Bull Durham writer Ron Shelton reveals that Kevin Costner found studio backing for the classic film at the last minute. Shelton has a new book titled The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham. In an exclusive excerpt from the book shared to The Ringer, Shelton says that he knew a way to get his script to a rising actor named Kevin Costner.
Thom Mount was the first person that Shelton shared the script with. His production deal was with Columbia Pictures, and Columbia hated the script. Shelton attempted to meet with people at Columbia, but no one was hearing his pleas. They agreed to let Mount keep the project in “turnaround,” which allowed them some time to find someone else to finance it.
Shelton says that Kevin Costner really enjoyed the script. Costner agreed to meet Shelton for lunch in L.A. In the excerpt from The Ringer, Shelton shares an exchange he had with Costner. He calls it “one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever heard from an actor.”
“Costner: I like the script. I want to audition for you.
Shelton: If you want the part, you got it already.
Costner: No, I want you to see if I can play baseball well enough.
Shelton: I said the part is yours.
Costner: You played professionally, I played in high school. I gotta pass the test.”
Shelton says that they downed a couple of vodka shots that Costner ordered and took off to a nearby batting cage. Costner was onboard for another project at the time, and Shelton had not secured a studio to finance or distribute Bull Durham. Orion Pictures passed. MGM refused to meet with Shelton. Universal granted a courtesy meeting, but didn’t bite. TriStar said no thanks.
How Kevin Costner Saved ‘Bull Durham’
Paramount passed on the movie, too. Ned Tanen said that the movie reminded him of Slap Shot, which he helped make, and it was a box office failure.
Kevin Costner agreed to ride along with Shelton as he only had a week left in his 30-day window to get it funded. No one would say “no” to Costner at the time because he was one of the hottest young stars in Hollywood. Shelton reveals that he learned years later that Costner’s agent was calling studios after they met and telling them that his client was attached to the other project.
They went back to TriStar. The studio hadn’t formally rejected. Kevin Costner got Shelton’s foot back in the door. There were three days left. Orion answered another call. Costner told them they had to read it that night because of the deadline.
Shelton was confident about the second TriStar meeting, but they passed. He had not put much faith in Orion.
But Orion bit. At the last possible moment. When they knew they had to make a quick decision or lose Kevin Costner, they pushed the classic baseball film through. It began shooting six weeks later. Check out the full chapter at The Ringer.