Previously Known For: Top Gun, The Doors and Batman Forever
|Currently Known For: The Salton Sea, Déjà Vu, Magruber and The Super|
“I’m very lucky in that I haven’t cultivated fame. Which, from what I’ve seen of my contemporaries, takes an enormous amount of time. I have a lot of respect for people that do it and they’re successful at it… especially people that aren’t such talented actors.” Once the youngest student ever accepted into the Julliard School’s drama program, Val Kilmer has been raising the bar in Hollywood since the early 1980s when he built his reputation as a young actor with an incredible eye for detail. Over the last 30 years, he’s wowed critics with performances in Top Gun, Tombstone, Batman Forever and The Saint but is the first to admit that stardom has never been his goal. Instead, the 57-year-old has done his best to avoid the spotlight with the hopes that his artistry and talent will shine brighter than a legacy built by rumors and tabloid headlines! So, how has he managed to build an exceptional career as an actor and musician without falling into the traps of Tinsel Town fame?
Val Edward Kilmer was born on December 31, 1959 in Los Angeles, California where he attended Berkeley Hall High School until he decided he wanted a future in acting. “When I figured out that to have money you had to work, I knew I couldn’t hack a regular job,” Kilmer recalled. “So, I thought acting would be good, because basically you made your own hours, were ridiculously overpaid and got the girls.” Enrolling at Chatsworth High School where he was classmates and friends with a young Kevin Spacey, Kilmer honed his talents as an actor at the Hollywood Professional School before he auditioned for a place in the Julliard School’s Drama Division. “For my audition, I did a monologue from one of my plays,” Kilmer said. “I couldn’t find anything contemporary that they wouldn’t have seen hundreds of times before. I didn’t know what I was doing, but it worked.”
Becoming the youngest student accepted into the program at the time, Kilmer quickly made a name for himself after writing and starring in his play, How It All Began, which was performed at the 1981 New York Shakespeare Festival. As a rising talent, he fielded several offers but turned down parts in The Outsiders and Blue Velvet to focus on his work on Broadway in productions like The Slab Boys, which cast him opposite Kevin Bacon and Sean Penn. Coincidentally, his reputation as a ladies’ man also blossomed as he dated beautiful women like Michelle Pfeiffer, Cher and Ellen Barkin before proving that Hollywood needed him more than he needed it as he stepped away from acting and backpacked throughout Europe only to return when he was cast as “Iceman” opposite Tom Cruise in the 1986 blockbuster, Top Gun.
After Top Gun, Kilmer demonstrated his wide range of talents with credits in Hamlet, True Romance, The Real McCoy, and The Doors, the latter of which took his meticulous attention to detail to an entirely new level as he spent months living the part of Jim Morrison both on and off the set. In 1993, Kilmer’s performance as Doc Holliday in Tombstone caught the eye of director Joel Schumacher who wanted Kilmer for his next project, Batman Forever, but Michael Keaton was still signed on for the project at the time. “It looked like it might not work out with Michael Keaton, so they asked Joel Schumacher, ‘Who do you want for Batman?’ When he said me, I asked my agent, ‘Why? Who did they not get?’” Kilmer admitted. “I’d met with Joel a couple of times before about other movies. I didn’t know anything in terms of the cast, story or anything, but I said, ‘Sure, sounds like fun.’”
Although Kilmer’s performance was praised, he declined to return for a second film and, instead, focused on his work in The Saint before wrapping up the decade with The Island of Dr. Moreau and At First Sight. He also opted to spend more time at home after divorcing his first wife, actress Joanne Whalley, in 1996 and missing a large part of his daughter Mercedes’ childhood. Promising not to miss as much of his son Jack’s childhood, Kilmer spent time at home with his children, which proved to rekindle his passion for acting as he returned to the spotlight in the new millennium with projects like Red Planet, Hard Cash, Wonderland and Déjà Vu.
Over the last six years, he’s appeared on the silver screen in Seven Below, The Fourth Dimension, Planes and Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn with his most recent credits including Song to Song, The Snowman and The Super, the latter of which is a thriller that came as a surprise to Kilmer’s fans since he hates scary films and avoids genre movies at all costs. “The surprises in the script were extremely well constructed,” he said of taking the part. “It’s the type of film where you will want to see it again and find a way to be innocent again of how it ends up.”
Apart from his recent projects, the 57-year-old also suffered a health scare in 2015 when he was hospitalized to remove a cancerous tumor. However, Kilmer was not yet ready to share the reality of his diagnosis with fans and announced on social media, “I have not had a tumor, a tumor operation or any operation. I had a complication where the best way to receive care was to stay under the watchful eye of the UCLA ICU.” However, as of April 2017, Kilmer has set the record straight about his health saying, “The first time I was asked if I had cancer, I answered truthfully that I had no cancer. As I hadn’t. If they had asked, have you had cancer, I would have said, ‘Yes, but it’s all healed now. Now, I just have to recover from the treatment from chemo and radiation.”
Recently given a clean bill of health, Kilmer admits that he’s been incredibly lucky both in and out of Hollywood over the years even if he’s criticized for turning down roles that might’ve better defined his career in exchange for more time at his sprawling ranch in New Mexico. “I wouldn’t know what I know now spiritually without turning away from the success as often as I did. I did my ‘time in the wilderness’ in a very serious way, and today I know who I am, and can look any man on earth in the face with love, empathy and forgiveness,” he says. “Once you achieve a certain level of fame, you can secure it with money and you can secure it with relationships… and I just lived in New Mexico for 25 years.” We’d argue that he’s done far more than that as one of Hollywood’s most talented leading men.