During the 1990s, Kilmer gained critical respect after a series of films that were also commercially successful, including his roles as Jim Morrison in The Doors, Doc Holliday in 1993's Tombstone, Batman in 1995's Batman Forever, Chris Shiherlis in 1995's Heat and Simon Templar in 1997's The Saint. During the early 2000s, Kilmer appeared in several well-received roles, including The Salton Sea, Spartan, and supporting performances in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Alexander, and as the voice of KITT in Knight Rider.
Kilmer, the second of three sons, was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Gladys (née Ekstadt) and Eugene Kilmer, an aerospace equipment distributor and real estate developer. Kilmer's grandfather was a gold miner in New Mexico; the poet Joyce Kilmer is a second cousin of Kilmer's. Kilmer grew up in the San Fernando Valley with his two siblings, older brother Mark and younger brother Wesley,but says that even as a child growing up in California he did not like it there. Kilmer, who was raised a Christian Scientist, attended Chatsworth High School—where his classmates included Kevin Spacey and Mare Winningham—as well as Hollywood's Professional's School. He also attended Berkeley Hall School, a Christian Science school in Beverly Hills, CA, from nursery school until graduation from the 9th grade. At the age of 17, he was at the time the youngest person to be accepted into Juilliard's drama program. His brother Wesley died as a teenager due to an epileptic seizure in a swimming pool. Kilmer did not think Christian Science treatment was responsible for his brother's death as Wesley was alternated between medical treatments and Christian Science.
In 1981, Kilmer co-authored and starred in the play How It All Began, which was performed at the Public Theatre at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Kilmer turned down a role in Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 film, The Outsiders, as he had prior theatre commitments.That same year, his first off-stage acting role (excluding television commercials) came in the form of a television short titled One Too Many, which was an educational drama on drinking and driving; it also starred a young Michelle Pfeiffer. His big break came when he received top billing in the spoof comedy Top Secret!, where he played an American rock and roll star. Kilmer sang all the songs in the film and actually released an album under the film character's name, "Nick Rivers".
During a brief hiatus, he backpacked throughout Europe, before going on to play the lead character in the 1985 comedy Real Genius. He turned down roles in Dune and Blue Velvet, before being cast as naval aviator "Iceman" in the big budget action film Top Gun, alongside Tom Cruise. Top Gun grossed a total of $344,700,000 worldwide. Following roles in the television films The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains, Kilmer played "Madmartigan" in the fantasy Willow; he met his future wife, co-star Joanne Whalley, on the film's set. Kilmer published a book of his poems, My Edens After Burns, in 1987, and starred in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival production of Hamlet in 1988. In 1989, Kilmer played the lead in both Kill Me Again, again opposite Whalley, and in TNT's Billy the Kid.
After several delays, director Oliver Stone finally started production on the film, The Doors, based on the band of the same name. Kilmer memorized the lyrics to all of lead singer Jim Morrison's songs prior to his audition, and sent a video of himself performing some Doors songs to director Stone. Stone was not impressed with the tape, but Paul Rothchild (the original producer of The Doors) said "I was shaken by it" and suggested they record Kilmer in the studio. After Kilmer was cast as Morrison, he prepared for the role by attending Doors tribute concerts and reading Morrison's poetry.He spent close to a year before production dressing in Morrison-like clothes, and spent time at Morrison's old hangouts along the Sunset Strip. His portrayal of Morrison was praised and members of The Doors noted that Kilmer did such a convincing job that they had trouble distinguishing his voice from Morrison's. Paul Rothchild played Val's version of 'The End' for Robby Krieger, and he told him "I'm really glad they got 'The End'. We never got a recording of that live with Jim and now we've got it." However, Doors keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, was less than enthusiastic with how Morrison was portrayed by director Oliver Stone's interpretation. In the early 1990s, Kilmer starred in the mystery thriller Thunderheart, action comedy The Real McCoy and again teamed with Top Gun director Tony Scott to play Elvis in True Romance, which was written by Quentin Tarantino.
In 1993, Kilmer played Doc Holliday in the western Tombstone alongside Kurt Russell, in what some say is one of Kilmer's finest performances.[who?] 1995 saw Kilmer star in Wings of Courage, a 3D IMAX film, and that same year, he starred opposite Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat, which is now considered one of the best crime/drama films of the 1990s. In 1996, he appeared in a largely unknown film, Dead Girl, and starred alongside Marlon Brando in the poorly receivedThe Island of Dr Moreau. That year, Kilmer starred alongside Michael Douglas in the thriller The Ghost and the Darkness. The next year he played Simon Templar in the popular action film, The Saint. In 1998, he lent his voice to the animated film The Prince of Egypt, before starring in the independent film Joe the King (1999) and playing a blind man in the drama/romance At First Sight, which he described as of then, the hardest role he had ever had.
In December 1993, Batman Forever director Joel Schumacher had seen Tombstone, and was most impressed with Kilmer's performance as Doc Holliday. Schumacher felt for him to be perfect for the role of the Caped Crusader, though at the time, the role was still Michael Keaton's. Batman co-creator Bob Kane said he felt Kilmer was the best actor to portray Batman.
