With his new White House drama Thirteen Days (due Dec. 20), Kevin Costner hopes to teach audiences a lesson in heroism by showing how President John F. Kennedy averted war during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. But the Oscar winner acknowledges that many Americans are more likely to be interested in who the late president slept with.

"It does distress me, but that's our human nature," he tells TV Guide Online. Still, Costner's not one to be swayed by public opinion. There's no Marilyn Monroe in this JFK pic — just a straightforward war room drama co-produced by Costner and featuring the actor in the role of presidential aide Kenny O'Donnell. "I like reading about our leaders in this way. I don't like reading about who they slept with. I like men and women who, in the face of all odds, stand for something."

Costner, who's had his share of wild ups and downs at the box office, says ticket sales are not a primary concern when he's making a movie. "I care that the movie ultimately becomes what the movie should be," he says. "I have a vanity and an ego and I want the movie to do well, but I also love movies so much that I want a movie to be good five years from now and not just its opening weekend. Half the movies that you see that are really popular I would never share with my children. Not because they're bad movies — it's just that they're not very good movies.

"You kind of have to hold onto yourself in this business because there are many things that could distract you," he adds. "When people are telling you you're hot, that's just noise. And when they're telling you you're not, that's just noise. You have to be able to listen to your own heart."

Lately, Costner's been catching a lot of criticism over the violent scenes in his upcoming movie, 3,000 Miles to Graceland. "[Graceland] has some violence in it but it's a stylistic fun romp and I resent anybody going after it," he says. "I resent that it might catch a little more scrutiny or heat from the MPAA because there's some climate in Washington."

On the personal side, Costner says he has "finally" found a girlfriend in the wake of his messy divorce with his wife of 16 years, Cindy Silva. And it sounds like things are getting pretty serious between he and new flame Christine Baumgartner. "I had love once, and I didn't know if I was ever going to get it again," he says. "I just got lucky. It feels good."