In an acting career that has spanned close to 35 years, Val Kilmer has starred in movies that were box office hits upon their initial release (Top Gun, Heat, Tombstone) and others that found devoted audiences on video and cable (Top Secret!, Real Genius, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). On Saturday, June 30, at 8 p.m., Kilmer will be bringing his passion project Cinema Twain, a filmed version of his one-man play Citizen Twain, to New Orleans. The show, co-produced by Val Kilmer Live and Jonathan Mares Productions, will be at the historic Joy Theater on Canal Street. An audience Q & A session with Kilmer will follow the screening.
The play’s birth came from Kilmer looking for “a great American story” to make into a film. He was drawn to the relationship between the celebrated American author and satirist Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist (better known to the world as Christian Science), and the Pulitzer Prize-winning magazine The Christian Science Monitor. Kilmer himself is a Christian Scientist.
Twain was quoted as calling Eddy “the most interesting woman that ever lived,” but he was also fiercely critical of her. He suspected she was selling Christian Science as a way for her to become rich and famous. He published an entire book about her and her movement in 1907, titled Christian Science. Eddy wrote very little about Twain but acknowledged his humor and cleverness. The two never met in person, and both died in 1910.
While Kilmer still hopes to make his film on Twain and Eddy, he said the one-man show’s genesis came from his own desire to create the character of Mark Twain for his film. He said he always takes a long time to prepare, and Citizen Twain was part of the preparation process for the film on Twain and Eddy. The one-man show would simultaneously serve as a way to promote the movie to potential investors and get Kilmer himself ready to play Twain on screen. He debuted the show in 2012.
Even though Kilmer trained at Julliard’s prestigious drama school and has been acting in films since the 1984 comedy Top Secret! (made by the same team that brought moviegoers Airplane and The Naked Gun), he found the task of performing a one-man show to be a unique challenge. Actors are used to sharing the audience’s focus with other actors and reacting to co-stars. That’s not the case for Kilmer in Citizen Twain.
“It’s the hardest thing imaginable, as you have nowhere to hide …[It’s] only you and the audience,” Kilmer said. “I wanted to offer an honest profile of [Mark Twain’s] soul and character (he was extremely complex), as well as the incredible warmth we’re so used to from his famous comedy.”
The idea of two intelligent, accomplished people like Twain and Eddy having such markedly different opinions interested Kilmer, as it taps into his passion for freedom of speech, which he said is under “day-to-day assault” in America.
“I urge all Americans to take a chance and reach out to someone who believes differently than you, as Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy did. Look for love as the answer, and just see how much more fun life is when you leave some of that fear at the door,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer is no stranger to New Orleans, which he called “one of our national treasures.” He has shot two films in the Crescent City. The first was 2006’s post-Katrina thriller Deja Vu with Denzel Washington and the second was 2009’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans with Nicolas Cage. But it hasn’t been all work and no play for Kilmer in New Orleans, as he also reigned as the King of Bacchus during 2009’s Mardi Gras. He said he and his brother still laugh out loud remembering some of the situations they found themselves in during Carnival season. The Los Angeles-born actor was effusive when asked to discuss his favorite things about the city.
“I love the burgers at Port O’Call and every world-class joint in between,” Kilmer said. “I love how the love of the city just pours out of the locals … the laughter, the genuine love of the fellow man … and the music!”