want a project like this to be because there’s the history and then there’s also what you need to do to tell a story and the dramatic license that might need to be taken? It wants to be and it should be [historically accurate], but when you make a movie there are going to be leaps and we had to make some. Sometimes you make them theatrically and sometimes you make them because nobody really knows. You kind of go, “Well, what did start it?” So you touch on a few things that could have started the feud — the Union soldier that was killed and what’s interesting to know is if we didn’t kill him, their side probably was going to because [emotions] ran so high against that kind of thing. Was it over a pig? So we have those things. There were times where we had to compress and so I never like to stick my neck so far out on the line and say, “This is absolutely authentic,” but its whole bent is towards authenticity.
Were you a fan of Western television like “Lonesome Dove” and do you feel pressure because this is a television miniseries to live up to something like “Lonesome Dove,” or do you think you’re able to set your own course with this movie? I think that you try to raise the bar on whatever you do because in this day of having to deal with a lot of reality TV people say that scripted is dying. I think you just have to try to create something that can live in people’s mind long after they see it. So, I start with the idea that I don’t want to make something that can just be dismissed the next day. That it’s maybe something you want to revisit. Maybe it’s something you want to share just the same way when you hear a great song or read a great book you go, “I’m going to tell somebody about this.” I think when you try to portray people’s lives, you try to make sure you don’t portray them as clowns and you give them a level of dignity. You don’t try to change their persona, but you try to understand that they had unique problems set in a century in which you don’t live.
This cast is such a great combination of veteran actors and also younger and newer actors. Do you enjoy that mixture of working with more long-term actors and newer actors and kind of getting that vibe from both sides? I’ve been on a few movies like this that had big casts like this, and this one really reminded me of some of the great times I’ve had during those other movies. You know the cast — the guys were handsome and the girls were pretty — they were all skilled and really, really dedicated. I think all the actors, if you want to call them veteran actors, you know they all try to search out material like this and hope that it comes along. It’s not easy to write something this long and be as detailed as it was. And so the fact that we ended up shooting in Romania brought the cast even closer together because we were all of us a long way from home, the language was a barrier for us, and sometimes the food and everything else. People really rallied around each other. And this group has managed to stay fairly close and still is pretty much in contact with each other long after this movie has been over, and that’s quite unusual.
You have worked with Kevin Reynolds on several films, “Fandango,” “Waterworld” and “Robin Hood.” How did he get on board with this? What is it about your collaborative process with him that works so well? I asked for Kevin to direct this movie, and that was something they looked at me and they could tell I was really serious about it. And they said, “Okay.” I think he has a very unusual eye, I think he’s an artist, and we had a really good script. Sometimes there’s people that just really know how to shoot, they’re just in love with their camera, but the story isn’t as powerful as all their camera moves. And this had a really great script, and I can’t emphasize that enough because that’s why I chose to do this. But then if you combine it with a very good cinematic style it can be an exciting offering. And I thought that Kevin would give us that.
With all of the varied roles you’ve played so far, is there was a particular character or two maybe that was especially close to your heart, and if so, why? Well, I’ve had the pleasure of playing in some movies that people continue to talk about. So that’s always really fun. But I guess if I have to boil it down like that, I really liked playing Billy Chapel in “For Love of the Game.” And I loved playing Charlie in “Open Range.” This part, though, I was so surprised at how deep I was actually able to go on this thing that I began to write a lot of music about it, about the era and this famous blood feud that occurred there. And we wrote the theme song for the movie. And we then wrote a concept album that will come out about a week before the movie comes out. It’s called Famous for Killing Each Other, and it’s all about this story. And it’s really, I think, a very cool record and one that I hope you listen to. And I’m as proud of it as anything I’ve ever done.
Some actors who have appeared in Westerns say the right hat, or the right boots, or the right gun helped them in getting a handle on their character. Did that apply to you in the role of Devil Anse? Yeah, the hat was a very big deal. I remember when I finally did put the hat on for the first time, I was in my room, and I noticed that there was this great light coming in and I saw my shadow. So I actually saw myself put the hat on, the one that I liked. And let’s be really clear. You know back in that time, part of the way hats were worn, the front of the hat was kind of flipped up. And you notice, if you ever wear a baseball hat and you kind flip the front of it up, it looks like your I.Q. drops by about 20 points. So I knew that that was kind of the way I was going to maybe wear the hat, but I had to not let it look corny, not let it look foolish. And there is a lot to the clothes, there is a lot to the pipe, there is a lot to the beard. That certainly lodges you in place and time.