He was baffled when director Ariel Vromen (The Iceman) approached him about playing the part. "I don't know why they cast me. I kept looking in the mirror, questioning, 'Why me?' I'm a cowboy, I play baseball," laughs Costner. "I wouldn't have thought that I would be cast, because the last movie they saw me in was Draft Day. So was that enough to do it? It was an odd thing!"

Kevin Costner plays a hardened criminal in the movieKevin Costner plays a killer in the movie

Costner says he turned down the role two or three times, but Vromen was persistent. "We're so used to Kevin playing lovable, charming characters," Vromen says. "No one has ever seen Kevin play a role like this before, and that's exciting."

Vromen's tenacity won Costner over. "Eventually I looked in the mirror and I thought, 'You're not in Fandango anymore,'" says Costner, who is 61 but looks a decade younger. "I thought, 'I can play this guy. I can play this level of violence.'"

When he arrived in London, the make-up artists set out to create what he calls a "really severe look" with a partially shaved head and scars from the brain surgery that implants Jericho with the memories of a CIA operative (played by Ryan Reynolds). Of his makeover, Costner says, "Even my director wasn't sure. I think people have an impression of who I am, and that was not like anything they'd ever seen. I started feeling a little bit like Frankenstein!"

Criminal also has the distinction of being a reunion for three stars from the 1991 movie JFK, again putting Costner on-screen with Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones. "Well, we didn't really spend a lot of time thinking about that," Costner says. "You're talking about two world-class actors. Thank God, because we were thrown into some complicated scenes where we had to quickly understand what each other was doing and try to help each other and pull them off."

Looking forward, Costner would like to get back to directing. "There's a Western I want to do, and some English actors I'd like to come after," he says, without offering any names. "Europeans populated the West, and I hope when I approach some English actors they'll say yes and come play cowboy with me!"

Watch the trailer for Criminal: