Like many Oliver Stone movies, JFK was extremely controversial when it was released in 1991. It presents an alternative theory to who was behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, other than it just being the ‘lone gunman’ Lee Harvey Oswald. It wasn’t easy to get the movie funded or made, and several big stars were wary of becoming involved, until Kevin Costner agreed to do it.
Kevin Costner plays the District Attorney of New Orleans – Jim Garrison – who was a hugely controversial (and largely discredited and distrusted) figure when the movie was being made. Garrison brought the only public prosecution for charges related to the assassination – against Clay Shaw (played by Tommy Lee Jones in the movie) – who was found not guilty of any involvement.
Shaw’s trial was the first time the Zapruder film was shown to members of the public, and it gave Garrison the chance to call into question the Warren Commission Report, which concluded that Oswald had acted alone. To this day, there are a large number of different conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of JFK, and Oliver Stone’s movie played a huge part in this.
Speaking at a screening of JFK at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica on August 26, 2023, Stone explained that getting Costner to star in the movie was crucial; “He [Costner] made the film happen because it cost $40 million in 1990 [a big budget]. The studio was very supportive, but they wanted one star, that’s all they asked. The head of CAA convinced him [Costner] to do it, as it was a scary role. Harrison Ford turned this down, he was terrified of it. You have to understand, there’s a risk here, once you play that role, you could be off limits, so there was fear. Kevin has guts, once he committed, he committed.” It would go onto make over $200 million worldwide.
Costner was one of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time, having starred in The Untouchables (1987), Bull Durham (1988), and Field of Dreams (1989). He also won multiple Oscars for Dances with Wolves (1990), then did Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), then he followed JFK with The Bodyguard (1992). Costner’s interest in Kennedy continued in the excellent Thirteen Days (2000), in which he plays JFK’s Chief of Staff Kenny O’Donnell during the Cuban missile crisis.