By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Kevin Costner is back in the saddle, brandishing a gun and sporting a grizzled beard.
It's nine years since "Open Range", his last Western movie, and Costner relished the chance to get back on a horse for work rather than riding for pleasure on his Colorado ranch.
"It's so much fun to dress up and go get those (bad) guys," laughed Costner in an interview with Reuters.
The Oscar-winning star plays Devil Anse Hatfield in the miniseries "Hatfields & McCoys" to be broadcast over three days, starting on Monday and marking U.S. television network the History Channel's first scripted project.
The three part, six-hour miniseries recounts the true story of one of America's most famous 19th Century feuds between the Hatfield and McCoy families.
Starting after the Civil War in the backwoods where West Virginia meets Kentucky, the bloody skirmishing between the two clans over timber rights, a pig and a pair of star-crossed lovers cost the lives of more than 15 people over 25 years.
"Hatfields & McCoys" marks a comeback of sorts for Costner, whose last six movies, including two horror films, performed poorly at box offices.
Costner, 57, who grew up watching classic Western movies, was well acquainted with the story of the rival families. But he said he was drawn to the role by the script.
"I am a really writer-oriented actor ... Just because I liked the idea of the history of the Hatfields and the McCoys, I wouldn't necessarily have done it on that basis. It's not enough me just liking American history, or the story, or the people," he said.
FAMOUS FOR KILLING EACH OTHER
Costner said modern viewers might see Hatfield and his rival Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton) and their extended families merely as hot-headed, bitter men and women bent on violence. But that's not how he approached the project.
"Both of these men engaged in hand-to-hand combat, they killed people, watched friends killed. So when they came out of the Civil War, they probably had memories they could never shake," he said. "I don't think they wanted to fight at all. I think they had to protect themselves and their families."
The Hatfield and McCoy feud sputtered out in 1888 but was officially ended only in 2003 when descendants of the two clans signed a symbolic truce.
Costner got so immersed in the story that it inspired him to write an album with his country rock band Modern West, which has been touring in North America and Europe the past few years.
One of his songs "Famous for Killing Each Other" is used in the miniseries.
"I am very proud of this record that will come out about a week after the TV series. It feels like my work and movies and music just rolled into each other," said the actor, who plays guitar for the band.
Costner, who won best director and best picture Oscar for his epic 1990 tale of a soldier who befriends Native Americans in "Dances With Wolves", said that 19th century rural America wasn't called the Wild West for nothing.
"It was dirty, it was simplistic and you had to live by your wits. That's an amazing thing to see, people in a survival mode, people on a wide open frontier. Basically, someone said if you are tough and smart and ruthless enough, you can have this. Never mind the people who were here before you," he said
Costner's movie career has been marked by more highs and lows than most Oscar winners following "Dances." He enjoyed mega-hits like "The Bodyguard" and costly flops such as "Waterworld." But one element runs through them all: they are a diverse group of movies and characters.
He follows "Hatfield & McCoys" with a role in upcoming 2013 Superman movie "Man of Steel" as the superhero's Earth father Jonathan Kent.
"You just do the things that you love and see if other people can like them too," he said philosophically. "I try to please myself. I don't try to anticipate what people want to see."
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)