The NFL officially pushed its annual players draft into May for the first time this year, but Draft Day is coming early for football fans and Browns fans in particular.



Draft Day, the story of Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner), general manager of the Browns, opens nationwide April 11. Director Ivan Reitman shot the film at various locations throughout Northeast Ohio.



It’s yet another in a string of sports-themed movies that Costner, a two-time Academy Award winner, has made in his long acting career.



They include baseball classics Bull Durham and Field of Dreams and the golf favorite Tin Cup. However, it represents Costner’s first foray into the genre not playing an athlete or former athlete at the center of the story, and more notably it’s his first football-related movie.



The movie presents the inner workings of a football team on perhaps the biggest day outside of the regular season, and a fact that the actor appreciated because he’s never wanted the action on the field to consume sports films in which he’s appeared.



Even For the Love of the Game, one of his baseball movies, which tells the story of a pitcher in the midst of pitching a perfect game at Yankee Stadium — the pinnacle of any hurler’s individual achievements — concentrates on pitcher Billy Chapel’s disintegrating personal life as he throws in that game rather than the minutiae of baseball. He says there’s a key to making a good sports film.



“I don’t want to come off like Yoda or a know-it-all, but I think probably a good thing to follow is don’t make too much sports action in it because that’s a thing that we all know really well,” Costner said during a Monday afternoon teleconference. “It’s hard to film. It’s filmed in a different way. If you’re going to create sports situations, you need to have people who look athletic.



“You know [Laurence] Olivier may have been considered the best actor in the world, but if he can’t throw a ball, he can’t act like he can. It’s a balletic movement. Sports movies are tricky and I wouldn’t do a sport I didn’t think I could do.”



The attraction to Draft Day stemmed from two things. Reitman placed an emphasis on authenticity with respect to the NFL. The league is notorious for protecting its brand and extremely picky as to with whom they conduct business.



“I wouldn’t have done this if the NFL wasn’t involved. The last thing I would want to do is a football movie with jerseys I don’t recognize [and] the names of teams that I don’t recognize,” Costner said. “For some reason, it just loses all of its appeal to me when there’s stuff that’s unrecognizable.”



He believed that his presence in the film’s cast made it easy to lend their brand name to the film.



“I do think they looked at my body of work and understood that I appreciate the vulgarity and poetry of [their] sport.”



Ultimately, he selected the film because it used the Browns and the NFL Draft to tell a familiar story to average movie fans.



“I think sports movies still have to be about guys and girls and why they get along, why they can’t and why they ultimately have to be together,” Costner said, “and we were able to dip effectively into the draft day and keep the tension of what was happening that day and avail it to what was really going on in his personal life.”



Ask any movie fan about a sports film set in Cleveland and Major League is mentioned more often than not. But those expecting the same classically goofy tone that director David Ward’s League produced should know that Draft Day isn’t going for those kinds of laughs. The humor comes organically from dramatic situations that Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph’s script produces.



“There was no kind of trying to plan a picture different from Major League,” Costner said. “There was no conscious effort to say Major League did this, let’s do this. This was a movie written completely independent of all movies and it just happened to be written really well.”



That being said, Costner has gone on the record with his belief that Draft Day holds the potential to reach League’s level and possibly equal Bull Durham, the quintessential look at life in the minor leagues for some baseball fans.



The film builds tension throughout this restricted span of time where Weaver confronts business and personal issues and how they’ve become intertwined in his life. For Costner, creating the antithesis of what’s expected in the genre is the draw.



“If we could [build tension successfully], I thought we could make a great movie just like I thought I could make a movie about not winning the U.S. Open [in Tin Cup] after getting a 12 on the last hole,” he said, “and most movies are about winning. I thought that had a chance to be a classic because it was flying in the face of what sports movies try to do all the time.”



Draft Day was originally slated to be about the Buffalo Bills and be filmed in that city, but financial considerations [Ohio film tax credits] allowed Reitman to move the production here, according to reports. Given the Browns’ record of futility since the team returned in 1999, the team, though a secondary consideration, represented a no-brainer choice.



Costner is familiar with the team’s image.



“I watched that organization since I was kind of little,” he said. “I remember watching Leroy Kelly run and I remember that team, so I’ve never kind of equated Cleveland with the joke it’s been made to be.”



He follows the NFL on Sundays and pays attention to the league in general. He mentions teams such as the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks, those that were down on their luck for years before evolving into juggernauts that won the Super Bowl.



However, Draft Day gave him a sense of what it means to be a Browns fan. He would love to see the organization get turned around like those others, he said, but for him it comes down to the fans.



“What they are is loyal. I love that they fill that stadium, so yes, I would like to see them win — just the way that I would love seeing the Saints win,” he said.



George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.