I first saw Val Kilmer in the movie Real Genius, which I posted about the other day. Then, there was Top Gun and Willow. Like many young actors, he was on his way to the top after some hit movies, but by the mid-1990s almost a decade after his start in Hollywood, problems arose.
It seemed like a typical tale of a celebrity with an inflated ego. It happens almost all the time. But the time he was working on The Island of Dr. Moreau, there was trouble in Denmark. Director John Frankenheimer notoriously had Kilmer removed from the set when he was done filming all his scenes by saying, “Now get that bastard off my set.” He later commented in an interview, “Will Rogers never met Val Kilmer.”
Even Marlon Brando, known himself for being difficult on set, told Kilmer, “Your problem is you confuse the size of your paycheck with the size of your talent.”
Kilmer and actor Tom Sizemore had worked together on the movie Heat and gotten along. But when they worked on Red Planet, they fought and argued and even refused to talk to each other even in characters. Doubles were reportedly used in scenes. The dispute came about when Kilmer criticized the production brining Sizemore’s exercise equipment to the set and later Sizemore reportedly threw a 50-pound weight at him.
That being said, you shouldn’t kick a man when he’s down. In 2015, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy and a tracheotomies. He speaks in a scruffy voice now.
But while watching Val, I couldn’t believe how much his son, Jack, sounds like him. Composed with home video footage Kilmer shot since his early days in show business, it’s a intimate and different look at Kilmer than what we’re used to.
Tabloid news is one thing. Sometimes, people have rough periods in their lives. And sometimes the people who are calling you difficult are difficult themselves. Footage from the Dr. Moreau set show a movie that was out of control regardless of who was in it. Maybe Frankenheimer didn’t want to make the movie but a job is a job.
On the set of Top Gun, he is shown getting along well with the other cast, including Rick Rossovich, Kelly McGillis, Tim Robbins and Barry Tubb, among other. But he kept a distance to Tom Cruise because he said they played rivals in the movie. Yet, he says he considers Cruise a friend.
While filming his first movie, the spy spoof Top Secret! in England, he saw a play directed by Danny Boyle with a young actress called Joanne Whaley who he would later costar with in Willow and marry and have children.
Their marriage ended in divorce in 1996, but Kilmer admits it was his work took a toll. Kilmer hasn’t remarried since 1996.
What we discover is that Kilmer was born in the San Fernando Valley and used to make home movies with his brothers. But when he was studying at the Julliard, his brother, Wesley, had an elliptic seizure and drowned in a pool at only 15.
The aftermath of this led to the divorce of Kilmer’s parents and has haunted the actor well into his 60s.
When he was cast in Batman Forever, he talks about finding the role to be a big letdown as he was placed in a cumbersome costume that limited his body motions as well as made it hard to hear. Sometimes, the glamor isn’t all its meant to be.
Some of the saddest moments come when Kilmer is at a convention and has to leave as his health is bothering him. And a jacket is put over him as he is pushed in a wheelchair off and then later returns. But when he returns, the fans are cheering.
Unfortunately, the documentary passes over a lot of Kilmer’s life, mostly after the events of Dr. Moreau to his cancer diagnosis. This is one of my main complaints. So much has been mentioned of Kilmer’s life up until this moment, that it just cuts about 15 years into a few minutes.
Granted this wasn’t one of Kilmer’s most productive times as he was appearing in mostly low-budget or lesser stellar movies, but it would’ve been better to seen more time devoted to this.
All in all, I think despite whether we love or hate Kilmer, we all have our own faults. The best doctors don’t always have the best bedside manner. And the friendliest people may never have graduated high school. It doesn’t make either one of them better than the other.
We’re not perfect and unfortunately sometimes we rub people the wrong way. But after seeing this documentary, I feel that Kilmer is still an okay person. He just let his passion for acting cloud his judgment sometimes.