Watching your younger self, what would you say to him, if you could reach back in time?Slow down, my friend. Kilmer’s guilelessness in recounting his life so directly, without interruption, is disarming and perhaps a bit obfuscatory. I was the first of my friends to have a camera. As far as the film’s plot goes, I’m sworn to secrecy. When is Mark Twain Dreams of the Resurrection, the animated film you produced, coming out?It’s a work in progress. Photo: Michael Tighe/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images
Val Kilmer has been appearing in other people’s films for nearly 40 years, but, as is revealed in his new documentary, Val, he’s been filming himself for even longer. More From France
Taron Egerton Replacing Robert Pattinson in Claire Denis’s The Stars at Noon
The Twilight Baby Walked So the Annette Baby Could Fly
All Your Questions About Adam Driver Singing During Cunnilingus, Answered
Tags: Does transformation always require that level of commitment for you?Manifesting a character is all part of the spiritual process. This is, in part, why our interview about the film had to take place over email — a medium through which it’s nearly impossible to stage an uninterrupted conversation. So what was the goal for you with this film? I’ve always had an opinion about the stories we were telling and this often led to a healthy amount of creative tension. Pray more. I wonder specifically about Batman, which you have spoken about as a restrictive rather than transformative experience. Ahead of his film’s premiere, Kilmer and I traded questions and answers back and forth for a few days. It was as if we worked on it for decades (which in many ways, we had). But I love film. The reunion felt great. Cue parts in the less-than-serious Top Gun and the spy spoof Top Secret! Leo brought on Ting and created the most glorious sizzle reel. I was trained as a stage actor — I saw myself that way and I still do. He flies to fan conventions and screenings for his now most popular films, waving and signing autographs, while in voice-over explaining that he expects to feel embarrassed at such events, promoting a long-gone version of himself. Ting has a way of bringing the past and present together in seamless transition. I attack roles like I attack life — with purpose. There are few other voices weighing in with their version of events here; we know we’re getting Kilmer’s take on everything and that aspects have been left out in his retelling. That insinuates a real level of self-assurance at an early age.I didn’t know that I was going to be an actor that people would make documentaries about, but I knew I was an actor. And anything with Marlon. What was the process like in terms of putting this all together? The business works a certain way; sometimes I did it well, sometimes I did not. A few years ago, Kilmer joined forces with directors and editors Leo Scott and Ting Po and began sifting through the thousands of hours of footage Kilmer had amassed. Because there are some really personal moments in here: you mourning your mother’s death, you speaking about a custody arrangement for your kids over the phone during your divorce proceedings.You don’t decide if you’re going to be vulnerable and honest, you just simply are. We hear Kilmer briefly addressing persistent rumors that he was “difficult” or “hard to work with” on various film sets while watching footage of him on those same sets. Leo’s artful precision, Ting’s Oscar-winning talents, and my tenacity seem to form the perfect diamond. I’ve had wonderful collaborations with filmmakers. Leo is a truly gifted editor and our sensibilities spoke to each other. What’s the most surprising piece of footage you found in the process of compiling Val? He started shooting video as a kid on his father’s California ranch, making 16mm remakes and parodies of his favorite movies with his late brother Wesley. Twain was a monster to tackle. Being present-minded has taken me to places of the extreme, both light and dark. He traveled with me as we workshopped the show, spending late nights and many years archiving some-200 boxes of 8mm, Super 8, 16mm film and video. I loved him. Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer in Top Gun. A press release for it referred to you as “one of Hollywood’s most mercurial and/or misunderstood actors,” and I’m curious if you personally feel that way — like you’re mercurial or misunderstood by people.Life is a spiritual journey and my goal is to live in the moment. It’s just not that interesting. Moreau.) We see him finding his way at Juilliard as a raw-talent 17-year-old and realizing, in an early Off Broadway play where he’s pushed down the call sheet, that he’s desperate to be taken seriously. How did you determine how vulnerable and honest to get within the context of this documentary? Any reason for that?The last 20 years of my life have been wholly consumed by the story of Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy. Though he let me in a little bit, it’s clear that he’s much happier letting his 16mms speak for him. The actor says he’s been filming himself for