Writer/director Kevin Reynolds is no stranger to the downside of Hollywood. A movie lover, he abandoned a law career to study film at the University of Southern California, where producer Steven Spielberg helped turn his thesis project into a feature film. But the duo clashed over the picture's shape, and Spielberg took his name off the final product, giving Reynolds' promising debut a limited release. Years later, a similar feud with buddy Kevin Costner over the editing of Waterworld (1995) ended their decade-long friendship and marred Reynolds' career. It seems appropriate then, that the director's celebrated comeback film, The Count of Monte Cristo (2001), was about surviving the loss of one's innocence and getting a little revenge.
Raised in Texas, Reynolds is the oldest of four children. His father was a tenured psychology professor at Baylor University in Waco, and eventually became the school's vice president and then its chancellor. Reynolds grew interested in theater during high school, and began writing plays in college. He gave up his artistic aspirations to please his family by enrolling at Baylor's law school. Reynolds despised his studies, but believed he would be content once he began practicing law. After graduation, he became a lawyer in Austin, where he specialized in election law and political speechwriting and worked for future Texas governor Mark White. Reynolds was still dissatisfied, but his job offered him enough free time and extra money to enroll in an evening introductory filmmaking class at the University of Texas at Austin. Studying under veteran filmmakers like Edward Dmytrk, Reynolds made what he describes as "some truly horrid films," but learned a lot. He applied to the filmmaking program at the University of Southern California, and relocated to Los Angeles in 1979. At U.S.C., the screenplay for Reynolds' thesis film, Proof (1980), generated so much positive buzz that Steven Spielberg asked for a copy. Impressed, Spielberg offered to produce the project through his company, Amblin Entertainment. However, Reynolds' buddy film -- about five college graduates who take one last road trip together -- had a dark edge that was very un-Spielberg and the producer chose to disassociate himself from the film. Released as Fandango in 1985, the little-seen picture features a young Kevin Costner, who eventually became one of Reynolds' closest friends. In the midst of the controversy that surrounded Fandango, Reynolds made his screenwriting debut with John Milius' infamous Cold War drama, Red Dawn (1984). The picture, which stars Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and Lea Thompson as teenagers forced to defend the United States from a Communist invasion, is now a cult classic. After Fandango's disappointing release, Spielberg asked Reynolds to direct an installment of his television series Amazing Stories. Reynolds happily agreed and the episode, titled "You Gotta Believe Me," aired in 1986. In spring of 1987, Reynolds began work on his next and favorite film, The Beast (1988). Based on the play by William Mastrosimone about the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, the movie starred George Dzundza, Jason Patric, and Steven Bauer, and followed the crew of a wounded Soviet tank that is trailed across the desert by a team of freedom fighters. Reynolds then collaborated with friend Kevin Costner on the very popular Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), before co-writing and directing the box-office bomb Rapa Nui (1994), which stars Jason Scott Lee and Esai Morales. In 1993, Reynolds began work on Waterworld, the notoriously expensive post-apocalyptic film that is known for its rocky production and record-setting budget. Besides starring in the film, Costner served as producer and ghost director, overseeing Reynolds' every move. Tensions arose, and Reynolds walked off the project during postproduction, only three months before its expected release. Costner completed the film, which opened to scathing reviews and poor box-office returns. After the Waterworld fiasco, Reynolds chose to direct the smaller, more intimate film 187 (1997). Featuring Samuel L. Jackson as a teacher battling the United States inner-city school system, 187 was a critical and commercial flop. After a five-year hiatus, the director returned triumphantly with a literary adaptation, The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), starring James Caviezel and Guy Pearce. Prematurely dismissed by cynics as silly and outdated, the skillfully executed swashbuckler was a surprise hit, reinvigorating Reynolds' career.