It’s been Batman, Jim Morrison and Doc Holliday; starred in blockbusters such as Top Gun and dazzled Cher, Cindy Crawford or Angelina Jolie. It was beautiful, with a jaw of architectural spells, great acting talent and a refreshing lack of prejudice to move from comedy to drama, action or science fiction. For more than a decade, Val Kilmer seemed poised to become Hollywood’s most dazzling star, but there was always something stopping him from doing so. Almost always himself.
The executives had condoned his excesses until they found that there was a replacement for their goose with the golden eggs – there is a blonde with fleshy lips at every Hollywood crossover: Brad Pitt, for example, became a star shortly after him. His characteristic outings stopped being excused and anyone in the industry who had anything to tell about him, opened their mouths. It became clear in 1996, when a famous article by Entertainment Weekly, viral before the viral existed, he revealed all his outings. And the one who was to be the king of the nineties ended up being known as Psycho Kilmer (pun on psycho killer, psychopathic murderer in English).
This summer his figure has regained interest again. The documentary Val which premieres august 6th on Amazon Prime Video, has been one of the surprises of Cannes. Kilmer has been filmed for more than 40 years and the result is a long one that collects everything from his family tragedies to self-made camera tests of films he never played, including historical works such as One of our own (Martin Scorsese, 1990) or The metallic jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987). And even something that sounds distantly apologetic for its controversial character.
Val it’s not the only project that brings it back to the present day. In autumn it will give life again to the Iceman of Top Gun, the character that made him a star in 1986. The inclusion of her character was quite a surprise, as big as kelly McGillis would have been, another talented blonde beauty with a reputation as a complex actress who shared a plane with Cruise in the original and who disappeared from Hollywod at the best time of her career.
Fame was in his quest
Kilmer was born into a wealthy California family and at age 16 was admitted to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York. Just days before he was admitted, his younger brother drowned in the pool after suffering an epileptic seizure. Kilmer says it took him years to recover from that. Juilliard helped him to get roles in the theater, his first passion. “I’m a character actor, but I look like a protagonist.” lamented in The Guardian in 2004. That’s why it’s funny that his film debut came with something as light as Top Secret!, the parody of spy cinema by the creators of Land as you can. In his first role he already made it clear that he had his own method of preparing: he recorded an album under the name nick rivers (the name of the protagonist) and chased the directors to explain the motivation of his character… in a comedy so delusional that two men disguise themselves as cows in well-boots.
Top Secret! he showed that that newcomer was believable as a heartthrob, had a comedic vis and a wonderful voice. And the industry took note. In his second film, School of geniuses, he was already the absolute protagonist. It wasn’t a success, but it served to get Tony Scott, the King Midas of action cinema, to claim it for Top Gun. In fact, Scott was the only one who wanted it: neither the producers nor Kilmer himself (who considered her “silly” and “warmongering”) were very much for the job of collaborating. “I didn’t want the role. I didn’t care about the movie. The story didn’t interest me,” the actor wrote in his memoirs, I’m Your Huckleberry.
Scott promised to expand his role and Kilmer eventually accepted. He got so into the character that he took his rivalry with Cruise, initially something only present in the script, to the set of filming. They never met off the set. His character was there to be the repulsive guy — and with a fur — that makes you value the protagonist more, but he ended up stealing the movie. Was it possible to do so well as a cocoon without being? Hollywood would soon discover the answer.
Top Gun it would end up being a global cultural phenomenon that would raise more than $300 million. suddenly as he told The New York Times in 2020, “fame wasn’t my priority, but I had it.”
There has been a lot of speculation about what went wrong in the career of a guy who had everything to succeed. Yes, he had a bad character, but also many other big stars loved by audiences and producers. Your next project, Willow it was a failure, but it allowed him to meet his wife, actress Joanne Whalley, and also for Oliver Stone to value him as the protagonist of his next project. And it wasn’t just any movie: it was the life of Jim Morrison.
The project The Doors (1991) had been circulating in Hollywood for five years and to play the leader of the band had sounded the names of Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, John Travolta and even the singer of INXS, Michael Hutchence. But Kilmer had an advantage over them: the same kind of voice as Morrison. And that’s what convinced Stone, who met a man who approached the job in a way as wild as he was. To prepare for the role she lost weight and spent six months rehearsing songs by The Doors. Some say he also spent too many months in the same leather pants. It was part of the Kilmer method, the same one that led him to ask the team to refer to him as “Jim”.
Blustery, pretentious, irresistible
Critics did not support Stone’s proposal, but the protagonist did. how Recognized The Guardian, “Val Kilmer not only looks like Jim Morrison, but also has his braggly, silly, pretentious arrogance.” His performance was impeccable and he even sang most of the songs himself with a precision that caused not even the band members themselves to distinguish his voice from Morrison’s. Despite this and to the surprise of many, the Oscars ignored him.
Warnings about Kilmer’s character began to grow, although some were not known to the public until many years later. Actress Caitlin O’Heaney counted to Buzzfeed News in 2017 the actor had assaulted her during an audition for the role. “When I got to the room, Val Kilmer picked me up, shook me and threw me to the ground as I did so,” he said. The director of casting, Risa Bramon Garcia, stated that the aggression was part of the scene they were both rehearsing and she was alerted to the intensity of that sequence. In any case, Kilmer and O’Heaney signed a non-disclosure agreement and she received $24,500. Thus began to spread his fame as an actor of problematic character, but willing to go further than anyone else to compose a character. Something he showed in his next big project, Tombstone (1993), where he played the legendary player Doc Holliday, who died in 1887 of tuberculosis and alcoholism. To stage his final scenes, Kilmer plunged into an ice-filled bathtub. Their tremors are not interpretation, they are real. The Academy ignored him again.
