Val Edward Kilmer (born December 31, 1959) is an American actor, and a late 1980s and early 1990s sex icon. Originally a stage actor, Kilmer became popular in the mid-1980s after a string of appearances in comedy films, starting with Top Secret! (1984), then the cult classic Real Genius (1985), as well as the blockbuster action film Top Gun (1986) and the swords and sorcery fantasy film Willow (1988).
Some of his notable film roles include Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's The Doors (1991), Doc Holliday in the Western Tombstone, armed robber Chris Shiherilis in Michael Mann's crime saga Heat, Bruce Wayne/Batman in Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever and a meth-using informant in the 2002 crime thriller The Salton Sea.
Early life and education:
Kilmer was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Gladys (née Ekstadt) and Eugene Kilmer, an aerospace equipment distributor and real estate developer. He grew up in the San Fernando Valley with his two siblings, older brother Mark and younger brother Wesley (1962-1977), who died at 15 due to an epileptic seizure in a swimming pool. His parents divorced when he was nine years old. His father passed away while Val was filming Tombstone. Kilmer's grandfather was a gold miner in New Mexico, near the border with Arizona; The poet Joyce Kilmer is a distant cousin of Kilmer. His mother was of Swedish descent. His father's ancestry included English, Welsh, Scots-Irish, French, German, and Cherokee Native American. Kilmer attended Berkeley Hall School, a Christian Science school in Los Angeles, until 9th grade. He then attended Chatsworth High School--where his classmates included Kevin Spacey and Mare Winningham--as well as the Hollywood Professional School. At the age of 17, he became the youngest person at the time to be accepted into the Juilliard School's Drama Division, where he was a member of Group 10 (1977-1981).
On May 5, 2012, Kilmer was awarded an honorary doctorate of Fine Arts from William Woods University.
In 1981, while at Juilliard, Kilmer co-authored and starred in the play How It All Began, which was performed at the Public Theater at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Kilmer turned down a role in Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 film, The Outsiders, as he had prior theatre commitments. In 1983 he appeared Off Broadway in "The Slab Boys" with Kevin Bacon and Sean Penn. That same year, his first off-stage acting role (excluding television commercials) came in the form of a television short titled One Too Many, which was an educational drama on drinking and driving; it also starred a young Michelle Pfeiffer. Also in 1983, Kilmer self-published a collection of his own poetry entitled "My Edens After Burns", that included poems inspired by his time with Pfeiffer. The book of poems is difficult to obtain, expensive and even second hand copies fetch $300 and up.
His big break came when he received top billing in the comedy spoof of spy movies Top Secret!, where he played an American rock and roll star. Kilmer sang all the songs in the film and released an album under the film character's name, "Nick Rivers". While garnering more substantial roles and prestige, he also gained a reputation as a ladies man, dating numerous women, some many years older, including Cher and Ellen Barkin.
During a brief hiatus, he backpacked throughout Europe before going on to play the lead character in the 1985 comedy Real Genius. He turned down a role in David Lynch's Blue Velvet before being cast as naval aviator "Iceman" in the action film Top Gun alongside Tom Cruise. Top Gun grossed a total of $344,700,000 worldwide and made Kilmer a major star. Following roles in the television films The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains, Kilmer played Madmartigan in the fantasy Willow; he met his future wife, co-star Joanne Whalley, on the film's set. Kilmer starred in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival production of Hamlet in 1988. In 1989, Kilmer played the lead in both Kill Me Again, again opposite Whalley, and in TNT's Billy the Kid.
After several delays, director Oliver Stone finally started production on the film The Doors, based on the band of the same name. Kilmer spoke with Oliver Stone early on, concerned about what he might want to do with the story because Kilmer didn't believe in or want to promote substance abuse. Kilmer saw Morrison as having picked the wrong heroes, who had different issues, that were not part of the creativity or inspiration. Kilmer saw Morrison's story as one that could be told "a thousand different ways" and didn't want to tell it by playing the role in the style of drugs, which Oliver Stone agreed with. Kilmer memorized the lyrics to all of lead singer Jim Morrison's songs prior to his audition, and sent a video of himself performing some Doors songs to director Stone. Stone was not impressed with the tape, but Paul Rothchild (the original producer of The Doors) said "I was shaken by it" and suggested they record Kilmer in the studio. After Kilmer was cast as Morrison, he prepared for the role by attending Doors tribute concerts and reading Morrison's poetry.
