Val Kilmer may not be on Hollywood’s A-list as such, but he thrives on taking risk, such as his latest film The Salton Sea. Here he plays Danny Parker, a man who is losing his grip on life. With a bag of money sitting in a hotel room on fire, playing his trumpet, he leads viewers into a journey back through his troubled past.
Salton Sea is directed by D.J. Caruso, and also stars Vincent D’Onofrio and Anthony LaPaglia. In a calm, focused frame of mind, and totally amiable, Paul Fischer spoke to one of Hollywood’s less conventional stars.
Question: So let me start off by asking you the obvious: What you think of The Salton Sea?
Answer: I’m proud of it. It was very challenging and risky with all the different styles that it takes on. If you can imagine reading it, it’s just hard to see working because they almost never do.
Question: Is that what drew you to this movie?
Answer: I loved the character and I loved the story. Then all I heard about DJ [Caruso] was that Frank Darabont liked him, that they worked together before and a lot of the key roles in the technical side were from Frank’s crew and I was comforted by that idea, but then I was really anxious to meet DJ who was extremely well prepared and really the one question I remember really wanting to know from him was what, if any, personal connection he had to the story. Why did he really want to tell the story other than it just being a good job and a nice way to start or some business reason. And I was really relieved and inspired by his answer because he lost a brother and he had very serious and real thoughts about the subject of loss and what happens to you when you need to move on and can’t. And I’d lost a brother so it was even just something you couldn’ t script, so we just had a kinship right away, because of this loss we both suffered.
Question: What about the character? You said you really liked the character. Very obviously, this is a very complex guy who has a lot going on, so what kinds of challenges as an actor did you have to tap into a lot of his different facets?
Answer: Well, I have played addicts before though using different tools to try and kill themselves with Jim Morrison and booze and anything he probably could get his hands on and probably detergent if there was nothing around. And with Doc Holiday with the booze. But I really had started with the character the true story of a west German terrorist who got into heroin and so I started acting having done a lot of research on the subject. And the thing that helps playing an addict and in thinking about them such a problem today always helps me to understand that the addict is trying to get out of the pain of mortality; they’re trying to get to his spiritual sense of peace and just picking methods that can prevent them or in the case of speed is not so much the possibility of overdosing but madness.
Question: You’ve played a lot of sort of very isolated characters in your work. Either isolated through their environment or whatever happens you seem very detached. What is it about those kinds of characters that appeals to you?
Answer: Nothing comes to mind with that word detached sort of makes me feels detached, but the passion of the three that were mentioned there are sort of obvious that are attractive because it makes a good drama. The characters that are in situations that are extreme like in this case with Danny and The Salton Sea, is that he’s, he’s so in love with his wife. He can’t move out of this moment. He doesn’t know or want to know life without her. And it makes it very, very appealing because it’s I found it inspiring to play the character because at times I’ve lost hope and then felt guilty because I didn’t know what to do or felt that I couldn’t go on or didn’t know how to go on myself and this character keeps trying and trying and trying and I think it’s been a surprise to Castle Rock, the company that financed this that the women are finding this story so appealing because I think they just thought it was a harder story than they would and I’ve been more surprised that the older audience is, the audiences in New York loved it; it’s just an older bunch of people than they invited. It was just this strangely elderly screening couple of nights in New York. And they were so animated about it. I was really surprised. So maybe they were hipsters in the sixties or something. They really like the story and I can only assume that because of this love story aspect.
Question: What do you think about the whole connection with speed. I felt that the whole crux of the story was Danny’s story and I wasn’t really sure why speed was the choice that he made.
Answer: Well, I think it was the writer’s choice. You know it’s the circumstances this character as it applies, although it’s an accident. But as a writer’s choice that he chose this world because of the dynamics of it. Think of the different kind of even comedic styles, largely this really broad slapstick then this super realistic, there’s witticism in it, there’s all kinds of styles of comedy just in that aspect of it, up against some super realistic moment of drama or melodrama. I was particularly concerned about the melodramatic moments because it’s easy to fail in that style and that kind of broad indulgent moment on screen, but I think the writer picked the speed as the terrain of it because it was as close as he could get to this feeling of madness inside of this loss. It’s kind of a sick story because it’s such a complete and weird world. That it does feel complete and I don’t know how else to describe it. But the writer created this world.
Question: What about Danny? Why did he choose the world of speed?
Answer: Well, it’s really kind of thrust on him; he just goes into this world. The way I imagined it was not thinking too much but he found himself. Which way, what’s the closest way just water finding it’s level. Go to wherever it is and get closest to the sky and doesn’t really realize that he’s got some sort of grand plan because once he finds out it’s them he’ll just kill them. And like Hamlet, Hamlet’s told pretty early on he’s told at the beginning of the story he’s the guy. But it really becomes a moral question in the drama. Of course this path along the way he loses himself and doesn’t really doesn’t really know why or how he’s become like the enemy, because that’s what happens in the story. There is this poetic justice. He has to pay dues as Danny. You know he suffers because he was this guy.
Question: How do you tap into it as an actor? And do you find it easier to tap into this state of at times pure melancholy that this character has to go through?
Answer: No, it’s really hard, harder than any role I’ve played in a long, long time. And hopefully I think that art should cost something and the kind of art that I like seems to be that way. I think that’s part of what that sort of strange intangible sense of life is that we get with a film. It’s a really a directed medium.
Question: You seem to play a lot of very melancholy characters. I’m just wondering, do you feel that you’d like to be silly on screen and do something really irreverent again?
Answer: No, I’d love to do another comedy. I don’t really feel like I’ve played a lot of melancholy characters; I feel like I’ d like to have played a lot more of serious drama than I have.
Answer: Yeah. I haven’t done that many realistic stories. I mean I don’t even know if you call this realism.
Question: Maybe Danny is more burdened than melancholy.
Answer: I guess that’s part of the enduring drama in the story is that he’s dark. He’s not sure if he’s good or bad.
Question: Dark characters you’ve played a lot.
Answer: I don’t think that would average out. Maybe you’re right I’ve never added them up. Shall we? But to answer your earlier question, is to say I’ve been looking to do a comedy for a long time. I love them. I can’t get one. I can’t get anyone to give me one.
Question: There seems to be a certain cynicism when you talk about Hollywood. Is that how you really feel, generally, about Hollywood?
Answer: There’s no one in or out of it that’s not frustrated by the system of movie making, because it’s impossible to have the best plan, but nothing ever works out in the movie business the way it’s planned.
Question: You’re not a Hollywood guy are you? You don’t go to the parties, you don’t do the, you don’t play that game. Has that been easy for you to do?
Answer: I’m sure it’s cost me a lot of money and jobs, but none that I’ve noticed. I’ve been so lucky. Like Batman, I was well represented and I also had worked someplace where it would be appropriate for them to consider me. I think the things that has worked to my advantage is that I’ve never invested in the false hope of that that roller coaster. And some actors that have and for whatever reasons, I mean I can’t imagine coming from the Midwest to this town and having someone say you’re on the cover of Vanity Fair and all that stuff and not be effected by that. You know how would you prepare for a kind of adoration that you know.
Question: What’s up for you now?
Answer: I’m looking to do a comedy! [laughter] I’ m not even joking I would love to.
Question: I’ll put the word out for you.
Answer: Thank you.