A Conversation with Val Kilmer: Unbreakable Spirit

Val Kilmer Conversation

A Conversation with Val Kilmer: Unbreakable Spirit

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"One of the elementary lessons you learn when studying acting is that of mastering the senses. Listening, for example. Real listening requires effort, concentration, and focus. If one wants to act well, one needs to receive information free from personal judgments in order to respond spontaneously and honestly. If you're really listening, the ear is turned on to receive, and the inner monologue, your own dialogue, is turned off." - Val Kilmer

He has been described as "devastatingly handsome," "lush-lipped and so perfect looking that reason flees, leaving you to think 'So this is what God intended'." He has been called an "old spirit" with a wry, dry sense of humor, incalculable charm, and a smile so radiant it seems "to come from a land of distant, unimaginable beings." His chiseled good looks and dramatic intensity have earned Val Kilmer a place in movie history as one of cinema's most devoted and charismatic actors, yet he remains an enigma, at once sarcastic and friendly, sincerely grounded and almost calculatedly off-center, meticulously well-spoken but still so difficult to pin down.

Val Edward Kilmer was born on December 31, 1959, in the shadow of Tinseltown in Chatsworth, California and grew up splitting his time between LA and Santa Fe, where he lived on a ranch once owned by Roy Rogers. In 1977, he became the youngest student ever admitted to Juilliard's drama division, where he "cut his teeth" performing in Greek and Shakespearean stage classics. While still in school, Kilmer co-authored and starred in "How it All Began" and worked extensively off-Broadway before making the jump to the silver screen in 1983 with the lead in Top Secret!, a farcical spoof of World War II films and Elvis musicals with songs Kilmer performed himself. He turned down the Patrick Swayze role in Dirty Dancing, claiming he didn't want to be perceived as a hunk (too late) and instead "dropped off the radar" for a few years to travel the world alone. Upon his return, Kilmer found mainstream fame with his breakout role as Iceman in 1986's Top Gun, opposite Tom Cruise. Sci-fi/fantasy fans swooned when he starred in George Lucas' 1988 film Willow, and the rest of the world followed suit when he played Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's 1991 biopic The Doors -- a performance so convincing it caused Roger Ebert to declare "this is not a case of casting, but of possession."

Most recently the actor starred in 2002's The Salton Sea, playing a trumpet player-turned-speed freak-turned FBI informer. In addition to his acting work, Kilmer also writes poetry—some of which is featured in his 1997 film The Saint—and is dedicated to social causes, from nuclear disarmament to world hunger. Contrary to many of his Hollywood peers, Kilmer remains oriented inward, trading the glitz and glamour of city life for the quietude of his Santa Fe ranch, where he lives with his two children. Published poet, father, philanthropist, star of stage and screen—Val Kilmer brings an unparalleled passion and unshakable creative vision to every project he takes on.

Val Kilmer is a paradox, a puzzle, a renaissance man, a maverick. Cinequest is proud to honor Mr. Kilmer with this award in recognition of his devotion to keeping the maverick spirit alive. - Maya Kroth, Mike Rabehl