The Actor Spotlight: Val Kilmer
Notorious for not playing the game of schmoozing and for picking unconventional movie roles, Val Kilmer has raised eyebrows as often for what he has done as for what he has chosen not to do. At times, he has been presented as a movie star but in truth he’s clearly much more comfortable as an actor. He addressed a packed audience on Saturday, April 15th at C2E2 in Chicago and gamely fielded questions about his filmography. When asked his criteria for choosing a role, he cited its interest to him as the most important factor, emphasizing that he rarely gave much consideration to what the film may do for his career (with one notable exception, explained momentarily).
Kilmer’s agent told him not to do it, “because …had just done Batman so why play the third lead? I said, ‘You don’t think I should be on the poster between DeNiro and Pacino?’ He said, ‘No, why?’” Kilmer threw up his hands. I think it’s safe to say he knew better than his agent which was the right choice.
“…I ruined more takes during Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang… because Robert Downey is so smart and for him to be so dumb was so pleasing! He loves to talk, and he couldn’t talk back and when he did, I got to say, like, fifty times a day, ‘Shut up.’ ‘Shut your face.’ ‘Shut up.’”
Kilmer obliged us by speaking the lines, “I’ll be your Huckleberry” and “I’m your Huckleberry,” but his finest performance to date was not the subject of much discussion. He briefly mentioned having lost his dad shortly before making the film, and how that helped him connect with Jim Carrey during the filming of Batman Forever, as he went through the death of his own father.
On Real Genius:
Kilmer has apparently pitched the idea for a sequel (crediting the idea to someone else whose name I wasn’t able to catch): “…he’d be a teacher now and be really rich from Velcro or something and he’d be at another college now, but now he’s a teacher.” When the audience applauded and expressed support for the sequel, he beckoned, “Write it, and I’ll do it.”
[When told that he said in the commentary track, ‘To rely on profanity is embarrassing’] “That sounds like a David Mamet quote. ‘To rely on profanity is embarrassing?’ [He pondered.] I’m sure that’s true. Sounds very intelligent.” Kilmer also emphasized that, while he often has ideas of his own he likes to express, that he kept mum while working with the meticulous Mamet. Everything about the film was so specifically planned that there was no real room for any experimentation. The great directors, Kilmer testified, plan out “everything in the frame” from start to finish. Mamet is such a director.
On The Doors:
“…That was challenging because people kind of thought they knew what he looked like or what he was… He only looked like that for about one year. He was really trying hard to look like the bag man he ended up looking like in just a couple years. I mean…pretty rough.”
“Lions don’t crawl,” so they had to find a way to get the lion to “act” injured. Eventually, it was decided to use a clear sheet of plexi-glass to coerce the lion to the ground and then bait her with meat. Kilmer raised the question, “Aren’t you basically training them to be even better at what they do? What happens then?” [paraphrased] No one had an answer for him. So in theory, the shooting of this movie may have spawned a new stage of hunting evolution for lions. Yay for that, right?
Incidentally, the actual Tsavo lions are preserved and displayed at the Field Museum in Chicago. When asked about them, Mr. Kilmer said he had visited the museum and seen them. It is well worth the visit should you be, or find yourself in, the Chicago area.
Kilmer likes doing voice work, and this particularly as he got to voice both Moses and God.
Kilmer thanked “the four people” present who had seen the film, and several times noted that he really wanted to do more comedic work but that he couldn’t get the job offers. It underscores the tunnel vision of studio executives and casting agents because his sense of comedic timing is quite evident even in his dramatic roles. (How could anyone make it through Tombstone and not think Val Kilmer one of the funniest guys working?) If the C2E2 panel was any indication, a Val Kilmer comedy would go over very well.
On The Saint:
Having been to Russia, Kilmer had learned of a large population of African professionals who had traveled to Russia for their education but found themselves unable to afford to leave to return home. Consequently, there were all these African doctors and scholars waiting tables in Russia, and he thought it would be clever to have The Saint appear in one scene in disguise as one of these displaced professionals. The makeup test, however, proved highly dubious and it was scrapped.
Wasn’t actually discussed, but if I had managed to bring it up, I would have noted that this was the first R-rated movie I saw in a theater. My friend’s family was very in touch with its Native American roots and was part of the tribe that had worked on the film. My friend pointed out different individuals throughout the movie while we watched it. It’s always had a special place in my mind for this reason. I ate Junior Mints and drank Sprite.
On Batman Forever:
On the Bat-suit: “When you wear the suit, it’s like 45 pounds or something. It takes an hour to get dressed and you can’t do it by yourself. Then you can’t hear, because there’s really no holes in it. You can’t turn your head. You can’t go to the bathroom by yourself. You fall over actually quite easily. These things are always on your mind because when you have to say to someone, ‘I have to go to the bathroom,’ it’s weird. I knew it was like something, but nothing that I’ve ever experienced… But then I realized one day, ‘Oh! This is being old!’”
[On working with Marlon Brando]: “I used to smoke and he would be like, ‘What are you doing to your body?’ And I was like, ‘You just ate a chicken… and now you’re halfway through the Haagen-Dazs.’ [As Brando, wagging his finger] ‘We’re talking about you’.”
[He also shared how Marlon Brando had a rare ability to analyze someone’s mannerisms and behavior and discern a lot of truly insightful things about a person that “the rest of us mortals” can’t see, but in the spirit of the lighthearted Q&A, I thought the recitation of teasing a more fitting representation of the film.]
I’m conscious of Mr. Kilmer’s sensitivity to being quoted out of context, a point he brought up when asked what he finds embarrassing: “Not embarrassing, but I’m still haunted by things I said in the press because they were taken out of context.” Lest there be any confusion, I have attended several shows over the years and rarely have I witnessed a celebrity guest as comfortable, enthusiastic or friendly as Val Kilmer. The guy clearly had fun and so did everyone present.