By now, every media slob in Dallas has interviewed Val Kilmer. The 53-year-old actor's been in town for a couple of weeks, rehearsing his one-man Citizen Twain show, playing April 18 through 21 at the Wyly Theatre. He wrote the one-act performance after a decade of research for a movie he still wants to make about the rivalry between Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Church of Christ Scientist, a religion Kilmer practices.
The actor sat in the lobby of the Wyly for many hours the other day, doing interviews one after another, some on-camera, some off (he's so accessible, the PR lady says, "He'll talk to you again later, if you want"). He looked good, tanned, with longish hair that's gray at the temples. He wore a smart blue blazer and crisp white shirt, unbuttoned enough to show some chest fuzz. He's a talker -- long answers to short questions -- so he got behind on the schedule. By the time we got him, it was noon and he was hungry, so he nibbled on a meatball sub from Jimmy's Food Store as he talked, licking red sauce off his fingers.
Kilmer already had talked plenty to the other reporters about his movie career playing Jim Morrison in The Doors, Ice Man in Top Gun, Doc Holliday in Tombstone and Batman in Batman Forever. We asked him about his life in the theater, which started at Chatsworth High in L.A. (Kevin Spacey and Mare Winningham were classmates) and continued at Juilliard, where he was admitted to the drama division at age 17.
Hal Holbrook has had a lock on doing a one-man Twain show for about 60 years. How is yours different? What Hal Holbrook has done is a remarkable achievement. As much as it's a testimony to his dedication to the theater, it shows how interested America and the world are in Mark Twain. Twain is still such a relevant guy.
We're using 3-D mapping, which has been used in opera and dance but never in the theater. Also my play has a real improvisational feel. Mark Twain really kind of invented stand-up. He smoked everywhere, constantly, brought his cigar up onstage. If he was drinking that night, he'd bring his whiskey up there. He spoke in his own voice, what his mom called "Sammy's slow drawl." He really stumbled into lecturing, you know. He'd tell stories in bars and salons that were so funny, so entertaining, that people said he should rent a theater. He was a colossally inept businessman and went through several fortunes. He had to go out on the road and tour to earn money.
Showbiz does have its ups and downs. I love the theater but I relate to not having what you lived for. For me and for Twain, it was family. To have to be away from them in order to do what you do is strange. I used to make those jokes when I owned a big ranch [in New Mexico]. I told my staff when I went away and made movies, it was so they would have a nice place to goof off while I wasn't there.
It is a little like being an astronaut. I'm going to borrow that, if you don't mind. It is like space travel. And being here at the Wyly, this space is a bit of a spaceship. You want to use it to transport people.
You're here early in your tour. Where are you taking this play? I'd like to go to Broadway but I also want to perform it at Carnegie Hall and the Ryman in Nashville, places with history. I got to perform it at Disney Hall in LA. I'll probably go to the Sydney Opera House next year. I'm looking for places that tell a story physically. This theater, the Wyly, is super-modern in every angle you look at it. That helps get across to young people that Twain is important and vital today. Some of Hal Holbrook's legacy is to carry on the idea of performing for years. It's not daunting because I love it.
You're already a pop culture icon for your movie roles. But how much current pop culture do you absorb? I don't watch television. Never had a television in my house until I moved to Malibu last year. I got the right car. I got a haircut. Living on the right street. Hollywood is finicky and I'd never lived there. I was content to hope to get lucky and I think I was. I really feel like I'm starting out in the business for the first time.
I think now I never really had any interest in kind of creating a persona like all my contemporaries. If I say Johnny Depp, you think of the glasses and the hat. Or Nic Cage or Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks, who has the American flag floating behind his head. What I'm excited about now is that I have found a new way of looking at pop culture and all the social media and the web sites. It's no longer about creating fame. It's an art project.
Before Mark Twain, what was your favorite moment onstage? Hamlet. I was 27 when I did it, the proper age. [He performed it at the 1988 Colorado Shakespeare Festival.] I always wanted to come back and do it again. That was my plan and then I got married.
What is your version of "the actor's nightmare"? What's that? There's one? I have 50. I did have one once years ago in which I was sewn into a fat suit and I had to be Hamlet. So I'm trying to work out how to move. There aren't any lines, no references to him being weighty. I kept trying to figure out how to do the character in the fat suit.
Fat Hamlet is a great idea. It's a good name for a record.
See Val Kilmer in Citizen Twain at the Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St., 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday. For tickets, call 214-880-0202.