Actor Kevin Costner on his new book, drama about a WW1 secret society

  • Soma Das, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Dec 25, 2015 14:58 IST
Kevin Costner, the actor who played Whitney Houston’s intense defender in The Bodyguard (1992) and gave a superlative performance as attorney Jim Garrison in JFK (1991), has turned author.

Kevin Costner, the actor who played Whitney Houston’s intense defender in The Bodyguard (1992) and gave a superlative performance as attorney Jim Garrison in JFK (1991), has turned author. The 60-year-old actor co-authored The Explorers Guild, Volume One: Passage to Shambhala, with author Jon Baird, and illustrator Rick Ross. Written partly as a novel, partly as a comic strip, the 750-pager is a witty adventure saga with World War I as its backdrop. Divided into five stories, it revolves around a secret society, in search of an ancient city named Shambhala. Excerpts from an interview:

Q) You originally suggested the idea as an animated film; how did it turn into a book?

When this project came to me, it was fairly shapeless. Jon Baird, with his brother Chris, and their friend Keith Quinn, had cobbled together concept art and story vignettes, and were invoking names like Kipling and Jules Verne. Our discussion was persuasive enough and I thought I might want to get involved.

With stories this wild and an archive of character art, we thought that some kind of serialised animation — a web-based series, for instance —might be a great place to start testing our concept. We went at this for the better part of a year. But there are some challenges in that format, which we didn’t feel up to at the time. When these efforts ran their course, Jon came to me again with a book proposal. I thought it best to switch gears.

Q) What inspired the idea for the book?

The Guild itself — this semi-secret society of adventurers, dedicated to filling in the blank spaces on our maps of the world — is loosely based on Manhattan’s Explorers Club (started in 1904, in New York, to promote field research). The idea sprang from a conversation between Jon and his friend Keith Quinn, whose wife profiled the Explorers Club. A fictionalised version of this group of men and women struck us as a great starting point.

We put nine years into the development of this book, the last four being locked-down page production and seemingly endless editing and refinement. It did help that this was a collaborative effort. But, as in any sort of writing, the real work is done alone at your desk. I don’t know if I’d want to repeat the experience — at least not right away.

Q) How much of it is real, and how much is fiction?

Our narrative takes off from certain known characters and points in history, and continues into worlds of pure fiction. So, our Ceylon Company will have much in common with the old East India Company, for instance; but its dissimilarities are just as significant.

We reference a real-life competition between (American engineer) George Westinghouse and (American inventor) Thomas Edison for subway contracts in New York. But in our history, Westinghouse seals off his disused tunnels, which are used by our characters as a secret transit system beneath the city.

Q) What made you self-fund the book?

We did release The Explorers Guild with the help of our partners at Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. But it’s true that I shouldered the project in 2006, and set Jon and Rick going on the book, years before we started looking around for help. This has always been my modus operandi when it comes to creative work. If I like an idea on a gut level, and think there’s an audience and a potential for commerce, I’ll act on it.

Time passes, windows close, ideas get diluted; and, really, you’ll never know if it’s safe to proceed. But I knew from our first meeting that I didn’t want this one to get away.

And I didn’t want Jon or Rick to have that worry that I’ve had so often in my career, that any minute someone was going to pull the plug on them.

Q) When will the next edition of the series be released? Do you hope to turn the book into a movie?

I guess by sub-titling this Volume One, we’ve hinted that there’s more where this came from. We have outlines for about five volumes and our hope is to dive back in as soon as we’ve seen Volume One off. And after we’ve grabbed a bit of rest. I’m fairly sure we’ll get to it before another nine years have passed.

I’ve felt from the start that there’s an excellent movie to be made out of this book, and enough material for films beyond that.

On re-reading the piece, I’ve been making notes about through-lines (characterisation) for a film. But it was important that the book not be a short-cut for a movie.

Q) Tell us about how you met the illustrator Rick Ross, and how he came on board.

Strangely enough, we found Rick through a traditional classified search. Jon placed an ad looking for artists who could work in the style of (American cartoonist) Winsor McCay. I paid a few of the candidates to produce audition pages from the text. As soon as Jon saw Rick’s page — which we’ve posted on social media (see box) — he knew he had found our guy.

Other hollywood celebs turned authors

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By Kunal Nayyar

The Big Bang Theory actor writes a witty and candid memoir of his growing up years, his journey to fame and finding love.


* Modern Romance: An Investigation (2015)

By Aziz Ansari

Ansari teams up with sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designs a research project, to give comic insight on modern romance.


* Wildflower (2015)

By Drew Barrymore

Her second memoir features essays that talk of her equation with co-stars and her mother and has interesting anecdotes from her life.


* Yes Please (2014)

By Amy Poehler

This is a humorous collection of stories, poetry, photographs, and advice drawn from the life and career of the Parks and Recreation actor.


* Why Not Me? (2015)

By Mindy Kaling

Through a collection of tongue-in-cheek essays, Kaling talks of finding a place in Hollywood despite her unconventional looks.

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