Actor Val Kilmer's once illustrious career has grown dim in the past decade. But over tea at the Viceroy Hotel on an overcast Santa Monica afternoon, the blond and now slimmed-down actor revealed a light within him that is growing brighter and brighter by the day. In speaking about his newest project, Kilmer confessed, "hopefully I will be redeemed for all the years of people saying nasty or naughty things about me."
Not many people can see the similarities between author Mark Twain, a professional satirist, and Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science and a professed faith healer. The pair never met in person, and the famed American author was perhaps Eddy's most public critic, saying that the woman possessed a "crooked" character and was the founder of a "cult."
But Val Kilmer thinks that the antagonistic pair are cut from the same cloth. Twain "got to his insights by being an anti-religionist, if you will. But he never stopped studying." As for Eddy, "she too was a rebel. She rebelled against her own religion and she said of herself, 'My entire life I've been a heart wholly in protest.'"
For the past seven years, Kilmer has buried himself in the lives of Twain and Eddy, hoping to not only bring to light a fascinating and historically contentious relationship, but also to perhaps absolve himself of some spiritual burden. "It's very much like 'Amadeus.' It's a dual biography. I'm regretting that now, because it's really hard to do," Kilmer told The Huffington Post.
Just one week before the one-man show opens at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Kilmer, who is known for his roles in "The Doors," "Batman Forever," "The Saint," and "Heat," proved magnetic and acutely intelligent in person, and his fascination with Twain practically dripped from his very pores. "Twain's concept of autobiography was 'Don’t you want to know how I think? Whatever pops into my head is who I am.' I'm trying to give you a feeling about his soul and his spirit."
But no good story is without scandal. And because Kilmer is writing, directing and starring in this project, he has all of the creative freedom in the world. "At the heart of a lot of Twain's slander of Mrs. Eddy was shoddy journalism. He acknowledged it privately but never did publicly," explained Kilmer. "I think he was just jealous. That’s what his daughter said."
For tickets and information about the eight showings of Kilmer's "Citizen Twain," click here.
HuffPost: Where were you in your life when you decided to take this on?
Val Kilmer: I got to a place in my career where I wasn't getting scripts. I was getting sort of action stuff with "Batman" and "The Saint," and it's easy then to secure your position as only that if you do two or three more. I don't think I ever secured my position as a star by Hollywood's standards.
HP: Was that intentional?
VK: No. It would have been nice to have bags of dough. My career is very strange unless you put in the timeline the fact that I never had a business objective. I always had very singular aims as an actor to get better at my job. But it also got me into trouble.
One time I was involved in a movie and we had no second act. It was a gigantic budget and I kept mentioning it more and more loudly – "we have no second act." And I didn’t listen to my agent, who told me to stop. And he was right. I made a mistake. But I'm not embarrassed by how hard I tried to make the movie good. I wasn’t involved in a dynamic way about being a movie star. I was trying to be good in the role.
HP: How much freedom do you feel now that you're writing and starring in this project? You're making all the decisions.
VK: I am so much more the boss that I want to be. Right now I'm doing everything. I like my ideas about directing, and I am directing the one-man show. If you just imagine how silly it sounds, "I'm directing myself in a one-man show that I wrote." And then I try to do it and just fall down and cry.
HP: So how does it work? How does one do that?
VK: You have to video everything because you can't really know what you're doing. And then I listen to it all day long, so I've really turned into Rupert Pupkin in my basement laughing at my own jokes.
HP: Do you enjoy the process of writing?
VK: Before I let Twain out of the box I had him in, it really was hard. Now he's a giant irritant. When I was writing the movie, he just wouldn't shut up. And Mrs. Eddy, I think she would describe herself in this way – relentless.
HP: Who are some of your favorite writers?
VK: Shakespeare comes to mind. Just the ability to make jokes all through Macbeth. He was a genius with irony. I love James Joyce. And Twain's okay [laughs].
HP: Did Twain consider himself an artist?
VK: I think he would make a really funny joke about it. I don’t think Twain was intellectual about being brilliant.
HP: And were you good in school?
VK: No. And my son is 16, about to be 40. He's Huck Finn. He's tells me "Dad, I just can't do school." My daughter is 20 and loves learning, but she's a bossy-boots. She is a hellion. She's right a lot of the time.
