KEVIN Costner was eager to do ''Dances With Wolves,'' eager enough to put up $2.5 million of the budget himself.
''It cost $18 million,'' he said. ''Orion came up with the rest, but I did the film independently because I knew I wanted to direct, and I knew I wanted to do the film with subtitles. It was unrealistic to ask a studio to go along with all this, so I did it myself.''
Not bad for a man who has done only 11 movies. Not bad for a man who looks and talks like a very ordinary guy. This ordinary guy, however, at 35, has had some very good luck. He's had some losers. ''American Flyers'' and ''Fandango'' were two, but he's has more hits than misses, beginning with ''Silverado.'' Add that to ''The Untouchables,'' ''No Way Out,'' ''Bull Durham'' and ''Field of Dreams,'' and you've got some heavy credits.
Of course, there was ''Revenge,'' Costner's most recent film. It died a very quick death. Costner had wanted to direct the movie, but the studio wouldn't allow it.
''So I did 'Dances With Wolves,''' said Costner, who wanted to do the film because he has ''always been interested in the formation of this country. There is drama out there. It is difficult to imagine that wagon trains sometimes had to wait six days for buffalo to pass. That's a fact. It's recorded. I love the drama of what happened out there.''
Costner knew he was taking a chance, doing the film. ''I knew it was ambitious,'' he said. ''I knew I would die trying. I knew I was in a position to have my head handed to me, but I'm not in this business to fool myself. I had a specific image of what I wanted to do with the film, which, on the surface, didn't look very manageable with all those kids and animals. But I felt confident that it could be done.''
The movie is three hours in length. Costner would rather not have you describe it as ''long.''
''I don't think of it as long,'' he said. ''A movie has to unfold. It has to have its own length. Some movies are meant to be three hours long. Some are meant to be 10 minutes long. Some should never be made. We've learned to cut too much. One scene zaps to the other. I believe that the things that happen between those scenes are interesting to people, so long as they make sense.
''I have another hour or so of footage which I hope to add to the film for showing on television in a few years. Europe has already bought it.''
''Dances With Wolves'' presents Costner as an Army office who asks to be assigned to a frontier outpost because he wants to see it before it disappears. All alone, he is dogged by a wolf who is always around but will come only so close. On one of his forays, the Army man finds an injured white woman who seems to speak only Indian. He takes her back to the tribe that had raised her, and a friendship begins between the soldier and the tribesmen.
The film treats the Indians with fairness. It makes them look no better or worse than the whites, which is the way Costner wants it.
''I'm not in the message business,'' he said. ''I'm in the entertainment business. I did what the author wrote in his book. I agree with the sentiment of the book. The film is not political. There is no dark political objective. It was not designed to set men free. If the sentiment of the story translates into politics, I agree with it, but I was more in concert with the sentiment.''
He doesn't think the film is stacked against the white man. ''Most of the white men you meet, on a personal basis, are good people,'' he said.
In the book, the Army man is a humorless individual, precisely the sort of man who might want to live alone, with a wolf his only company.
''I guess I added a bit of humor,'' said Costner. ''I think he needed that, but there were no cheap jokes.''
Costner also added a legend at the close of the film, one that tells the audience that the film marks a time that has passed.
He was advised not to include the legend, but because he co-produced, he insisted it remain. ''Their attitude was that the film was complete without it,'' he said. ''They said 'We all know what happened.' Well, I disagreed.''
There won't be any sequels. ''I haven't done any sequels yet,'' said Costner. ''However, I might. I hear that 'Silverado 2' is being written, and if my friends ride again, I might ride with them.''
Costner's next film is a remake of ''Robin Hood,'' and he says he isn't worrying about following Errol Flynn in the role.
''I'll use an English accent,'' he said, ''a very slight one.''
''Dances With Wolves'' opens here tomorrow. It includes a thunderous buffalo sequence that is one of the highlights of the film.
''When we decided to do the film, we were told there were no buffaloes, but I had this blind thing about it,'' said Costner. ''I knew they were around somewhere, and we found a man who raises them. He had about 300 of them, and when we knew we had them, I knew I had the backbone of the movie.''
''Dances With Wolves'' opens here tomorrow.