Oral History: Kevin Costner on Being Eliot Ness

by Jack Tewksbury April 24, 2019
Kevin Costner, Golden Globe winner, with director Brian DePalma, 1987

Kevin Costner, Golden Globe winner, with director Brian DePalma, 1987.

hfpa archives

For over 40 years the HFPA has recorded famous and celebrated actresses, actors and filmmakers. The world's largest collection of its kind - over 10,000  items- is now in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Margaret Herrick Library.

In this excerpt from our archives, Golden Globe winner Kevin Costner talks about the iconic and complicated Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness, who he portrayed in director Brian de Palma's The Untouchables, in 1987.

 

"During that time (the 1930s), Al Capone (...) had press on the payroll. The press was invited to his parties; the press was invited to his sessions. Eliot Ness did not include the press in his operations so it was obvious that he wasn’t going to get good press. I think to argue whether a man is good 50 years later ... you’re talking about people's opinions and I would say simply that people aren’t as good as we think they are and they’re certainly not as bad as we think they are. I think people are somewhere in the middle.

I knew there would be a comparison to Robert Stack’s Ness on television but in my mind, there wasn’t any comparison.  Simply, I would not have done the film if I did not think that it was one that stood the chance to be more exciting, it could be more explosive, that it could be original. And it was very different so, in my mind, there wasn’t a comparison. I knew there would be a comparison and it would be unfair to both. It’s difficult to compare two things because they’re very different in my mind. The characters were very different.”