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'Draft Day': My behind-the-scenes experience with Kevin Costner

Editor's note: NFL Media's Jeff Darlington was one of four national sports reporters to visit the set of "Draft Day" during filming at the Cleveland Browns' training facility last year. He appears briefly in a scene with Kevin Costner near the end of the movie. With the film hitting theaters on April 11, here is a chronicling of Darlington's on-set experience.

BEREA, Ohio -- In his next scene, Kevin Costner had to do something that always leaves him feeling slightly uneasy. He was about to act out some lines on set of his upcoming movie, "Draft Day," but it was going to call for some spontaneity.

"I have to do some improvisation over here now," said Costner, surrounded by cameramen and actors inside the Cleveland Browns' indoor training facility last May. "And it's not really my specialty.

"I'm a little slower. Some people can memorize their scene the night before. I can't do that."

Instead, beginning three weeks before he started filming, Costner did something that might surprise you: He didn't just memorize his own lines -- he memorized everyone else's lines, too.

If there was one aspect of my weekend spent on the set of "Draft Day" that truly impressed me, it was probably Costner's approach. It turns out, making this movie actually had some similarities to the plot of the movie itself.

In the film, Costner assumes the role of Browns general manager, put in a position to make some quick decisions that could alter the direction of the organization. No doubt, that's a reality that will face 32 general managers next month during the real NFL draft.

However, like Costner's groundwork for this movie, the draft is far from a brief engagement. It requires preparing for every possibility. It requires scouting. And rehearsals. And dozens of sleepless nights. Just as Costner planned for weeks to be ready for the moment director Ivan Reitman screamed "action," general managers around the NFL are grinding away in anticipation of the moment Commissioner Roger Goodell officially opens the 2014 NFL Draft.

"Hopefully, we'll make a good movie," Costner said on set, not knowing at the time how the movie would look on the big screen. "We have a good (script). Will we stay the course? Will we get edgy? What will we do? How will it turn out?"

As difficult as it might be for some hardcore football fans to envision a movie starring Costner and Jennifer Garner actually having some NFL draft legitimacy, you might find yourself surprised.

No, I didn't get the sense Costner and Garner completely immersed themselves in the football landscape, like some of the great method actors of our time do for roles. But they did consult many football professionals. They did attempt to maintain the integrity of the NFL draft -- even if it also required some creative license at times.

"We're trying to run a fine line where we don't dumb it down but at the same time we don't lose the audience," Costner said last May. "Sometimes, it might seem a little over-simple in our script, and maybe if we gave it just a little more locker room guy talk. ... I'll try to step that up a little bit.

"But we don't go so deep that we're going to lose somebody. Sometimes, we hit it just right. Sometimes, it might feel a little too simple."

Costner might understand the magic of making a sports movie better than anyone. After all, Costner's previous sports flicks -- like "Field of Dreams," "For Love of the Game" and "Bull Durham" -- have managed to resonate for years. There's no question, as he proved during our on-set conversation, he is a fan of sports with great respect for competition.

"I can tell you stuff that might blow your mind," Costner said. "I remember my brother getting ready to go to Vietnam. I was very young ... 13 years old. We were going to this picnic, but O.J. (Simpson) was going to play (Joe) Namath, and I really wanted to see it. You remember all of those moments.

"The NFL can really mark your life in a lot of ways."

For the casual sports fan, perhaps, there is no reason to think beyond the surface of a sports movie. But for the hardcore football fan, for those who respect the intricacies and finer details of the sport (like the NFL draft), it is important for a movie like this to come with its share of authenticity. By spending some time with Costner, a man who seemingly takes himself just serious enough, I gained a better understanding of why his sports movies manage to appease the casual and the hardcore.

Like NFL general managers, he put in the work beforehand. But he also left ample room to maneuver when the lights turned on.

"Sports are romantic," Costner said. "You have to be a romantic to make it work."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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