I thought I knew a lot about Val Kilmer, an actor who never really got the accolades he’s deserved over his long career. But I had no idea that Kilmer was not only a lifelong fan of Mark Twain, but is starring as Twain in the upcoming one-man show Citizen Twain. Kilmer talked to The Hollywood Reporter about his plans for his Mark Twain role, and how he sees his career now.
Initially, Kilmer was interested in playing Twain in a biopic, but as the project developed he realized that he didn’t quite have the character down yet. So the genesis of a film soon became a way for Kilmer to develop his Twain character on stage, saying, “I had been preparing to go out and fund-raise, and as I got closer to having a script and a budget and starting to talk to actors, I realized that I hadn’t devoted enough time to the character. I just made the assumption — oh, well I’ve been reading a lot about Mark Twain for the last decade — but I hadn’t put in the actual hours. There’s really no way of creating the role of Mark Twain without being onstage. He was a speaker, first and foremost; he did it before he was a famous writer, it’s how he became famous as a writer, and it’s even how he wrote novels. He would write in the morning and then read them to his children.”
But just because Kilmer is playing Twain on stage doesn’t mean his dream of making a Mark Twain film is over. When asked if the play is a “warm-up” for the movie, Kilmer admits it by explaining, “It’s certainly for the role. I’m directing it, and I wouldn’t have time for normal breaks as an actor, and for a role and character as complicated as Twain and how I’m depicting him in the movie, I had to take time off to own it. And also I kind of got into the idea that it’s not that creative, or unusual, to fund-raise now personally and for a small, hard-to-make movie because it’s period, God’s in it, God’s a player — well not really; (Laughs) Morgan Freeman wasn’t available.”
With Kilmer using his one-man show as a warm-up to his Twain film project, one might end up thinking that Kilmer plots his career moves very carefully. However, he confesses to having a very simple plan for his career, revealing, “I never had a business plan. I did, actually, I’m lying. My business plan was to get lucky, and I did, that was great. And then my second business plan was to get lucky again, and there, I faltered. I had not anticipated the global collapse. But I was doing just fine because I kept buying my neighbors’ ranches, and that was really a dream that I ended up sacrificing much integrity of my career for the integrity of this land and different causes.”
Yet Kilmer’s notoriously quiet private life separated him from his generation of Hollywood stars. He confesses, “But I wasn’t very practical in thinking about Hollywood and our business. It’s a very social business, and I never tried to be involved in the community of it. Pretty foolish about that, just casual comments that aren’t very insightful. It’s just easy to make fun of Los Angeles.”
Citizen Twain runs April 7, 8, and 11 at The Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever