Arts & Culture » Performing Arts

Actor Val Kilmer explains why playing Mark Twain is such 'a bitch'

Real genius

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Note: The Improv Orlando confirmed today that this show has been canceled. Contact the club at 407-480-5233 for more information.

Actor Val Kilmer isn't a stranger to portraying real-life men in history. From playing musician Jim Morrison in the 1991 biopic The Doors to gunslinger Doc Holliday in the 1993 Western Tombstone to porn star John Holmes in the 2003 crime drama Wonderland, Kilmer has made these chameleonic performances some of the cornerstones of his extensive career over the last 30 years.

In Cinema Twain, a 90-minute film version of his one-man stage show Citizen Twain, Kilmer takes on a new real-life persona in Mark Twain, the 19th-century American writer and humorist best known for his novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. During the satirical performance, Kilmer, who considers Twain "an honorary Founding Father," waxes philosophical on politics, family and faith.

On Monday, July 10, at the Improv, Kilmer will be in attendance to introduce Cinema Twain to an Orlando audience for the first time. The film will be followed by a Q&A session with Kilmer, and a meet-and-greet for VIP ticketholders.

"There's nothing different between playing all these real-life characters," Kilmer says. "It's just more challenging because he's a genius. It's hard to play a genius. You have to pretend to be smart, and that's a bitch."

For Kilmer, Cinema Twain is sort of pre-production work (and practice) for another film he's planning to direct, write and star in called Mark Twain & Mary Baker Eddy. The film tells the story between the contrasting lives of Twain, who delighted in skewering religious hypocrisy, and Eddy, the controversial founder of the Christian Science spiritual movement.

"I needed to take time before pre-production to prepare for the role," Kilmer says. "The fastest, best way to do that was to create a stand-up show, like [Twain] used to do."

Kilmer admits the stage production took on a life of its own and "engulfed" him before he knew it. Suddenly, Broadway producers were calling him asking if he'd be interested in taking the show on the road.

"Theater is my first love," he says. "So I created a tour to refine it, but I had to cancel because of a health issue [Kilmer recently revealed he was battling oral cancer]. Now I'm back in perfect health, but still healing. So, while my voice returns, I'm screening the film of the play at comedy clubs and cinemas across the country."

Although Kilmer has starred in a few comedies in his career (Top Secret!, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, MacGruber), it's not a genre he's necessarily known for. However, he hopes Citizen Twain helps him flex those comedy muscles.

"I've been trying to do more comedies for 15 years, but it's a locked system in Hollywood," he says. "They want the name recognition on the movie poster like the wonderful Owen Wilson or Jack Black. It's just one of those rare hurdles – a Catch-22."

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