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Costner reflects on imperfections

Kevin Costner's voice is as flat and plain and American as a prairie. “I'm quintessentially American,” he said recently in Atlanta.

So are the most memorable of his roles. Cowboy, lawman, soldier, ballplayer: the American heroes pantheon, at least according to Hollywood, where Costner fits in comfortably whether he's hot or cold at the box office. (He's been both, repeatedly.)

In his new political comedy “Swing Vote,” he plays Bud Johnson, a ne'er-do-well slacking through life and doing a pretty poor job of raising his 12-year-old daughter. Through an unlikely series of events, a presidential election comes down to his one vote, and both candidates (Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper) descend on Bud to court his support.

Costner, 53, spoke recently about his career, the flaws in his movies and why tough guys puddle up over “Field of Dreams.”

Q. The line between likable goof on the road to redemption and bad father is a fine one sometimes. What did you think of Bud?

I liked him. Most of us are complex. Not everybody is living the way you live. He's living in a trailer, he's not a PTA dad, he's not a soccer dad. He doesn't ask for your forgiveness. But he loves his daughter. You can see that. Most people, if they have a downhill slide, need a wake-up call and they never get it. And he gets a wake-up call.

Q. Have you ever seen the lists of movies that make men cry? It's always “Field of Dreams” and “Brian's Song” at the top. More guys I know talk about “Field of Dreams,” and guys don't generally talk about movies.

That's it. “Field of Dreams” is about things that go unsaid, what's unsaid to your father. So when guys don't talk, it totally sucks them in, and there's a moment when they can't catch their breath. I screened it for my friends and my roommate from college couldn't come out of the bathroom, he was sobbing.

Q. Are you ever clicking through cable and you see a movie you've made, and you see it differently than you remember it?

I watched a little bit of “Open Range” and I couldn't remember directing it. OK, where am I gonna put the camera next? But would I do things different? I would do things different in “Dances (With Wolves).” All movies are pretty flawed. You end up having to turn them over sometimes before you'd like to. Sometimes it's not in my control. They're making a (release) date rather than making a statement.

Q. Your five greatest movies, the ones that will be in the lead of your obituary, were not franchise movies or No. 1 box-office movies.

“No Way Out” was a movie in turnaround. “Field of Dreams” was not gonna be made. “Bull Durham” was not gonna be made. “Dances” I know for sure was not gonna be made. “Tin Cup,” “JFK,” “Open Range,” they were problematic movies. I just put 'em out there. I don't think they're cutting-edge. I don't think they're avant-garde.

Q. Does the timing, coming out in August with a real election going on, hurt or help “Swing Vote”?

I don't know. I didn't time it. I don't know if voter fatigue is gonna be a problem or if it's good timing. All I can control is this movie is exactly what it is. Is this a perfect movie? I don't think so. But I think it's perfectly honest.