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THE ICON PROFILE



At the same time, more stories were flowing in from Australia where New Line Cinema was filming THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU with Kilmer and Marlon Brano. Kilmer was originally slated for the lead in the story of a man marooned on an island populated by half-men, half monkeys created by a crazed genius, but then apparently decided he'd rather play first lunatic to Brando's mad doctor. The film seems destined to go down as one of the most troubled productions ever. And for Kilmer, who was reported to be the most troubled part,
it might be the half monkey on his back for years to come. He was acting a little too much like his character, rumors said, a drug-addled former prodigy charged with keeping the beasts in line. He put himself into scenes, they said. He was acting erratically, they said, even burned a cameraman with a cigarette. He was blamed when the first director was jettisoned, and the new director, John Frankenheimer, was later moved to say there are two things he'd never do: climb Mount Everest and work with Kilmer again. Entertainment Weekly ran a what-an-jerk-this-guy is article called Psycho Kilmer.

Kilmer responses: The cigarette incident never happened; he didn't put himself into scenes; Brando did say an actor was confusing the size of his paycheck with his talent, but that actor was not Kilmer. He says he became the focal point for the director's frustration when the production spun out of control: "Wonderful guy, loved his stories. He was dedicated about his job, but he was very frank about why he was doing it: for the money and a chance to hang out with Brando, like the rest of us. But then he'd say, 'Can you help me out here?' 'With what?' 'Well, Marlon doesn't want to do this, so you do that.' I said, 'Well, no, I'll do what's in the script, but let's sit down and improve it. Let's not pretend this really isn't as ridiculous as it seems to be."

And as far as the problems stemming from Kilmer's portrayal of "the Batman," as he refers to it, he has said repeatedly that the arguments ended when the accepted that the movie was designed to be a "cartoon" more about merchandising then performing. It was his contract to do The Saint and not his behavior the created a scheduling conflict with the next Batman [though Warner Bros. didn't really try to work it out]. Kilmer relates Schumacher's "troubled" quote to the fact that his own marriage had recently and surprisingly ended. "I didn't read the article where Mr. Schumacher said that, but it wasn't based on any experience. I never threw the Batmobile off a cliff or didn't show up. He knew I was going through a divorce, so that [comment] was designed to help my ex-wife in custody, which was pretty . shocking is the only word I can come up with. He was a very generous director. [When] my mom came to visit, there was a nice chair for her, and he never forgets anybody's name. Very kind man in that way, so that was shocking." {Reached on the phone, Schumacher confirms it's something he said and meant, that he wishes Kilmer well and doesn't want to say anything more on the matter.}

All the Toms, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, even the younger guys -- Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt -- they've all made 20 or 30 movies. A lot of actors actors did two or three films a year for years and learned how to act by doing movies." He waits a beat. "No disrespect, I have no idea whether he studied or not, but Tom Hanks -- I used to see him around when BACHELOR PARTY and TOP SECRET! were coming out. Since then he's made three times as many movies as me. But that wouldn't have worked for me."

Kilmer says all this with no visible emotion, no distress, no anger, no doubts. "People don't believe me when I say I don't think about it. There wasn't anything to think or ask a question about. It takes energy to be jealous or to want revenge. There's so little time in the world."

Kelly McGillis, who appeared in TOP GUN and plays Kilmer's sister in AT FIRST SIGHT, says that since their days at Juilliard, "He's been nothing but generous to me. [The bad press] is the price you pay for fighting for what you believe in." Heat co-star Tom Sizemore told Premiere, "Never have I heard so much crap about an actor I had such a good time with. It's all bull. He doesn't explain himself to people, so people talk."

Others have had terrific experiences with him, especially, it seems, in situations where actor and director or producer have the same sense of what should be done. "Val was one of the first people cast in [THE PRINCE OF EGYPT]," says Katzenberg of the four-year effort he oversaw with DreamWorks. "He was there every step along the way, patient, understanding, and phenomenally generous with his time."

And there are kindred spirits: "You know, people have said I'm a little crazy. But if you're the slightest bit different, you're gonna get a little of that, right?" says Ted Turner, for whom Kilmer narrated a documentary called AFRICA UNBOTTLED in 1998. Turner owns New Line, the studio behind DR. MOREAU, and is the vice chairman of Time Warner, the parent company of Entertainment Weekly. "He's got his own style. I kind of like that. I think he's an interesting, fun person. I think he's a hoot."

Kilmer conceded that, yes, theoretically, he might have made other decisions, other movies, more movies. {THE GHOST & THE DARKNESS passed largely unnoticed, and THE SAINT, for which Kilmer created many of the characters' alter egos, fell far short of the hopes Paramount had for it as a potential series. Another movie, DEAD GIRL, was never released.}And he knows there is a way to pursue an acting career that avoids controversy, like living in Los Angeles, cultivating more friends in the industry. Sometimes he worries. Maybe he didn't get a reading for Jonathan Demme's PHILADELPHIA because he turned down Demme's SOMETHING WILD more than a decade ago. "You can't help wondering," he says, "but it's a childish fear because of the way acting works, the way the business works."

Fear of what?
"No matter how successful you are, everybody has periods when nobody cares. No one is immune. Charlie Chaplin couldn't get a movie made after a while. Orson Wells, Brando, any of 'em. It can make you think you should put a job before your personal needs, or you might not get another one. I'm grateful I didn't succumb to that thinking. I'd be much more successful now because I would have worked more. I've never added them up, but I think I've made 15 [films] now. All the Toms, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, even the younger guys -- Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt -- they've all made 20 or 30 movies. A lot of actors actors did two or three films a year for years and learned how to act by doing movies." He waits a beat. "No disrespect, I have no idea whether he studied or not, but Tom Hanks -- I used to see him around when BACHELOR PARTY and TOP SECRET! were coming out. Since then he's made three times as many movies as me. But that wouldn't have worked for me."