In his lengthy and varied career, Val Kilmer has played everyone from Jim Morrison to Doc Holliday to Mark Twain – in multiple projects. He’s played Moses in the lavish musical “The Ten Commandments” and voiced KITT the car in the “Knight Rider” reboot. Along the way, he’s worked with filmmakers from Oliver Stone to Ron Howard and actors from Tom Cruise to Marlon Brando. In short, there’s no pigeonholing the actor who launched his career with broad comedies like “Top Secret!” and “Real Genius” before becoming a household name thanks to “Top Gun” – a role he’ll reprise in the upcoming sequel.
So it’s surprising to hear there’s something Kilmer hasn’t done, but that’s the case with “The Super,” which he says is his first straight-up genre thriller. Based on an idea from and produced by “Law & Order” mastermind Dick Wolf, “The Super” hits theaters and on demand from Saban Films on Oct. 19 and features Kilmer as a peculiar maintenance man working in a luxury building where several tenants go missing.
Having recovered from a battle with throat cancer over two years ago, Kilmer is still dealing with a swollen tongue that “is improving steadily month by month,” so he spoke to Variety via email. This has not slowed down his work schedule, however, as he is filming projects while touring the world with his art shows and “Citizen Twain,” the one-man show wrote, directed, produced and stars in.
What attracted you to “The Super,” and specifically, the character of Walter?
I’ve never done a thriller before and Mr. Wolf and everyone at Saban had great enthusiasm about the project and the quality of the actors.
In general, what attracts you to a project? The script, director, co-stars, or does it vary from project to project?
The word is quality, for any of these qualities, and unique sense of truth.
You have a reputation for doing deep preparation for your characters. What was your way into Walter? Was there a moment you knew you had the look, the clothing, the voice? Was it a headspace that was hard to shake after shooting?
It all came together quickly. The costume is very important and I had the boots and my makeup superstar Michelle Burke had an idea about ladies’ glasses which I loved. And the externals. Then several crucial meetings via internet with my superstar voice coach Tim Monich, and I was away to the races.
What’s the furthest you’ve ever gone to get into character?
I wore those Jim Morrison leathers for a year. And recorded five entire albums… that was unusual. I took 10 years till I felt I had my own voice for “Hamlet,” which I did a couple years out of school. I had just gotten married and my wife was a little upset about me (practicing) the play EVERY DAY on our honeymoon. One stop was Brando’s island. I only did the play when no one was around in Tahiti…
What was the most challenging part of making “The Super”?
Searching for ways to maximize the vocal options. My vocal cords and everything is perfect in my mouth except my swollen tongue. And that was challenging.
You’ve been playing Mark Twain for years now with “Citizen Twain” and in movies. With Does “Citizen Twain” play differently from city to city or is the response pretty universal? What do you enjoy so much about this piece?
The response has been so overwhelmingly kind, it’s very humbling. I enjoy the depth and soul the piece has that Twain had for his fellow man and America. And the comedy that’s always so close to the surface, and how valuable his genius is for us today. Still we battle racism and greed. The same country, it’s greatness and it’s tragedy. Twain loved and wrote about it all. It’s a real privilege to be able to include his love-hate relationship with [founder of Christian Science] Mary Baker Eddy. They were remarkably similar in many externals. Both educated themselves without the benefit of college and became universally recognized for their unique style of writing and their original outlooks in life and religion. He wrote about her for almost 10 years and studied her work the entire end of his life. They both had tremendous empathy for our fellow man… a deep sense of love and compassion I don’t see much of these days…
What advice would you give to young actors trying to break into the business today?
Listen to everyone. Don’t listen to anyone. Write out whatever you think it the ultimate schedule of sacrifice, and then triple it. Imagine what it’s like to forfeit you family and friends and closest relationships for at least a decade and still able to resist becoming self-centered and selfish. To ALWAYS let today be exciting and the first day you’ve got to express yourself artistically. And don’t waste your time criticizing other actors or filmmakers. There are so few great ones and it’s so hard to do. Best to try to be wild with excitement at the prospect that you might create a character that entertains you and teaches you about yourselves. Let it consume you. Otherwise, there is no hope. Watch “The Rider.” Watch “Get Rich or Die Trying.” 50 wrote that story and lived that life. They shot him I think seven times and one bullet is still lodged in his mouth affecting his speech, but he believed he couldn’t be healed even though the doctors said he couldn’t be. And he became a recording superstar, and performer, and actor and TV producer. Anything is possible, just don’t listen to the naysayers.
What hopes do you have for the new “Top Gun” movie, how should the legacy of Iceman live on?
With the same economy and joy the first one was made. We’ve had so much fun acting together again after all these years. Boy, what a thrill.
Looking back on your long, amazing career what film of yours do you enjoy watching most and why? What’s been your most challenging role?
Many of them are like old friends. “Tombstone” was very challenging for all the externals and it was a rare heat wave. We also lost our director three weeks into it. So we lost a lot of time on a tight budget. The cast and crew were amazing. And “Heat” and “The Doors” and “Thunderheart” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” “Alexander.” “Billy the Kid.” I’m so lucky… so blessed…