Kevin Costner Reflects on His 'Unusual,' Mostly 'Beautiful Life' and Iconic Career: 'I Listen to My Heart' (Exclusive)

In a new PEOPLE cover story, the Oscar-winning director and acting legend talks family, 40 years in Hollywood — and his new Western 'Horizon'

Kevin Costner is busy. Very busy.

For one, he's got back-to-back movies opening this summer — two ambitious installments of his Western epic Horizon: An American Saga, for which he's cowriter, director and star. A promotional tour has taken him from Las Vegas to Cannes, where Costner, 69, was moved nearly to tears in May by the crowd's 10-minute standing ovation.

But the top-priority gig at the end of some days? "I'm an Uber guy," says the Oscar-winning director and star of classics like The Untouchables, Dances with Wolves and Field of Dreams in this week's PEOPLE cover story.

Indeed, Costner, who tops the list of PEOPLE's 100 Reasons to Love America in the magazine's 2024 celebratory issue, often finds himself shuttling his three youngest kids, Cayden, 17, Hayes, 15, and Grace, 14, whom he shares with ex-wife Christine Baumgartner, between friends' houses, school, and volleyball practices.

Related: Kevin Costner Moved to Tears by 10-Minute Standing Ovation for Passion Project Horizon in Cannes: 'I’ll Never Forget This'

"They’re like shooting stars," says the dad of seven, including four adult kids, Annie, 40, Lily, 37, Joe, 36, and Liam, 26. "My life is driving up and down the freeway just trying to get the children where they think they need to be... but that’s part of the job."

Costner’s other job is its own high-wire act. On June 28, the first of his planned four-part Horizon saga hits screens, to be followed by chapter 2 on Aug. 16. Though the Compton, Calif., native fronted $38 million of his own money and mortgaged property to help fund the passion project, he's undaunted. As has long been his way, Costner's excited to be all in on something he deeply believes in, come what may.

<p><a href="" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Eric Ray Davidson</a></p> Kevin Costner

Eric Ray Davidson

Kevin Costner

"I’ve had an incredibly unusual, and for the most part, beautiful life," he says, considering his seven decades with gratitude.

Reflecting on how he’s turned bold and sometimes risky creative choices into an enduring four-decade career, Costner notes an unwavering work ethic was instilled early on. "My father would never let another man outwork him", the star says, adding that his own imagination always "ran and ran and ran."

A late bloomer, Costner didn't excel in school and felt "lost" as he toiled as a marketing major at Cal State Fullerton. "The confidence came when I listened to my heart, right at the very end of college where I thought, 'I’m not going to be worried about what people think anymore,'" he says, recalling the pure excitement he felt ahead of his first audition, for a part in Rumpelstiltskin.

"There was no guarantee of success, but a huge weight came off my shoulders. I started going into Hollywood every day and I would park my little camper next to a phone booth and kind of sleep in a fetal position. I knew no one."

Related: Kevin Costner Reminisces on His 1985 'Career-Making Movie' Silverado as He Teases His Next Western Horizon

<p>Courtesy Kevin Costner</p> Kevin Costner and his kids, from left to right: Lily, Joe, Grace, Hayes, Annie and Cayden

Courtesy Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner and his kids, from left to right: Lily, Joe, Grace, Hayes, Annie and Cayden

A string of early hits — Silverado, The Untouchables, Bull Durham and Field of Dreams — quickly solidified Costner as a leading man, while his directorial debut, Dances with Wolves, won him Best Director and Best Picture at the 1991 Oscars.

That accolade only helped fuel his passion, and underscored that he could trust an audience, and himself. "It was a nice moment," he says. "Everybody probably processes it differently. [Some people] say, 'I can do whatever I want now.' I came out feeling I just have to do better."

Along the way, Costner found unwavering support in his family and calls his kids the "anchor" of his life. "They know that I have this chosen work, but honestly, I'm really clear about where my responsibility absolutely lies at the end of the day," he says.

Still, even as he navigated his recent divorce from Baumgartner, the commitment to Horizon also loomed large. "So many things were in motion," he says. "I had this money out there, these movies were committed, 300 or 400 people working on it."

Related: That's Kevin Costner's Son Hayes, 15, Making His Acting Debut in the Horizon: An American Saga Trailer

<p>Warner Bros. </p> Horizon: An American Saga

Warner Bros.

Horizon: An American Saga

He adds of his balancing act: "If you're in a storm and you're the only one up on deck holding the wheel, and you're just trying to get the rain and salt water out of your eyes, you couldn't let go of the wheel. I just haven't been able to let go of the wheel."

Now, as he finally brings to the screen the sweeping story he’s kicked around for more than 30 years, Costner has no regrets. "The gamble is ignoring my heart and ignoring it whispering to me," he says.

"What I can say is I've had an amazing life. I've been bruised, but I’ve had an amazing life and I'm grateful for that."

For more of Kevin Costner’s exclusive interview and to read the rest of PEOPLE’s Reasons to Love America issue, pick up the magazine, on stands Friday.

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