He spent close to a year before production dressing in Morrison-like clothes, and spent time at Morrison's old hangouts along the Sunset Strip. His portrayal of Morrison was praised and members of The Doors noted that Kilmer did such a convincing job that they had trouble distinguishing his voice from Morrison's. Paul Rothchild played Val's version of 'The End' for Robby Krieger, and he told him "I'm really glad they got 'The End'. We never got a recording of that live with Jim and now we've got it." However, Doors keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, was less than enthusiastic with how Morrison was portrayed by director Oliver Stone's interpretation.
In the early 1990s, Kilmer starred in the mystery thriller Thunderheart, action comedy The Real McCoy, and again teamed with Top Gun director Tony Scott to play Elvis in True Romance, which was written by Quentin Tarantino.
In 1993, Kilmer played Doc Holliday in the western Tombstone alongside Kurt Russell, in what is credited as one of Kilmer's finest performances. In the film, Doc Holliday performs Chopin's Nocturne in E minor, Op.72, No. 1: Andante; however, Kilmer does not play the piano and he practiced that one piece for months in preparation.
1995 saw Kilmer star in Wings of Courage, a 3D IMAX film, and that same year, he starred opposite Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat, which is now considered one of the best crime/drama films of the 1990s.
In December 1993, Batman Forever director Joel Schumacher had seen Tombstone and was most impressed with Kilmer's performance as Doc Holliday. Schumacher felt him to be perfect for the role of the Caped Crusader, though at the time, the role was still Michael Keaton's.
In July 1994, Keaton decided not to return for a third Batman film after 1992's Batman Returns, due to "creative differences."William Baldwin (who previously worked with Schumacher on Flatliners) was reported to be a top contender, though just days after Keaton dropped out, Kilmer was cast. Kilmer took the role without even knowing who the new director was and without reading the script.
Released in June 1995, Batman Forever was a success at the box office, despite receiving mixed reviews from critics. There was debate about Kilmer's performance; some critics charged that Kilmer, while physically fit to play Batman, more so than his predecessor Michael Keaton had been, gave a wooden performance as Bruce Wayne. Other critics though, such as Roger Ebert, had kind words for Kilmer. Batman creator Bob Kane said in a Cinescape interview that of all the actors to have played Batman up to that point, he felt Kilmer had given the best interpretation. Film critic Leonard Maltin (who criticized the dark tone contained in Batman Returns) complimented Kilmer's portrayal when he reviewed the film for his expanding collection of film reviews, as well as being very favorable of the film as a whole. Defenders of Batman Forever praised the film for portraying Batman as a more heroic, less ruthless, and more human character than in the Tim Burton films. The film also brought the film interpretation of Bruce Wayne more into line with his comic book counterpart, showing him as a socialite and a very public figure rather than the neurotic recluse of the previous films.
In February 1996, Kilmer decided not to return for another Batman feature film, feeling that Batman was being marginalized in favor of the villains.George Clooney replaced Kilmer as Batman in 1997's Batman & Robin. Kilmer also decided he wanted to do The Saint, which seemed "very different, fun" to be a thief who was pleased from "entertaining himself with the characters he would create". There were also reports that Kilmer had not had a good working relationship with Schumacher, as another reason for not reprising the role.
In 1996, he appeared in a largely unknown film, Dead Girl, and starred alongside Marlon Brando in the poorly receivedThe Island of Dr Moreau. That year, Kilmer starred alongside Michael Douglas in the thriller The Ghost and the Darkness.
In 1997 he played Simon Templar in the popular action film, The Saint. Kilmer looked forward to the title role as a change toward a more fun, less serious action thriller, while enjoying the "master of disguise" chameleon characters like a mad artist, a nerdy British scientist, a cleaner, and a Russian mob boss. Kilmer also wrote the poetry in the film. He received a salary of $6 million for the movie.The Saint was a financial success, grossing $169.4 million worldwide.
