Kevin Costner enjoys a taste of country as 'CMT Artists of the Year' host

Kevin Costner is going country in a big way.

The Oscar-winning "Dances With Wolves" star and director is trying to inspire dances in a different way with his own music group, Modern West. That new role does even more to make Costner a fitting host to salute current stars of the genre in the Country Music Television special "CMT Artists of the Year 2010" Friday, Dec. 3.

"It's been a road that I've been on, for sure," Costner says of recording two albums and making live appearances with Modern West. "I was asked about three years ago to do something where CMT was concerned, and I begged off. It probably was a natural fit for them because of my celebrity, but it wasn't a fit for me. We've really done our music under the radar, and now we're starting to play around the world."

Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean and the Zac Brown Band are the specific "CMT Artists of the Year" honored in the 90-minute show taped in (where else?) Nashville. Many other country stars perform in tribute to them, and though the program might seem a good chance for Costner to showcase his own music, he's abstaining on that count.

"I wouldn't think that's appropriate," he explains. "A lot of times when you see somebody on a show like this, they do a song themselves or promote something, and I'm really shying away from that. I feel flattered to have been asked (to host), and I think it's the result of the way we've gone about our business."

Costner says CMT executive John Hamlin, an executive producer of the special, "was very earnest in his approach toward me. I said 'No' a couple of times, then we finally sat down, and he said, 'This is going to be a little different.' And I said, 'It has to be.' I didn't know if that would make it better, but at least, it had to be different."

Indeed, Costner notes that rather than "CMT Artists of the Year" being a traditional award show, "everybody in that audience probably will have had something to do with the (showcased) artists' success. How it probably plays for the artists is that there's a great sense of relief that there's no real competition. It's just a way of honoring how their efforts have gone to the top of the heap this particular year."

Though he admires those efforts, Costner says, "I'm not looking at anybody who's winning this award as an inspiration ... and that's really not a knock. People don't always want to put successful people's lives in reverse, but the way (the honorees) all got there was by getting up early, going to radio stations for interviews and just doing all the things it takes. That's nothing but work, so I can relate to all of them."

Still, Costner maintains that in tackling music himself, "I didn't have any kind of endgame. I had no strategy, other than to play live and connect with an audience in a very authentic way. That's grown pretty dramatically for us; we've played the Grand Ole Opry twice, and even though we've made a couple of records, that was more the band's desire. I didn't feel I needed my neck out there any farther than it already was."

While music has a bigger place in Costner's activities now, he stresses that he's far from done with the film career that also has yielded such enduring hits as "Field of Dreams," "Bull Durham," "The Bodyguard" and "The Untouchables."

"I've just been doing a lot of writing," he reports. "I plan on directing more, and I've been working on another Western. In a funny way, I'm trying to maybe not take as much control over my career as I have in the past. I have to see what wants to emerge.

"It's a fickle world out there, but I feel really strongly that what I do is commercial. It's not always straight ahead, but it's not avant-garde, either. If you add it up, you go, 'Hey, I really enjoyed that.' That's where I have to make my fundamental decisions about the work I'm willing to present."

Music also has become serious business for Costner, who reasons, "This can't be an experiment. If it is, keep it in your living room. My wife is the one who had the feeling that people would like our music. I realized the baggage that came with it (from his movie persona) and the criticism that might follow, but she said, 'You have not been afraid of anything.' We talked it through, and I studied what I was doing.

"It was the same thing as when I decided to direct: I thought I could," Costner adds. "I wasn't absolutely sure, but I had a good feeling that I could. When you're talking about people paying good money to see you, it can't just be a lark. If I don't feel it's possible, then I shouldn't do it."