I had never really known who John Dunbar was. Perhaps because the name itself had no meaning. But as I heard my Sioux name being called over and over (Dances with Wolves), I knew for the first time who I really was.” — John Dunbar, in the film Dances with Wolves

How to Be a Famous Actor

By the early 1990s, the Western genre was all but dead in Hollywood. Actor Kevin Costner had met a man in an acting class named Michael Blake who had pitched him an idea for a movie Costner told him he’d have more chance pitching a book. Broke and couch surfing from friend to friend, Blake wrote the book about the Plains Indians and a cavalry lieutenant. The book was rejected by over thirty publishers before it was published. Blake, who at various times stayed with Costner, tried to get him to read the book, but he wouldn’t. After overstaying his welcome, he eventually left and ended up washing dishes at a Chinese restaurant in Phoenix for minimum wage. Blake continued to pester Costner for financial help and to read his book. When Costner finally relented, he was stunned. “It was the clearest idea for a movie that I’d ever read,” Costner recounted.

Costner wanted to make the movie, but no studio would finance a $15-million, three-hour western epic, where half the dialogue was not even in English. Eventually, he secured overseas funding and later Orion came in for over half. The film went way over budget and Costner funded the shortfall from his own pocket.

The book no one wanted to publish became a film no one wanted to fund and eventually one no one wanted to direct. After being turned down by three of the biggest names in Hollywood, who wanted wholesale changes Costner would not approve, Costner decided to direct the movie himself.

Once shooting on location began, with weather ranging from twenty to one hundred degrees on a set that included thirty-five hundred buffalo, three dozen teepees, three hundred horses, two wolves, and an army of Native American extras, things were challenging at best.

Hearing about the film’s production difficulties, budget problems, and countless delays, many in Hollywood started to call the risky project “Costner’s Last Stand,” while others dubbed it “Kevin’s Gate,” in reference to the wildly over-budget Western flop Heaven’s Gate.

In the end, Costner was vindicated. Dances with Wolves won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and grossed more than $425 million, the highest-grossing western ever! Costner made over $40 million for his trouble, and the Sioux made him an honorary member of their tribe. Surely one of the few white men to enjoy that honor.

John Wayne had similar struggles to get his movie, The Alamo, made and was all but broke when it finished, having financed much of the filming himself. And Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky is the stuff of legends.

Almost all famous people have the character trait of persistence since almost no one gets famous overnight. They have the determination needed to see a project through to the end, no matter what. They know Murphy’s Law will rear its ugly head when least expected or invited. They know that there will be setbacks, curveballs, and sometimes total failure along the road to fame. Because they understand and accept these facts, they are better equipped mentally and physically to handle adversity. They recover quicker from setbacks. They acknowledge lost battles when they occur and get back on track with the task at hand —winning the war.

Now remember, things look bad, and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ’Cause if you lose your head and you give up, then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.” – Clint Eastwood as The Outlaw Josey Wales

Fame Book