Guardian, The with Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher

Even before the screenplay was completed, the filmmakers knew that the fate of the film would turn on being able to cast the right two actors as haunted veteran Ben Randall and high-energy newcomer Jake Fischerwho both antagonize and bring out the best in one another. Thats why they were so gratified when two of Hollywoods biggest stars immediately signed on: Oscar winner Kevin Costner and rising leading man Ashton Kutcher.

Kevin Costner

Costner was an early choice for director Andrew Davis. He is perfect for this role because he has that kind of masculine power as a leading man combined with being a sensitive human beingso he can play a guy who is not only tough and capable but also looking inward to see where his life is heading, he says.

For Costner, whose roles have ranged from his passion project Dances With Wolves to such blockbuster hits as No Way Out, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and The Bodyguard to the recent acclaimed drama The Upside of Anger, the script was hard to resist. The excitement of the opening and the moving nature of the ending absolutely grabbed me, he says.

Costner says it was the scripts mythic quality that drew him most of all. I think all of us would like to think if we were lost at sea, someone would come and find us, even when conditions couldnt be worse, Costner says. Thats a comforting feeling, which translates into a heroic or a romantic ideathe notion that someone will always come to the rescue. And I believe thats the awesome promise of the Rescue Swimmers, that when all the ports are shut, when other people wont go out, they will!

Theyre willing to put their lives on the line at any time, and I think screenwriter Ron Brinkerhoff did a great job of capturing the emotions and personalities behind that. From the beginning of the story to its riveting climactic conclusion, theres the sense of what its like to be that person who helps the scared and the lost to hold on.

The more he learned, the more impressed Costner was with the Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer program. These guys go out and risk their own lives for complete strangers, and thats something that only human beings do for one anotherits really one of those things that can make us proud of who we are, he says.

Costners character, Ben Randall, is someone who has always been there right on the frontlines of rescue missions, but now in the wake of a terrible tragedy, he has to face change on the horizon. Ben reminds me of one of those great athletes, like Michael Jordan, who keeps coming out of retirement because he still has the bug and he cant get rid of it, observes Tripp Vinson. Rescue is the only thing Ben knows, and he cant let it go and he cant move on with his life to the next chapteruntil he sees himself in this kid, Jake.

Adds Costner: Bens a lifer. They say you dont make Rescue Swimmers, you find them, and hes a part of that breed. Its far more than just a job for him, its a calling, but that has also taken its toll. So when we meet Ben, we also see a slightly bruised and broken character. Despite his flaws, Ben must step up to a new and unexpected missionpassing along his knowledge to a group of raw recruits who have no idea what they will experience ahead.

Bens not a natural teacher, Costner admits, so his methods are quite unorthodox. Hes faced with these cocky kids, and he tries to find ways to give them a strong sense of responsibility. The urge to knock some sense into his talented young students reaches its apex with Jake Fischer, whose strength as a swimmer is exceeded only by the power of his youthful confidence.

Costner enjoyed the opportunity in “The Guardian” to watch Ashton Kutcher bring the character of Jake full circlefrom tough kid to heroic manwith his own unique touches. Ashton has an ability to sense the dramatic opportunities that arent necessarily on the page, seize them and translate them into dramatic moments on film, thereby making the picture jump a level, Costner says of his co-star.

On top of the films psychological intensity came the physical challenges. Despite having trained for an exceptionally long list of intensely physical, action-oriented roles before, “The Guardian” jumped right into Costners list of the toughest. This film taxed all my physical abilities, admits Costner. Im 51 and these other guys in the movies are all in their 20s, so the training was a real labor of love for me.

For Costner, it was all worth it just to capture the experience of the Rescue Swimmers who jump in first, when someone needs help. I dont pretend for a second that I could do what they dobut I think this film feels very real and gives you a grasp and appreciation for who these guys are. It puts you in their place for an exhilarating moment, he says

As an award-winning director himself, Costner was especially impressed by Davis skill at integrating all the elements of such a demanding production. Andy was able to deliver a big action movie on a short schedule and a tight budget with many challenging circumstances. As a director, I couldnt have done what he did, offers Costner.

Ashton Kutcher

Like Costner, Ashton Kutcher was instantly compelled by the script for “The Guardian”–and saw that it offered an unusual opportunity. I was definitely looking to do something that was a total departure from what Ive done before, and this is definitely that, says Kutcher. I was also looking for the chance to work with actors who I look up to and who I could learn from. And this film not only offered many opportunities for me to learn and stretch myself, thats also what its aboutone generation learning from the one just ahead.

Kutcher also was inspired to dig deeper behind the exploits of the Rescue Swimmers. The guys in the Coast Guard are the kind of heroes who dont talk about themselves, notes the actor. And I hold very high regard for those kinds of people.

Kutcher threw himself with total devotion into the role, knowing he would need to undertake the same kind of grueling training Coast Guard swimmers really go through. If I was going to do a film about Rescue Swimmers and portray these kinds of heroes, I wanted to do them proud, he comments. I definitely didnt want to have somebody else come in and double for me.
I figured that these guys are saving lives for a living and for me, as an actor, to get into shape and be able to portray them is small potatoes and the least I could do.
The actor soon found himself, along with the rest of the cast, in a gut-wrenching, sweat-inducing boot camp that would test his resolve. The boot camp with the Aviation

Survival Technician teachers was an unforgettable experience, he says. Ive never been yelled at so much by someone I respect so much in my life, except maybe my parents. These guys rode us, and they rode us hard! In the actual A School style of training, the instructors never ask the students to do anything that they dont do. So if they yell at you, tell you to get down and do 40 or 50 push-ups, theyll do em right there with you. And so you just have the most enormous respect for them.

The ultimate result was that Kutcher was able to meet all the stringent requirements of a Coast Guard Swimmer well before the end of his trainingincluding tests of speed, strength and enduranceand his instructors noted that he seemed to have what it takes to join their ranks. Ironically, the biggest challenge for Kutcher in the beginning was his own lack of comfort in the water. I dont really like the water, he laughs. I mean if I get thrown in a pool, Im not going to drown, but this is a whole different kind of swimming. The hardest thing for me was simply diving in first thing every morning. Still, I was just happy to be in a wave tank, and not the open ocean, where if something went awry, they could have pulled me out.

Andrew Davis was very impressed with Kutchers devotion to the role. He did an amazing job preparing for this movie. We needed to find a spunky, worldly kid capable of taking on the mantle of a great Rescue Swimmerand thats exactly who Ashton was, says the director. I think he gained ten or fifteen pounds of pure muscle in his training.

Davis continues: Both Ashton and Kevin brought a lot to the table in terms of developing Ben and Jake. As a director in his own right, Kevins sense of timing and character has been an important part of the evolution of the script, and Ashton is very smart and a great improviser with a terrific sense of commitment.

Once on the set, working through risky sequences and emotional confrontations, Costner and Kutcher developed a tight bond that seemed to mirror that of their characters. Sums up producer Vinson: The real bonus in casting Kevin and Ashton is that they had such great chemistry together. Its probably the thing that most excited me about making this movie. I think theyre really going to surprise audiences.