In July 1994, Michael Keaton decided not to return for a third Batman film after 1992's Batman Returns,due to "creative differences." William Baldwin (who previously worked with Schumacher on Flatliners) was reported to be a top contender, though just days after Keaton dropped out, Kilmer was cast. Kilmer took the role without even knowing who the new director was and without reading the script.Kilmer first learned that he was offered the role of Batman while he was literally in a bat cave in Africa, doing research for The Ghost and the Darkness (1996). Released in June 1995, Batman Forever was a success at the box office,despite receiving mixed reviews from critics.
In February 1996, Kilmer decided not to return for a sequel (1997's Batman & Robin, in which George Clooney replaced Kilmer), feeling that Batman was being marginalized in favor of the villains. Kilmer went on to do The Saint with a salary of $6 million.When asked why he did not return for a fourth installment, Kilmer said he liked the characterization of Simon Templar better than Bruce Wayne. Kilmer commented "Simon is a literary character who uses his wit, and not violence. Batman is a real screwed-up guy who has hustled an entire city, and now he's running around in a cape. What's it all about?"
Kilmer's first role in 2000 was in the big budget Warner Bros. box office disaster Red Planet. That same year, he had a supporting role in the film Pollock and hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time. In 2002, he starred in the thriller The Salton Sea, which was generally well-reviewed, but received only a limited release. The same year, he teamed with his True Romance co-star, Christian Slater, and the two starred in the low budget film, Hard Cash, also known as Run for the Money.
In 2003, Kilmer starred alongside Kate Bosworth in the drama/thriller Wonderland, as well as appearing in The Missing, where he again worked with Willow director Ron Howard. The next year, he starred in Spartan, where he played a United States government secret agent who is assigned the task of rescuing the kidnapped daughter of the President. He received Delta Force-like training in preparation for the role. Subsequently, he had a role in the drama, Stateside, and starred (again with Slater) in the thriller Mindhunters, which was filmed in 2003 but not released until 2005. Kilmer next appeared in the big budget Oliver Stone production, Alexander, which received poor reviews. Also in 2004, Kilmer returned to the theatre to play Moses in a Los Angeles musical production of The Ten Commandments: The Musical, produced by BCBG founder Max Azria. The production played at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. Kilmer had previously played Moses in the animated film The Prince of Egypt. Finally in 2004, Kilmer appeared in an episode of Entourage where he played a tripped-out Sherpa shaman whose primary source of income was the growing, harvesting and distributing high-quality marijuana all under a guise of hippy-dippy metaphysical insights.
Kilmer was in negotiations with Richard Dutcher (a leading director of Mormon-related films) to play the lead role in a film entitled Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith, although the project never materialized. Kilmer performed in The Postman Always Rings Twice on the London stage from June to September 2005. In 2005, he co-starred with Robert Downey, Jr in the action-comedy film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. His performance was praised and the film was well reviewed, but the film received only a limited release.It later won the award as "Overlooked Film of the Year" from the Phoenix Film Critics Society. In 2006, he reunited with director Tony Scott a third time for a supporting role opposite Denzel Washington in the box-office hit Déjà Vu. In 2007, he guest-starred in hit TV series Numb3rs episode "Trust Metric" as torture expert Mason Lancer. In 2008, Kilmer starred alongside Stephen Dorff in the Sony and Stage 6 film Felon. The film was given only a limited theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles in 2008, but it developed into a success secondary to positive word of mouth.
He next starred alongside Nicolas Cage in the Werner Herzog film Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, and alongside Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson in Streets of Blood. Both were released in 2009. He appeared as the main antagonist "Mongoose" in a live TV series adaptation of the comic/video game of XIII on NBC in 2009.
As of 2010, Kilmer was working on writing the movie about the life of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science church. He is currently working on a possible sequel to 1985's Real Genius. He stars in a 2010 thriller from Michael Oblowitz called Mr. Nobody, wherein he portrays a Police Officer.
Knight Rider revival
He was the voice of KITT for the 2008 Knight Rider TV pilot movie and the following television series. He replaced Will Arnett, who had to step down from the role due to contractual conflict with General Motors.
In keeping with tradition established by the original Knight Rider series and original KITT actor William Daniels, Kilmer was uncredited for the role on-screen.
Kilmer was married to Joanne Whalley, an actress, from March 1988 to February 1996. The two met while working together on the film Willow. They have two children, daughter Mercedes, born in 1991, and son Jack, born in 1995.
He dated supermodel Cindy Crawford in the 1990s. A noted incident in their dating life involved Crawford's advertising for a bar of which Kilmer did not approve. He admitted being unreasonable.
Warwick Davis, Kilmer's co-star from the 1988 fantasy Willow, in his audio commentary for the film described Kilmer as a very funny man and a hard working, dedicated actor. Kilmer is also an avid musician, and released a CD in the fall of 2007, proceeds of which went to his charity interests.
