DÉJÀ VU - Q&A with Val Kilmer
It's twenty years since Val Kilmer made Hollywood sit up and take notice with a breakout performance in TOP GUN (the film also made a star of the then little-known Tom Cruise). Two decades on, Kilmer's latest effort, the action thriller DÉJÀ VU, reunites him with TOP GUN producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott, a powerhouse duo whose joint hits also include ENEMY OF THE STATE, BEVERLY HILLS COP II and CRIMSON TIDE (Bruckheimer's other credits include the three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films). Kilmer plays Andrew Pryzwarra, an FBI agent who teams up with Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to track down the perpetrator of a catastrophic explosion on a New Orleans ferry. An intriguing blend of science fact and science fiction, DÉJÀ VU's unique plot twist finds agents Carlin and Pryzwarra tapping into a top-secret government project that may give them the chance to go back in time and prevent a crime that has already happened. "It's almost impossible to compare this film with anything else," says Kilmer, whose acclaimed performances include lead roles in HEAT, THE DOORS and KISS KISS BANG BANG, "and it's rare to find a script like that."
What's your take on the phenomenon of déjà vu? In the film there's the suggestion that it may have something to do with the existence of parallel universes.
Apparently some scientists have put that theory forward. At the very least, I think things happen to us all the time to indicate that life is more interesting and mysterious than our regular five senses lead us to suppose. I was just finishing up a series of tasks before coming out to do these interviews and I thought of this friend I haven't talked to in six months. So I stopped what I was doing and called her and she said, I can't believe it because I just got through saying your name to another friend. And that sort of thing happens all the time. I think it's the writer Milan Kundera who's got a wonderful description of what he calls a movie moment when you're humming a sonata and you turn on the radio and it's playing.
Among the interesting things about DÉJÀ VU is that it's a thriller where we already know who committed the crime. It's not a whodunit at all, is it?
I liked that aspect of the plot and its complexity. I think that complexity applies to the characters as well. It was certainly fun for me to play a character that is enigmatic and mysterious, someone who has secrets, whereas in the typical thriller your obligation is to make everything very clear and simple. Even the name of my character is complicated [laughs]: Special Agent Pryzwarra. I said to Tony Scott, just once I would like somebody to remember the name of my character. But it's like a tic with him. In Top Gun I was Kawolski. Why not Smith or Jones for a change?
What was it like to reunite with Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott?
I was telling someone earlier that I'd estimated that between them they had sold something like six or seven billion dollars worth of movie tickets. Then my publicist whispered in my ear that it's fourteen and a half billion dollars. Either way, they seem to understand what everyone in the world wants to see. It's reassuring to be part of that. And I really love being around the two of them because they are just such genuine people. Tony Scott is inspiring because he is as successful as you could possibly be and yet he is still the nicest guy. He learns every person's name on the set and their girlfriend's name and their dog's name. And you can be a supporting actor, not necessarily the star, and he will still come and apologize if a shot is taking too long and explain why. He's also the first one there and the last one to leave. I saw him filming once when the crew had already gone home. He was just sitting there filming a wall all by himself.
He also one of the best action directors around, isn't he? There are some amazing car chases in DÉJÀ VU.
Yes. I mean there's a car chase that happens simultaneously in the present moment and four days ago, which sounds confusing but makes perfect sense when you see it. Along with that, Tony is great at directing actors. He may have worked primarily in the action genre, but I'd say that many, many actors have given some of their best performances in his films. He really loves acting. Jerry Bruckheimer as well. And they give actors space to do their best. Denzel Washington, who's worked with Tony three times now I think, is a very, very smart man and he would say, But what if...? You know, he would have these amazing suggestions and Tony was prepared to say take a break everyone, and the crew would be over there sitting down and we're on the other side of the set talking about theoretical physics and trying to make that aspect of the film more entertaining and easy to understand.
DÉJÀ VU was the first film to shoot in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. How did that impact you?
It was very moving to be there. Even with all the incredible images we were saddened to see on television, there in the 3-D world it was really extraordinary. And it was personally embarrassing to see the U.S. government's evident lack of sense of responsibility for these people who were suffering so much. Jim Caviezel, who's also in DÉJÀ VU, flew down the day after Katrina with the entire 82nd Airborne and was pulling bodies out of homes.
Was there ever any question of not shooting in New Orleans because of the logistical difficulties?
I think the studio was opposed to it for obvious reasons. So I'm really, really proud of Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer because they could have made this film anywhere - they could have filmed on Mars if they'd wanted. In fact, I think Jerry has filmed on Mars [laughs]. But they insisted on filming down there and put millions of dollars into the local economy and gave a lot of people jobs. People were very excited about us being there, it was like something good was finally happening, because it was like a war scene when we got there.
You've been making films for twenty years now. How have you changed in that time?
As far as my work goes, I just feel increasingly grateful because I made these very personal choices about acting and pursued whatever happened to interest me at a particular moment and I've been able to continue to do that. Now that I'm older I realize how lucky I've been. There are lots of fine actors who can't get jobs. Gary Oldman is doing very well now because of HARRY POTTER, but I think there was a point when it was really hard for him to get work, which is kind of criminal, because he's a wonderful, wonderful actor.
And how have you changed personally in twenty years?
I still dress like a bum [laughs] and don't have much of a sense of style, though I got a lot of complimentary calls from friends back East when I got onto People Magazine's Worst Dressed List. I think I was wearing a purple velour tracksuit in the photo and even I thought wow that takes some courage to wear that.
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