March 18, 2002 12:00 PM

It was Valentine’s Day, but romance could wait: Kevin Costner wanted to slay a wild boar. On his final day of filming Dragonfly on Kauai, Hawaii, last year, Costner teamed up with Jeff Rivera, manager of a ranch on the island where he and his then-girlfriend, Christine Baumgartner, were staying, for the hunt. “When he was told about the local style”—tracking the pigs with dogs, then stepping in with a knife for the kill—”he was pretty excited,” says Rivera. But when four dogs cornered a 110-lb. animal, it was Rivera’s son who dispatched it; Costner was too far from the scene. “Kevin wanted to wait so he would have the honor of the kill,” explains Rivera, “but I didn’t want the dogs injured.”

At 47, Costner has had his share of disappointments. In the 11 years since he swept the Oscars with Dances with Wolves, the actor-director has found himself on a hard-to-stop skid thanks to such costly disappointments as 1995’s Waterworld and 1997’s The Postman. The supernatural romance Dragonfly, which earned less than $20 million after two weekends—and generally hostile reviews—hasn’t helped matters. Yet Costner remains upbeat. “I’m happy about the things I’ve done,” he told Cigar Aficionado in 2000. “Not always happy about the results, but happy about the decisions, because I made them myself. And I think that’s an important way to go through life.”

The course of his love life has also required some resilience. Costner and model Baumgartner, 27, recently split up after more than two years as a couple, ending his most serious romance since his 16-year marriage to college sweetheart Cindy Silva, now 45, crumbled amid reports of his womanizing in 1994. “I think it got too complicated,” says a friend of Costner’s. Baumgartner had once told friends she never expected to get involved in a relationship that came with a ready-made family. Indeed, Costner’s strongest bonds are with his children Anne, 16, Lily, 15, and Joe, 14, who often stay at his Hollywood Hills house or his 35-acre spread outside Aspen. (He and Cindy share custody.) “He’s always talking about his kids, how important they are to him,” says Dragonfly costar Jacob Vargas. “He’s proud of his daughter Lily, who plays basketball. During downtime he would call and ask about her game.”

He has also tried to make things right with his youngest child. In 1996 Costner acknowledged fathering Liam, now 5, only after the boy’s mother, Bridget Rooney, 39 (the socialite niece of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney), insisted on a paternity test. Costner, whose romance with Rooney had lasted several months, has since reportedly set up a sizable trust fund for Liam, and visits him “occasionally but not on a regular basis,” says a Rooney pal, noting that Rooney has relocated from Aspen to Palm Beach.

Back at the multiplex, movie audiences haven’t been visiting Costner as often as they used to. The California native, who studied business administration before trying movies, shot to fame with 1985’s Silverado, followed by crowd pleasers like 1988’s Bull Durham and ’89’s Field of Dreams. Wolves, his 1990 directorial debut, paid off with seven Oscars, and its handsome star became Hollywood’s hottest commodity. “It was like Babe Ruth at bat and pointing to the stands and hitting it over the fence,” says Frank Price, former chairman of Columbia and Universal Pictures.

So what happened? “Bad projects,” says Price. Amplified by a bad attitude, adds another studio exec. After Dances, Costner “tripped over his ego,” the executive says. “He became difficult to work with.” Friends see it differently. “People will say, ‘Oh, look how arrogant he is,'” says Demian Lichtenstein, who directed Costner in the 2001 stiff 3000 Miles to Graceland. “But it’s not arrogance. It’s staying true to your dream. He gives his all and never backs away from a fight.” Some in Hollywood believe that Costner, who earned a respectable $15 million for Dragonfly, could easily get back on his feet. “The right script might turn it around,” says Price.

Meanwhile, Costner is content doting on his kids, enjoying the single life at Aspen’s trendy bars (where “he’s a babe magnet,” says a local), playing golf or fishing with buddies. These days he’s happiest in the Rockies, far from the sometimes unflattering limelight. There, he recently told Denver’s KCNC TV, “I can take a look around, dream and feel really at peace.”

Samantha Miller

Alison Singh Gee and Frank Swertlow in Los Angeles, Vickie Bane in Aspen and Tim Ryan on Kauai

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