For Costner, the difficulties were both professional and personal


Is it possible to feel sympathy for Kevin Costner?

His "Waterworld" paycheck will be a minimum of $14 million. Days on location in Hawaii definitely were tough, but nights could not have been all bad in an $1,800-a-night villa.

But Mr. Costner definitely has endured a rough ride of late. Once considered a sure-fire moneymaker, he also became a somewhat self-appointed arbiter of motion picture rectitude, and such words as "integrity" are frequent in his conversation.

His last three films, high-minded efforts all ("A Perfect World," "Wyatt Earp," "The War"), went belly-up at the box office, after a string of hits that began with 1987's "No Way Out" and continued through 1992's "The Bodyguard." And, in the midst of making the most expensive and possibly most difficult movie in cinema history, he announced the end of his 16-year marriage.

"This has been the hardest year of my life," he says in an interview in Los Angeles, looking tan and relaxed, and sounding even more sincere than Hugh Grant. "I am no longer with Cindy, my partner since childhood. And I was working on this very tough picture. A series of events conspired to happen at the same time. I know it hurt some people that I had failed in my marriage. And the marriage was my own failure."

Even while the cameras were rolling, the star-producer found himself thinking of his private life. "You're there in the water, and you realize you're living a life of your own, and that life is full of loss and pain. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. But I tried not to get too self-absorbed. Otherwise, I would have wandered off a cliff.

"I concentrated on the film, and I had my kids with me as much as possible. And when I was alone, I thought a lot. I learned things on a personal level that will remain inside me. I'm still learning them. If you don't learn, you die on some level."

Although Kevin-bashing became a media pastime as the "Waterworld" budget grew and the Costner marriage dissolved, he seems to bear journalists no ill will.

"Fame within itself is considered a great cultural achievement in this country," he says. "I'm aggressive and ambitious, but I do believe in fair play. And I think the media knows that. I've had great things written about me, and things that were far from great. But the media didn't create me and can't destroy me. I still have my integrity, and I still have my children."

Also, he says, he still has his friends. He recalls a week when

some particularly damning articles appeared, presenting him as a pampered movie star whose demands could break a movie studio.

"I got calls from friends, giving me all sorts of encouragement. And I got friendly looks at a distance from complete strangers, which meant a lot to me. I do know that throughout the 'Waterworld' filming, I behaved professionally, the way I would want my son to behave."

The last sentence is said with the beguiling simplicity of a James Stewart or a Henry Fonda. After all the "Waterworld" hoopla, Mr. Costner still has the unforced appeal of an old-time movie star.

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