I'm going to Missouri soon, and I can't say this without covering my face, but I'm getting an honorary doctorate. My brother is a doctor, he's a psychologist. And like a schmo, I called him up thinking he would be thrilled. But there was kind of a long pause and he said, "That's nice." I mean, seven years he's got to sweat for this and I goof around and fly around the world talking to funny, beautiful people and they give me a doctorate. He wasn’t that excited about it. I said, "I'll always tell people it's not real!"
HP: What was Twain's family like?
VK: One of the saddest things I've written into the play is when Twain says, "I never made my father laugh, not once." And it's true. He never made him smile. The first time he saw his dad touch someone was his dead brother. These guys were stoic.
HP: What do you personally connect with the most about Mark Twain?
VK: My little brother had epilepsy and so did Twain's daughter. They died the same way – drowned. I just added that to the play today.
I want to tell stories. And I'm very lucky, I got enough success - until I kept buying my neighbor's ranches in New Mexico, but that’s another part of my odd bunch of movies in the past five years. I was just paying rent. I decided I'm going to sacrifice the integrity of my career for the integrity of this land for my kids. It was from here to Malibu - that was the size of it. 6 miles. So I got a little carried away there [laughs]! And now I'm back.
On a personal level, because I spent so many years trying to keep it and ultimately not being able to, I have a lot of kinship with Twain, who lost his home. I don’t think I lost everything. I wasn’t ruined, I can still get a job, I got to keep what feels like a patio, but it's 140 acres. It's not nothing. It’s pretty great. A lovely view.
HP: Are you an LA transplant or a native Angeleno?
VK: Native Angeleno. But I don’t talk like I'm from Los Angeles, because I went to Juilliard and had it beaten out of me, by people with accents even though they were American. "Lie down on the floor now…" I was terribly abused there [laughs].
HP: What was growing up in Los Angeles like?
VK: I was raised in this traffic. It's all encompassing. I grew up grieving about LA. You see, I had some odd, instinctual feeling about the place – it's probably because my dad grew up in real wilderness. That’s where my affinity for New Mexico comes in.
I had this feeling that LA was off. And it is. "There is no there there," as Gertrude Stein said. There's no truer sentence about LA. When you get to downtown, it feels like the center is over there. You're never right there.
But we lived out in Chatsworth with wildlife all over the place, mountain lions and deer. It is the end of LA, literally. Our neighbors were the Mansons. Shorty, the one with the foot-long knife, used to give us rides occasionally. I have real weird LA cred. Another ranch my dad bought was Will Rogers' ranch. So we have both ends of the LA spectrum.
HP: And you live in Malibu now?
VK: Yes, and I can't say that without making a funny face. I have the right address, I bought the right car, I'm back! I'm wearing a Gucci jacket. I've got to get my hair cut. Of all the people who helped me love LA, it was Jim Morrison. He loved it! I was always asking all of his friends why?
What Jim Morrison loved about LA was the diversity. It's a shame he got addicted so early. Because he probably would have made a really good director. I think he had a great American novel in him. He used to drive around with his friend and look at all the great houses in the Bird streets. I just started doing it recently.
HP: Do you have a meal that will always remind of you LA?
VK: I'm trying to think of all the things I can no longer eat. I haven’t had a Pink's hot dog in awhile. But I remember them from when I was three years old. Pink's was there, with the line.
HP: Do you stay out in Malibu usually?
VK: Yes, it's nice there. This morning there was a seal lying on his back just clapping. For minutes and minutes. And its little face would pop out of the water, it was just so goofy. I have no idea what it was doing. I must find out from a marine biologist.
HP: You've chosen an iconic Los Angeles venue for your one-man show: The Hollywood Forever Cemetery. How did you decide on it?
VK: There aren't a lot of places in the country that have big white signs - like the HOLLYWOOD sign - that mean nothing. We're just celebrating ourselves. It's truly just an idea; there's nothing there on that hillside. That Hollywood sign is so much better than Hollywood and Vine.
So the idea of the cemetery is that it actually delivers. There's a beautiful feeling in there and there's just something silly and poetic about it. Like calling the one-man show "Citizen Twain." It's not even my favorite title, I just keep renaming it.
HP: What were some of the other names?
VK: "Validation." See, now that's silly.
Many tickets for "Citizen Twain" are being donated to veterans returning from war, as well as to underprivileged children in Los Angeles. Kilmer apologizes for the high ticket price and wants to be able to give as many away as is possible.