Here’s a film star memoir that took me by surprise.
Not that Val Kilmer’s “I’m Your Huckleberry” is all that confessional, or filled with gossip and Big Revelations. It’s not.
But it’s a breezy, sometimes self-effacing, sometimes egotistical peek under the hood of a fascinating figure in recent film history.
Think he’ll dodge the “What happened to Val Kilmer?” question, about his looks and career? His health issues — throat cancer, bloating related to that — is right there in the prologue.
Figure he won’t address his rep as “difficult” and a “diva?” That comes through in a sentence or two about his first professional teen acting gig, a commercial…that he WALKED out on. The way he skips by that suggests that maybe he doesn’t see that as a “tell.”
He owns up to the relative privilege of his childhood (Dad was a boom or bust business type), is generous about all the women he’s been linked to over the decades — Mare Winningham was his high school love, Cher, Joanne Whalley, etc. — and jabs “THE Julliard School,” where he was, at 16, “the youngest (actor) ever admitted (no idea if that’s true)” even as he owns up to being a ham, and hamming up his first role there.
The fact that he played the lead in “Richard III” should tell you what a mercurial talent he was, even as a boy. Kilmer sprinted out of the gate faster than any actor of his generation. So what happened?
Some of that’s here, between the lines admissions, etc. Actors by the nature of their profession like having too much drama in their personal lives, he explains. And I believe him. Some of it we gather from his similarities to one of the guys he played — Jim Morrison of The Doors. Kilmer’s “a poet,” a free spirit and a Brando-admiring “rebel” who parlayed fame into a lifestyle that was as Hollywood-free as possible, even as he gained that “reputation.”
He cut up with Robert Downey Jr. on the set of his best film and calls him a “brother.” Wonder if Downey signs off on that?
He name drops like an old pro, Willie and Brando to KRS1. He flogs his Christian Science faith like a man staring death in the face.
I’ve interviewed him a couple of times over the years, and that diva thing never really made itself obvious in these chats. A little full of himself, sure. “Above it all” strut, all that.
But consider the work. He’s turned half a dozen films into great or near great acting exercises.
I’d call “Spartan,” “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” “Heat,” “Tombstone,” “Thunderheart” (that Brando bond with Native American causes), “The Doors” and “Wonderland” his best. But “True Romance,” “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” a pretty fun one-off “Batman” and that damned “Top Gun” (He’s back in the sequel, kids.) made some noise and impact on the culture. “The Ghost and the Darkness,” “At First Sight,” and on and on he went.
“Alexander” and his experiences making an epic mess out of “The Island of Doctor Moreau” could make their own books, if he was more open about admitting his sins.
But when he describes the tragic death of his younger brother just as Val was about to enter “THE Julliard School” with an “I felt abandoned,” you understand why. Looking in the mirror doesn’t mean you see and will accurately describe everything in it.
Still, you can’t say we haven’t enjoyed “the show” he’s put on. As he points to all the various ways “Huckleberry” has wound around his life, from the real-life plant in his desert SoCal youth, to falling for Twain as a kid, to “Tombstone” and Doc Holliday (the origin of the title line of the book) to playing “Citizen Twain” in a one-man show, Kilmer’s the sort of narcissistic, creative eccentric that you can’t help but be tickled by. His memoir’s just more proof of that.
VAL KILMER — I’M YOUR HUCKLEBERRY: A Memoir, Simon & Schuster, 303 pages, $27.99.