VICE Films Executive Director Eddy Moretti had an idea: team up with his longtime friend, director Harmony Korine (Gummo, Trash Humpers and the upcoming James Fraco/Selena Gomez movie Spring Breakers), draft a series of filmmaking rules (“This film must be the best film you have ever made,” “The hero tells bad jokes. But they’re good,” “A stuffed animal needs to make an appearance”) and hire international directors to help create an innovative cinematic experience. The result was The Fourth Dimension, a triptych of trippy short films helmed by Korine (Film #1: Lotus Community Workshop), Aleksei Fedorchenko (Film #2: Cronoeye), Jan Kwiecinski (Film #3: Fawns).
To headline the operation, Korine recruited Val Kilmer, who portrays a deranged version of himself in Lotus Community Workshop. Donning a Hawaiian shirt and ball cap, “Val Kilmer” heads to a skating rink to provide a group of small town folks with some insane motivational advice (“Tell me your awesome secrets! Tell me your awesome secrets!”). Portraying a version of himself in this fashion is a bold move, and one I was anxious to delve into after watching the film at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Your character in Lotus Community Workshop is named Val Kilmer. Is there any hesitation when someone comes to you and asks you to play a version of yourself? Was it always Harmony’s intention to fictionalize your real self?
Val Kilmer: That he sort of finagled because the character’s name was Hector. He said, ‘You know, it might be interesting if we went in with all the energy, if we tell the audience that it’s you coming to talk.’ So I said, ‘Sure.’ And when it got closer, and he started saying my name more than the character’s name, I said, ‘So you don’t want to shoot it both ways? I say some pretty awful things.’ Hector does. I’ve had my share of misunderstood interviews, so I’d hate to see these in isolated clips.
He said, ‘Don’t worry.’ And as soon as I really imagined not worrying, of course it’s not me, it’s a character. I think most of the world has some idea of who Tom Cruise is, even with all this meltdown and recovery and things. But… no. You spend your lifetime getting to know your spouse. Why do you think you know Tom Cruise? Because you’ve seen him in a bunch of interviews? He was acting.
We all do it all day long. You act for your boss. We all act to get what we want. Our dog acts. He acts sad if you don’t let him out. We all act all day. It became something easy to embrace. And I had to trust Harmony. Trust your director. If you don’t, you can usually feel reserve if you feel sensitive to how performances are put together. When I gave myself all the way to it… maybe the next incarnation might move into more of a collaboration, where I would be able to take greater risks with that one idea, but because it’s so absurd — I’m preaching — I think it’s clear it’s not me.
Did playing yourself still have to be an extension of yourself?
Val Kilmer: I think any creation of an actor is supposed to be an extension. It is even if they’re completely lying. Then you learn something about how they lie, how they cover their story. I won’t name the actress, but an actress got a rather hideous face lift. But then she played a character who talked about getting a face lift. So she was talking about it.
I think in performance, you get a persona, and then you refine it, then you make projections of that. Like Clint Eastwood sold an idea about a character. We’re all thinking the same thing when we say ‘Clint Eastwood.’ Singular, uncompromising, violent — they all involve those things.
I will admit that I haven’t always understood Harmony’s films on a plot level, but I always enjoy them on a tonal level. How does he explain his motivations and ideas to help bring you into the fold?
Val Kilmer: Poorly [laughs]. He’s much more clever than he lets on. He doesn’t like to talk about it — that’s to his credit. It’s a real talent of restraint in not being articulate about things that become an intellectual process. Like these rules. He didn’t tell me about them. I’ll turn around and he has a blindfold on. He’s telling me to say this one particular sentence that isn’t completely to do with the scene. It’s a dubious honor.
Do you find that your process changes when you tackle material that’s heightened realism like this film versus realistic roles? I know you’re currently touring in a one man show based on the life of Mark Twain.
Val Kilmer: I wouldn’t call this heightened realism. It doesn’t feel like that.
What would you call it?
Val Kilmer: It’s my name, but I obviously don’t dress like that. I don’t ride a BMX bike. I haven’t changed my profession and I don’t live in Nashville. I don’t live with Harmony’s wife, who plays my girlfriend. So, I wouldn’t call it that. I don’t have an alternative suggestion.
Perhaps Lotus Community Workshop is straight fantasy. Is it still the same process?
Val Kilmer: Everything is the same at the beginning, you’re just trying to make a realistic application of what’s written, and personalizing it. It’s always realistic in that way. I fought a dragon once in a movie. I really cared about killing him, but I wasn’t trying to convince you it was real. It was just real. It just matters if I believe it’s real. Or if you’re in love with a costar and she’s a dragon. Imagine that she’s not.
Angelina [Jolie] tells a story — and I’m happy she mentions is because it’s so weird. [In Alexander] I’m raping her. And her breast fell out of her nightgown. And during the take, I kind of made sure my face blocked her breast and covered it up, all while grunting and sweating.
That is acting.
Val Kilmer: I was a bit out of the moment [laughs]. But, it always involves large and small paradoxes. Making people believe. Harmony is really good at that. The things that are just given in it, the hard cuts — I ride a bicycle, but I live in a mansion. What does that mean? It’s fun to contemplate. I’m talking about myself, but it’s clearly not me.
Are scenarios like that ever confusing for you as a performer?
Val Kilmer: No, I was never confused because the text is so singular. He’s a motivational speaker, but he doesn’t care about anything motivational speakers care about. He doesn’t have a selfish bone in his body. He really wants people to get better — he just happens to be crazy. Or stupid. Probably stupid.