When Joel Schumacher took over Batman Forever (1995), taking the bat bat in the bat man saga, Michael Keaton – the protagonist up to that point – got out of the car and Kilmer entered the scene. According to him, he signed without reading the script. And Schumacher hired him without heeding the advice. “I had heard horror stories about Val and was warned not to hire him,” he says. “But I’ve heard that from a lot of talented people and I didn’t have any problems.” This time yes. After a fight over the actor’s bad behavior with the team, he warned him that he would never tolerate it again. “Then he didn’t talk to me for two weeks, which was a blessing. Kilmer is the most human beingpsychologically stunned that I’ve worked with,” he later told the now-defunct U.S. edition of the film magazine. Premiere.
The story of why Kilmer didn’t re-sheath the bat suit takes on different nuances depending on who tells it. Kilmer excused himself with the coincidence of dates of his new project, The Saint (1997), to force Warner to postpone filming. But Warner knew the value is the suit, not the actor. And the suit soon adjusted to a new body, that of a very educated George Clooney.
That of Batman Forever it wasn’t the last shoot he left his mark on. in Doctor Moreau’s Island (1996) it all started badly. Kilmer had signed on to star, but shortly before production began he found it too long a role and ended up playing another character. Although as it transpired, once the clapperboard sounded Kilmer recited the phrases that seemed to him, whether they belonged to his character or not. It wasn’t his only rant. He also burned the cheek of a team member with a cigarette.
“What kind of person would scorch a co-worker you spend 15 hours a day with, usually less than a foot away?” he wondered?” he wondered Taffy Brodesser-Akner in an article of The New York Times published last year. When the production company New Line learned how the project had gotten out of hand, it traded director Richard Stanley for the much more seasoned John Frankenheimer. I didn’t have to deal only with Kilmer, but also with the guy who had invented turning filming into a nightmare: Marlon Brando. Brando, whom Kilmer idolized, was somewhat dismissive of him, but made him two good gifts he left his private island to spend with his wife on the honeymoon and a better phrase than any of the script they had between them (“Your problem is that you confuse your talent with the size of your check”). When the filming of an incomprehensible film was finished and which would later be treated in equal parts by critics and audiences, Frankenheimer exploded and after the Cut end shouted, “Now take this garbage out of me. set!”. And it was reaffirmed with a maxim that surely many members of the team would have printed on their jerseys. “I will never climb Mount Everest and I will never work with Val Kilmer again.”
The end. The end?
Kilmer ended up playing the role that had turned Roger Moore into James Bond. The saint. Moore, in the ITV television version of this spy story between 1962 and 1969; Kilmer would do it in the film version. Again, it did not have the expected success. Perhaps the fact that Kilmer spent the entire film in ridiculous costumes influenced: if you have as your protagonist one of the most handsome men in cinema, do not cover his face. There were no second parts (other than the psychological ones suffered by a team that is rumored to have been banned from looking into the eyes).
From there he continued to star in less and less ambitious films that allowed him to afford his dream, a ranch of more than two thousand five hundred hectares in Santa Fe. It also failed in that: in 2008 the financial crisis swept away its most precious property. That ranch was loaded with meaning for Kilmer. Among other reasons because there he had asked his wife to marry him. When he was forced to sell the property for half its value, his marriage was already just a memory. The couple who had dazzled on the red carpets in the early nineties had shattered. At the end of their marriage they were so estranged that, as he told the magazine Elle, he learned of the breakup on CNN.
In love and in sickness
Joanne Whalley has been his only wife, but not the only star he has been linked to. For his life have passed women like Daryl Hannah, Carly Simon, Michelle Pfeiffer, Cindy Crawford, Drew Barrymore, Elisabeth Shue, Angelina Jolie – whom he described as “the most serious and most moving of all” – or Cher, his first romance sounded and a great friend during his entire life. The Oscar winner for Moon spell that in People he defined their relationship as “too intense and fiery” was by his side at the worst moment of his life, when the cancer throat he was diagnosed in 2014 began to wreak havoc.
“Suddenly I woke up vomiting blood. He covered the bed as in a scene of The Godfather“, he describes in his memoirs. At the time the actor was at Cher’s guest house, who was the one who called the ambulance and then – according to Kilmer he was laughing – tried to flirt with one of the doctors. “We were joking about beauty and desire while I looked like a double of Reservoir Dogs of Tarantino and my life seemed to be in mortal danger.”
Devotee of the Christian science, a religion that considers prayer to be the best method of healing, initially followed the advice of its spiritual advisor and prayed. It was his sons, most devoted to traditional science, who forced him to turn to medicine. He had a tracheostomy, received treatment and the cancer referred. But the throat operation deprived him of one of his most cherished gifts: his voice. “The instrument over which I had complete mastery is now beyond my control,” he laments in his memoirs.
“I’ve lived in illusion almost as much as I’ve lived outside of it,” he confesses at one point in his documentary. “I’ve mis behaved. I have behaved bravely. I’ve behaved strangely with some people. I don’t deny any of this and I don’t regret it because I’ve lost but I’ve also found parts of myself that I never knew existed.” Top Gun: Maverick it will also be a good way to atone for those sins. In 2021 may begin a new and peaceful episode in the life of hollywood’s most troubled actor.