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March 2004
Spartan: An Interview with Val Kilmer

By Tonisha Johnson

Spartan: An Interview with Val Kilmer

The roles Val Kilmer has played over his many years as an actor all bring "serious and focus" skills to the big screen. From Batman to Doc Holiday, multifaceted Kilmer has always played the part to a "T". His latest role is no exception. In "Spartan", Val Kilmer plays Robert Scott a military officer on assignment to bring back the President's daughter and save himself from the Special Task Force created for the recovery operation only to find that the "Force" may be behind it all.. Expect action, excitement and of course adventure in this film. Don't forget the occasional cool stare at the enemy with something equally cool in response. It just wouldn't be Val without that. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Kilmer talked about working with David Mamet and doing some training for the film.


What do you remember most from your first film Top Secret?

VK: Well, there were cruel comedians. Like I learned the guitar cause I played this guy and there were a couple of songs were he played the guitar. And I would just kill myself to learn the songs and make the guys happy and everything. And all along they knew they didn't want me to play the guitar. They just liked that look on my face. Meanwhile my fingers were bleeding so; they didn't really want me to play.


You and Mamet have these "certain reputations" Tell me what's it like when those two reputations are bought together?

VK: Well Mamet said to me "Oh that means they like you". "That means that you've arrived when someone says bad things about you". But I think with him, it's probably just because he has an opinion and he's outspoken. He's not ever shy. I think he's probably like me learning to do business more, now he lives out in LA and doing movies and plays. He's funny and talented. He's a really great dad. He cares about everything. He's always got an observation that's worth hearing. And he writes like mad. He writes his column every week. (The Guardian).


From your perception, what is it that you do that makes people say bad things about you?

VK: My perception is I never done anything but work really hard. A lot of times or the few times there were certain things that were negative but were never done during work.


Was this movie based on a real person?

VK: We had a technical advisor that was around quite a bit. He was helpful because he truly lived it. Same life. Really at a certain point beyond the government. Where his actions like this character become technically speaking illegal. And when the government is doing something illegal that's the dilemma.


What about the "Your on your own. Keep your head down" advice Eric Haney (technical advisor former Delta Force operative) gave you?

VK: They're all like cowboys. They speak really casually but their amazing characters. They are trained as brain surgeons. More like a combat; like a medic. With someone's life is on the line and your ability to handle that stress and to do something as intricate as get inside someone else's body and put it back together again is how they live. Very, very stressful job. Most of them die. They know they're gonna die. There's a zero percent chance that most of their missions succeed and most of them don't succeed. They're really genuine warriors; meaning that their, well, the guys that I've met are not Wart Mongers. They like it when there's peace times, but they're also action junkies that thrive in this place and life where they pretty much know they're gonna die.


Was there a training camp?

VK: David Mamet decided he was to busy to attend (laughing) so we just went out to a lot of restaurants. No. I worked very hard on it. Because you can't really fake this sought of paralysis they have. They're not like tough guys. You don't really see them in a crowd that's why they're so really good at their jobs. Their very strong and very quick.


So what kind of training was it?

VK: A lot of weapons, mostly action. How they move is very precise and very efficient.


And you knew how to shoot?

VK: Well, I had already knew how to from other movies. And just for fun.


Were there preparations for this role?

VK: Yeah, basically just doing everything. With Mamet it's a very simple prep. This is what happens when the Presidents daughter is missing and the secret service doesn't know what to do about it. And it's a strange group the secret service. They don't really have a leader. It's not set up like a military setup. Each one is suppose to be able to act as a leader if any thing comes up. As a consequence of that, at least this was true a while ago, certain things can happen and they can't sort of make their move and coordinate with other organizations like this story dramatizes. They'd have too (the movie) to get the girl back.


Mamet said he left something out for you to bring to the character. What was this particular talent?

VK: There were less cuss words then usual. (laughing). My daughter can watch about half of this movie.


What do you want the audience to think about the film and how it reflects on our government?

VK: well I think Wag the Dog is a good film representative, if possible today, of manipulation in the media. I'm very wary of news on television. I was very impressed when I was younger from a book called "Amusing ourselves to death". Neil Postman is a media analyst. His theory is television doesn't influence our culture, it is our culture. And that presidency and anything that relies on television now for election is totally dictated by that. And you saw on Desert Storm were government officials were saying I don't know where our policy is in relation to today's battle because they haven't seen the amendment. They started saying that. That's shocking because that's not reality that's entertainment. And if you look up the definition of news in the dictionary it isn't what you watch on TV. Literally, news is something that happens that matters to you. Not most of what we watch on television. And the things that are going on that really matter to us, I identify myself as a New Yorker because I've lived here through 10 years; the kind of things the city has lived through like 9/11, like that's news, that really matters. But not most of what we watch.


Do you think the city (NY) is ready for films that portray the government "covering" up using its own people to "fix" the mistakes? Do you think we're past that point of paranoia?

VK: It's certainly a possibility. I think that we're aware and a very smart nation. Like in another film David wrote called Wag the Dog, when war has to be declared by an act of Congress. But if you go to war you have to declare war and we're at war and we just did that which is not legal. I think that we're aware of it but just don't know what to do with it. But we have an opportunity now to be responsible in a new way. I think obviously what we did in defense of terrorism was the right thing to do but the story shifted quite a bit about what we're really fighting.


In this film you got to mentor Derek Luke and Tia Texada. What interested you in doing these types of films?

VK: I just like the script. I had never done one of those before. And now I am doing one I've never done before. A detective story about a guy Shane Black, with Robert Downey Jr. He's so funny. I just can't stop laughing.


What is it called?

VK: Right now it's called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. What do you think of that? It's a detective genre. But I don't know if audiences will know if it fits into that mold.


Are you interested in Directing?

VK: Yeah. I get asked a lot. I just had a chance last year. This movie Wonderland has a violent ending to it. And I had a chance to do a Jim Thompson novel to direct Killer inside Me I just didn't feel that mean. And Spartan's tough.


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