Kevin Costner Talks Leaving ‘Yellowstone,’ Working With Whitney Houston, and Rumors About His Love Life During His Stern Show Debut

Actor and filmmaker sits down with Howard ahead of "Horizon: An American Saga"

June 18, 2024

From his timeless sports dramas and sweeping Westerns to cherished classics like “JFK,” “The Bodyguard,” and “The Untouchables,” moviegoers have been marveling at Kevin Costner’s award-winning work in film for decades. The 69-year-old actor, director, and Hollywood icon has brought an impressively diverse range of unforgettable characters and poignant stories to life, selling countless tickets in the process and cementing himself as one of the industry’s most bankable movie stars. But on Tuesday morning, while sitting down with Howard Stern ahead of his greatly anticipated new epic, “Horizon: An American Saga,” Kevin revealed his definition of success has more to do with making a film that stands the test of time than one that shatters box office records.

“What I’m usually most [concerned] about is not the money — I love the idea that somebody can visit my movie well beyond its opening weekend — I don’t care about that [other] shit,” Costner said.

Photo: Getty Images for SiriusXM

Kevin stars in and directs “Horizon,” which is part one of a four-part saga. The film is only his fourth directorial effort, following 2003’s “Open Range,” 1997’s “The Postman,” and his Oscar-winning 1990 debut “Dances With Wolves.”

“It was meaningful to me,” Kevin told Howard of his Best Director win for “Dances With Wolves.” “All it meant was I trusted my story.”

Kevin’s passion for storytelling was underscored several times during his candid conversation with Howard, which also covered everything from his training as a classical pianist to the best actors and biggest stars he’s ever worked with (Gene Hackman and Sean Connery, respectively). The entertainer said he first looks for a great script when choosing his projects — and indeed it was Taylor Sheridan’s “beautiful script” that drew him to “Yellowstone,” one of the biggest shows on television.

For five years, Costner starred on “Yellowstone” as the ferociously powerful rancher John Dutton. But he exited Paramount’s critically acclaimed neo-Western last year over scheduling concerns.

Howard, like so many “Yellowstone” fans, was desperate to learn if Kevin was coming back for the next batch of episodes.

“I’m not in it,” Costner told him, adding, “I was in it for five years. I guess I could be in it again if the planets wanted to line up — which means the storylines, the scripts, and I want to work more than once a year.”

“I love the show. I supported it,” he continued. “I’d like to go forward, but it has to be under a different set of circumstances.”

“Do you think this thing goes on without you?” Howard asked.

“I do … I really do believe it,” Costner said. “I never take the position: ‘Here’s my leverage. The show is no good without me.’ I don’t believe that for a fucking second. I believe it would be different.”

Kevin went on to reveal he had been in touch with Sheridan since his departure. “We both said what was important to us, and it doesn’t seem like we can [work things out],” Costner said, explaining that while he worked hard to bring “Yellowstone” to life he wasn’t ready to back down from his position. “My whole life has been about am I gonna stand tall even in some desperate situation where it doesn’t work for me,” he concluded.

Working With Whitney Houston in ‘The Bodyguard’

When Costner signed on to do 1992’s “The Bodyguard” — about a former secret service agent hired to protect a superstar pop diva — the choice was clear on who his co-star should be. “It could have been Michelle Pfeiffer, it could have been Julia Roberts … but when I looked at it, I thought, ‘No, it should be Whitney Houston,’” he told Howard of the starlet, who had at that point never been in a film. “For me, it was so easy to go, ‘Well this is the most beautiful girl, this is the one who can sing … this is the girl.’”

Costner, who had by then directed his share of actors in “Dances With Wolves,” was happy to coach Houston on set. “She didn’t really know how to do [her character’s first] line and I said, ‘We have to find the acid in you … the kind of diva moment in you,’” the actor recalled telling her. “I said, ‘If you’re uncertain about things, Whitney, just look at me and tell me and we will drift off into the corner and I’ll make this right for you.’”