In 1998, he lent his voice to the animated film The Prince of Egypt as Moses, before starring in the independent film Joe the King (1999). Also in 1999, he played a blind man in the drama/romance At First Sight, which he described as being, of then, the hardest role he had ever had.
Kilmer's first role in 2000 was in the big budget Warner Bros. box office disasterRed Planet. That same year, he had a supporting role in the film Pollock and hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time. In 2002, he starred in the thriller The Salton Sea, which was generally well-reviewed, but received only a limited release. The same year, he teamed with his True Romance co-star, Christian Slater, and the two starred in the low-budget film, Hard Cash, also known as Run for the Money.
In 2003, Kilmer starred alongside Kate Bosworth in the drama/thriller Wonderland, as well as appearing in The Missing, where he again worked with Willow director Ron Howard. The next year, he starred in Spartan, where he played a United States government secret agent who is assigned the task of rescuing the kidnapped daughter of the President. He received Delta Force-like training in preparation for the role. Subsequently, he had a role in the drama, Stateside, and starred (again with Slater) in the thriller Mindhunters, which was filmed in 2003 but not released until 2005. Kilmer next appeared in the big budget Oliver Stone production, Alexander, which received poor reviews.
Also in 2004, Kilmer returned to the theatre to play Moses in a Los Angeles musical production of The Ten Commandments: The Musical, produced by BCBG founder Max Azria. The production played at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood and also featured Adam Lambert. Kilmer had previously played Moses in the animated film The Prince of Egypt.
Finally in 2004, Kilmer appeared in an episode of Entourage, where he played a Sherpa whose primary source of income was the growing, harvesting and distributing high-quality marijuana, all under a guise of metaphysical insights.
Kilmer was in negotiations with Richard Dutcher (a leading director of Mormon-related films) to play the lead role in a film entitled Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith, although the project never materialized.
Kilmer performed in The Postman Always Rings Twice on the London stage from June to September 2005. In 2005, he co-starred with Robert Downey, Jr. in the action-comedy film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. His performance was praised and the film was well reviewed, but the film received only a limited release. It later won the award as "Overlooked Film of the Year" from the Phoenix Film Critics Society.
In 2006, he reunited with director Tony Scott a third time for a supporting role opposite Denzel Washington in the box-office hit Déjà Vu. The song "Val Kilmer" was named after him on Bowling for Soup's 2006 album The Great Burrito Extortion Case,. The song was later used for one of the Ford commercials on season 10 of American Idol in 2011.
In 2007, he guest-starred in hit TV series Numb3rs episode "Trust Metric" as torture expert Mason Lancer. That same year, he released a CD, proceeds of which went to his charity interests.
In 2008, Kilmer starred alongside Stephen Dorff in the Sony and Stage 6 film Felon. The film was given only a limited theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles in 2008, but it developed into a success secondary to positive word of mouth.
Kilmer was the voice of the car KITT for the 2008 Knight Rider TV pilot film and the following television series. He replaced Will Arnett, who had to step down from the role due to contractual conflict with General Motors. In keeping with tradition established by the original Knight Rider series and original KITT actor William Daniels, Kilmer was uncredited for the role on-screen.
He next starred alongside Nicolas Cage in the Werner Herzog film The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, and alongside Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson in Streets of Blood. Both were released in 2009. He appeared as the main antagonist "Mongoose" in a live TV series adaptation of the comic/video game of XIII on NBC in 2009.
In 2010, Kilmer starred in the horror film from Michael Oblowitz, The Traveler, where he played the vengeful spirit of a man who had been tortured and murdered while in police custody.
In November 2010, Kilmer was filming in Kelseyville, California. He was finally able to work with his lifelong friend Francis Ford Coppola and star in the film Twixt. The film was filmed mostly on Coppola's estate in Napa County. The filming was expected to take five weeks and was being independently funded by Coppola.
In 2010, Kilmer appeared as the villain Dieter Von Cunth in MacGruber, and Tenacious D's music video "To Be The Best" as a small cameo role.