Other actors have noted that he prepares for his roles extensively and meticulously. Kevin Jarre, the original director of Tombstone, said that Kilmer once told him, "I have a reputation for being difficult. But only with stupid people." Irwin Winkler (director of At First Sight) talked about his decision to hire Kilmer. "I'd heard the stories, so I checked him out. I called Bob DeNiro and Michael Mann, who'd worked with him on Heat, and they both gave him raves... I had a wonderful experience in spite of all the naysayers." Jeffrey Katzenberg (director of Prince of Egypt) talks about the actor. "Val was one of the first people cast in The Prince of Egypt. He was there every step of the way; patient, understanding, and phenomenally generous with his time."
Following their appearance together in Top Gun, Kilmer and co-star Tom Cruise reportedly had taken their onscreen conflict offscreen. Reports classified the two as holding a vitriolic hatred of one another. Kilmer even refused to participate in a charity beach volleyball game with Cruise on the grounds that he was, quote, "dangerous", although Kilmer is noted to have knocked out Cruise when a fistfight between the two developed during the filming of Top Gun.
Kilmer owns a ranch in New Mexico, where he tracks, hikes, fishes, and raises buffalo. Kilmer is also involved with The Wildlife Center of New Mexico and assists in rescuing animals and releasing them on his ranch.
In 2009, Kilmer listed Pecos River Ranch for sale for $33,000,000 with conservation real estate firm Orvis/Cushman & Wakefield.
He briefly flirted with running for Governor of New Mexico in 2010, but in the end declined to run. He made a donation to Ralph Nader's 2008 presidential campaign. On January 30, 2009, Kilmer was chosen to be the King of Bacchus, a parading Krewe in New Orleans, who in 1969, began the tradition of having celebrities ride in their parade as King.
Year Film Role Notes
1984 Top Secret! Nick Rivers Film debut
1985 Real Genius Chris Knight
1986 Top Gun Lt. Tom 'Iceman' Kazanski
The Murders in the Rue Morgue Phillipe Huron TV film
1987 The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains Robert Eliot Burns/Eliot Roberts TV film
CableACE Award for Best Actor in a Movie or Miniseries
1988 Willow Madmartigan
1989 Billy the Kid William Bonney
Kill Me Again Jack Andrews
1991 The Doors Jim Morrison Nominated – MTV Movie Award for Best Performance - Male
1992 Thunderheart Ray Levoi
1993 The Real McCoy J.T. Barker
Tombstone Doc Holliday Based on a true story
Nominated – MTV Movie Award for Most Desirable Male
Nominated – MTV Movie Award for Best Performance - Male
True Romance Mentor
1995 Batman Forever Bruce Wayne/Batman Nominated – MTV Movie Award for Most Desirable Male also for Heat
Heat Chris Shiherlis Nominated – MTV Movie Award for Most Desirable Male also for Batman Forever
Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
Wings of Courage Jean Mermoz IMAX Film
1996 The Island of Dr Moreau Montgomery
The Ghost and the Darkness Col. John Henry Patterson Based on a true story
Dead Girl Dr. Dark
1997 The Saint Simon Templar
1998 The Prince of Egypt Moses/God Voice-over
1999 At First Sight Virgil 'Virg' Adamson
Joe the King Bob Henry
2000 Pollock Willem de Kooning
Red Planet Robby Gallagher
2002 The Salton Sea Danny Parker / Tom Van Allen Limited release
Prism Award for Best Performance in a Theatrical Feature Film
Hard Cash FBI Agent Mark C. Cornell a.k.a. Run for the Money
2003 Wonderland John Holmes Based on the Wonderland Murders
The Missing Lt. Jim Ducharme
Blind Horizon Frank Kavanaugh
Masked and Anonymous Animal Wrangler
2004 Entourage The Sherpa Episode: "The Script and the Sherpa"
Spartan Robert Scott
Stateside Staff Sergeant Skeer
George and the Dragon El Cabillo uncredited
2005 Mindhunters Jake Harris
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Perry Van Shrike/"Gay Perry" Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Nominated– Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
2006 Summer Love The Wanted Man a.k.a. Dead Man's Bounty
Moscow Zero Andrey
10th & Wolf Murtha
Déjà Vu Agent Andrew Pryzwarra
The Ten Commandments: The Musical Moses
2007 Have Dreams, Will Travel Henderson
Numb3rs Mason Lancer Episode: "Trust Metric"
2008 Comanche Moon Inish Scull TV mini-series based on the book
Knight Rider voice of KITT TV film based on 1980s TV series
Conspiracy MacPherson direct-to-video
Felon John Smith
Delgo Bogardus voice only
Columbus Day John
XIII Mongoose based on Belgian comic book XIII
2008–2009 Knight Rider voice of KITT TV series based on the 2008 TV film
2009 The Chaos Experiment James Pettis a.k.a. The Steam Experiment
Streets of Blood Detective Andy Devereaux
American Cowslip Todd Inglebrink
The Thaw Dr. David Kruipen
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Stevie Pruit
2010 Fake Identity also known as Double Identity Nick
Mr. Nobody The Stranger post-production
Provinces of Night Warren Bloodworth post-production
The Irishman Joe Manditski post-production
MacGruber Dieter Von Cunth post-production
Georgia Dutch Journalist post-production
Tales of an Ancient Empire Rollo filming