It was also Kevin’s idea for Houston to start off her cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” a cappella — that version of course went on to be a smashing global success. For Costner, he thought it would help signify the love her character had for his. “I said, ‘If she’s going to sing a song, the way she can really show that she really loved me was she would do it without a single note and that would prove how brave she is,’” he revealed.

After Whitney’s tragic passing in 2012, her cousin Dionne Warwick asked Kevin to speak at her funeral. “I could tell her voice was broken — she was broken,” he remembered of his conversation with Warwick. “I Just said yes immediately because I knew it was hard on her.”

A ‘Bodyguard’ Sequel Was in the Works … With Princess Diana

A few years after “The Bodyguard,” Costner began working on a sequel and had a co-star in mind even more unlikely than Whitney Houston — Diana, Princess of Wales. Set up through Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, the courting of Diana happened just before her split from then-Prince Charles. “She was very sweet,” Kevin remembered of his conversation with Princess Diana before noting she inquired about and was open to a kissing scene. “I wasn’t going to make the full romance about her … but there was going to be a moment.”

Just as Kevin finished the script, Diana was killed in a car crash while trying to evade the paparazzi. “I never made that movie because I could not replace Princess Di,” he said.

Several years later, Diana’s son Prince William asked to meet the actor in Scotland. “I sat across from him and he looked at me and he said, ‘My mom fancied you,’” the actor remembered of their conversation. “It was the sweetest, gentlest thing.”

The Moment That Changed His Career

Looking back on his early career struggles, Kevin recalled constantly losing out on parts to stars like Timothy Hutton, Richard Gere, Nicolas Cage, and Sean Penn. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m not getting past these guys,’” he told Howard.

Instead of giving up on his dream, Costner doubled down and told his agent to send him all the scripts those more successful actors had passed on. “‘Fuck it, what are they turning down?’” he recalled thinking. That pile of scripts is where he stumbled across one of his first blockbusters, “No Way Out.”

To Kevin’s mind, the turning point in his career came a couple years before that when he landed the part in Lawrence Kasdan’s ensemble drama “The Big Chill.”  “When I got the job, and I was driving home on the freeway, I fucking knew — it had happened for me,” he told Howard. “I knew it was on when I left the audition, and I had the part”


When the time comes for Costner to ride off into the sunset, he will almost certainly be remembered as one of the finest Western actors of his generation. But that’s not to say the “Wyatt Earp” star hasn’t lost a few shootouts along the way. When trying to secure the rights to “Unforgiven,” for example, Kevin told Howard that fellow Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood proved quicker on the draw.

“For eight years I chased [‘Unforgiven’] — it was called ‘Whore’s Gold,’” Costner said of the project, which went on to win Best Picture in 1993. “That was a movie I wanted to do as a bookend to ‘Dances With Wolves.’”

Kevin also failed to secure a role in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning Holocaust drama “Schindler’s List.” “I went from wanting to direct it to wanting to act in it,” he told Howard, explaining he flew himself out to New York so he could screen test for Spielberg in the renowned director’s kitchen. “I probably put him in an incredibly awkward spot,” he added.

While Costner didn’t land the part, he doesn’t regret putting in all the effort. “In the end, I wasn’t the right guy for him … but I never felt bad about that,” he said, adding, “I wanted that, Howard, and I didn’t give a shit what anybody thought.”

“So, when actors talk to me … I say, ‘When you want something you go try for it,’” Kevin concluded. “‘You go and audition. You go humble yourself.’”

Did Kevin Play Any Foolish Games With Jewel?

Speaking of romance, rumors recently circulated about Kevin’s relationship with singer-songwriter and Stern Show regular Jewel. As Kevin explained to Howard, however, the rumors were nothing more than gossip.

“Jewel and I are friends — we’ve never gone out,” the star insisted. “She’s special, and I don’t want these rumors to ruin our friendship because that’s what we have.”

According to Kevin, he met the “Foolish Games” singer when both were invited to the island of English business magnate Richard Branson. “I got on a plane with nine people — Jewel was one of them,” he noted. “She was somebody I just had some tremendous conversations with.”

“Horizon: An American Saga” debuts Friday, June 28 in theaters.

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