decades, and now his footage is a surprising and strange documentary, Val. You also struggle with the demands of mainstream fame throughout Val, specifically the way that it contrasts directly with or even hinders this desire to be a more serious actor. Kilmer shot through his alternatively transcendent and traumatic experiences playing Doc Holliday, Batman, Jim Morrison, and Iceman; he shot through the rosy glow of the beginnings of his marriage to Joanne Whalley and the protracted crumbling of it; he shot through his 2017 diagnosis of throat cancer and the subsequent treatments that rendered him almost unable to speak; and he shot through his obsession with and efforts to turn his own version of Mark Twain’s life story into a theater show and, hopefully, someday, a completed film. My mother also passed during the shooting of [Val] and there is some beautiful footage [from that time]. Wesley — he was a genius. Did you always intend to turn this footage into a doc about your life?I always felt that the stories behind the stories we were telling would make a great film. Or the most difficult to watch?My little brother’s films. (Was Kilmer, for example, as Joel Schumacher put it, “psychotic” on the set of Batman? I’ve grown, I’ve changed, I’ve stayed the same. Early on in the film, you discuss how Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon took the bigger roles in an Off Broadway production you were in, pushing you down to third on the call sheet. We see grainy, kooky footage of Val and Wesley as a slaphappy kid before learning (via Kilmer’s son Jack’s voice-over) that the actor’s brother drowned in their family’s hot tub after an epileptic fit. Photo: Paramount Pictures
You said you originally didn’t want to do Top Gun because it was “silly” and “war-mongering.” What about your role in the sequel made you want to be a part of it? No release date as of yet. For Jim Morrison, you spent a year living almost entirely as him. Waste more time. I’m as excited about a great performance today as I was the day I discovered [Marlon] Brando. Val sort of skates around the last chunk of your career — Snowman, Song to Song. Took a full year to workshop it daily. There are projects around this work that I am working on as we speak. Was there any aspect of your life you ultimately decided not to share in this doc?I’ve made films that paid for my ranch, my one-man show … I’m not ashamed of that. Reading between the lines chronicling the life of an actor. Photo: A24
How long have you been filming yourself exactly?I started telling stories with my brothers when we were just a couple Chatsworth [the suburb of Los Angeles] kids. But were you confident, even as a kid, that you would become an actor people make documentaries about? This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Val Kilmer behind the camera, in Val. Tom and I picked up just where we left off. You say, “Not all characters are created equal, and it was clear to me that my mission was to chase down roles that would transform me.” Which roles in your career ended up doing that for you?Hamlet, Doc Holliday, Mark Twain, Jim Morrison. Do you regret taking any roles?No. (A highlight: his attempt to shoot the shit with a forlorn-looking Marlon Brando — his lifelong hero — on the set of the famously doomed Island of Dr. As I prepared my Twain [show] for Broadway, my eye and my vision was actually always on the film version. My producing partners were always pushing for me to tell my story. What amounted is something singular and fascinating: a look at the actor’s far-famed, occasionally tumultuous career and personal life, seen almost entirely though his eyes. In the doc, you do touch briefly on this idea of you being perceived as a “difficult” actor to work with.I’ve always approached what I do very seriously and I understand that sometimes that’s perceived as being difficult. Or was Kilmer just losing too much oxygen?) But objectivity was never the goal. Has your opinion of your performance in that movie changed at all over time?No. My one-man show Citizen Twain was simply a “rehearsal” for the film that I’ve been working on producing. Val, which premieres at Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, is a genuinely surprising and strange movie that vacillates between emotional extremes at an almost minute-by-minute pace. and eventually Batman, which required a suit that prohibited him from emoting — or even breathing, really — the way he needed to. But things aren’t always adversarial. Ting and Leo’s mastery brought her to life. The documentary is now Kilmer’s best, and maybe only, way of communicating how it felt and still feels to be him, a man whose entire life was centered around expressing something urgently to an audience and who now has to press a button on his throat to talk. How did you get involved with Leo and Ting, and what sort of role did they play in going through the footage and creating a shape for the film?Leo Scott came to the States about a decade back and has been essential in documenting my exploration of Mark Twain as the narrator of what it means to be a real American.