In the 2021 documentary "Val," movie star Val Kilmer makes a delicate confession. "I have behaved poorly." He then adds, "I have behaved bravely, bizarrely to some." It's a moving film in large part because this once vibrantly talented performer has lost his voice to throat cancer, and you're inclined to accept the apology and let the past be the past. The archival footage shot by the actor is so lovingly strung together that it would feel jarringly inappropriate to reckon with what a jerk he could be during the height of his stardom.

According to a very well-sourced 1996 Entertainment Weekly article by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, Kilmer got into a shoving match with his "Batman Forever" director Joel Schumacher. ​​"He was being irrational and ballistic with the first AD, the cameraman, the costume people," he said. "He was badly behaved, he was rude and inappropriate. I was forced to tell him that this would not be tolerated for one more second." Actor Caitlin O'Heaney told Buzzfeed in 2017 that Kilmer struck her during an audition for Oliver Stone's "The Doors," prompting laughter from the two-time Academy Award-winning director.

Kilmer had his defenders during this period of his career (Stone and "Tombstone" producer Jim Jacks told Ascher-Walsh they would happily work with the actor again), but he made few friends on the set of 1996's "The Island of Dr. Moreau." This big-budget adaptation of H.G. Wells' sci-fi/horror novel was asking for trouble by pairing Kilmer with the notoriously eccentric Marlon Brando. New Line Cinema was already taking a massive risk on Richard Stanley, the writer-director of cult favorites like "Hardware" and "Dirt Devil." When he lost control of the production, the studio replaced him with revered filmmaker John Frankenheimer of "The Manchurian Candidate" and "The French Connection II," who hadn't had a bonafide hit since 1977's "Black Friday." The conditions were right for disaster, and Kilmer delivered.

Kilmer V. Brando: Whoever Wins, The Director Loses

Richard Stanley's version of the story can be found in David Gregory's 2014 documentary "Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's 'The Island of Dr. Moreau,'" and he believes Val Kilmer sabotaged him. Michael De Luca took responsibility in the '96 EW piece for not giving "Kilmer a strong director," but John Frankenheimer, a television and film veteran who'd directed the heavy-hitting likes of Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, and Lee Marvin, also failed to rein in the troublemaking star. Marlon Brando wasn't about to be outdone in terms of disruption, so he kicked off a game of trailer chicken that resulted in a 12-day delay with zero shooting. Kilmer dropped by Brando's trailer, at which point the method-acting legend told his younger co-star, "Your problem is you confuse your talent with the size of your paycheck."

Less amusing is the time Kilmer burned a camera operator with a lit cigarette. Executive producer Tim Zimmerman claims he singed the man's sideburn, but another witness told EW, "He burned that cameraman right on his face, and no, he wasn't fooling around. It was intentional. He did apologize to the crew." The finished film was critically lambasted and a box-office flop. Frankenheimer, who'd score a well-deserved, late-career comeback with 1998's "Ronin," had this to say of his star. "I don't like Val Kilmer, I don't like his work ethic, and I don't want to be associated with him ever again."

And yet, when asked about the production in 2017, Kilmer spoke wistfully about the experience.

Kilmer's Regrets Are Few

In an interview with Deadline's Michael Fleming, Jr., Val Kilmer downplayed the on-set strife and focused on the wrap party. Here's how he described it:

"I threw a party on the Gold Coast [of Australia] for my dear hard working crew, and Marlon Brando showed up in giant Elvis sunglasses, a golden silk scarf by Hermès, and a white mumu, floor length. And makeup. Full film makeup. (He was sensitive about his skin at the time.) We laughed so hard, twice he made me spit food. And he was obsessed with the smallest man in the world [co-star Nelson de la Rosa] who spoke Spanish, so they were off in a corner forever. Insane."

Kilmer expresses sympathy for "poor Frankenheimer," who was "desperate for a comeback" and flummoxed by Brando's improvisational style of acting. He also notes that his character died before the third act, and the movie is "just as bad" once he exits the film. Having seen the movie, he's not wrong! "The Island of Dr. Moreau" is irredeemable and singularly unwatchable. But it's the kind of bomb that was clearly made under duress, and, even if you didn't know the production's backstory, it's not hard to identify the culprits for the behind-the-scenes turmoil.

Kilmer shrugs it all off by saying, "Oh well. Win some, lose some. I love Marlon and was so lucky to be able to call him my friend." It's all water well under the bridge at this point, but the great Frankenheimer, who died in 2002, deserved better than two selfish, disengaged stars.

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