Kilmer spoke at the May 5, 2010, commencement ceremonies of William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri. During his week-long visit on campus, he also performed his one-man play, Citizen Twain. He received an honorary doctorate "in recognition of his creative abilities and his contributions to art and theater."
In 2012, Kilmer received a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word. He also starred in Harmony Korine's short "The Lotus Community Workshop" which is part of a collaborative film The Fourth Dimension. He plays a version of himself from an alternate reality, that is a former actor, turned self-help guru. The Fourth Dimension is a collection of three standalone short films about parallel universes produced by Vice Films in collaboration with Grolsch Film Works, a new division of the namesake beer company. Kilmer notes that his addition to the list of actors, including John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich) and Al Pacino (Jack and Jill), that mock their real-life persona in fictional movies was an accident and says, "I still love saying the premise because it makes me laugh every time."
Since 2002, Kilmer has been working on a film about the life of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science church, and Mark Twain, one of her most famous critics. Kilmer is still working on the film, which is about the lives and relationship of Mary Baker Eddy and Mark Twain as "a quirky, tender, tragicomic portrait of two contrasting lives, set against the backdrop of Gilded Age America."Citizen Twain was initially performed as a one man show Hollywood workshop in April 2012; it is now the basis of Kilmer's film project, which will be his directorial debut.
In 2013, he reunited with his Top Gun co-star Anthony Edwards in the Disney animated movie Planes. Kilmer voiced the character Bravo, while Edwards supplied Echo.
Influence and public image:
Kevin Spacey told James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio, that one of the turning points of his life was at a high school drama festival when he saw Kilmer and Mare Winningham perform a scene from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and the drama teacher, Robert Correlli, invited him to transfer to Chatsworth High School; he accepted. In the same interview, Spacey said he went to Juilliard because Kilmer did. Kilmer was at that time the youngest person ever admitted to Juilliard. During Kilmer's subsequent "Inside the Actors Studio" interview, he said "Robert Correlli, who was our teacher, had a knack for producing and directing. And it was either Beverly Hills High, because of their very talented pool of students, or Chatsworth High that would win all these festivals."
Politics and charity work:
Kilmer made several trips to New Orleans to help in the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster relief.
Kilmer is an ardent supporter of Native American affairs and an advocate of environmental protection.
He briefly flirted with running for Governor of New Mexico in 2010, but in the end decided not to run.
In May 2013, Kilmer lobbied Congress on behalf of Equitable Access to Care and Health Act, or EACH Act (H.R. 1814), a bill which purports "to provide an additional religious exemption from the individual health coverage mandate" of Obamacare.
Kilmer was married to actress Joanne Whalley from March 1988 to February 1996. The two met while working together on the film Willow. The couple had two children: a daughter, Mercedes (b. October 29, 1991), and a son, Jack (b. June 6, 1995).
Warwick Davis, Kilmer's co-star from the 1988 fantasy Willow, in his audio commentary for the film said that the question he's most asked is what it was like working with Kilmer. Though Kilmer has a reputation of being difficult, Davis describes him as a very funny man and a hard working, dedicated actor. Kilmer reunited with Davis in the 2013 Easter special of the sitcom Life's Too Short, in which he plays a fictionalized version of himself as a mooching, egotistical eccentric.
Other actors have noted that he prepares for his roles extensively and meticulously. Irwin Winkler (director of At First Sight) talked about his decision to hire Kilmer. "I'd heard the stories, so I checked him out. I called Bob De Niro and Michael Mann, who'd worked with him on Heat, and they both gave him raves... I had a wonderful experience in spite of all the naysayers."Jeffrey Katzenberg (producer of Prince of Egypt) talks about the actor. "Val was one of the first people cast in The Prince of Egypt. He was there every step of the way; patient, understanding, and phenomenally generous with his time."
In 2011, Kilmer sold his 6,000 acre ranch in New Mexico, where he would track, hike, fish, and raise bison.
Kilmer is also an avid musician, and released a CD in the fall of 2007, proceeds of which went to his charity interests.