DATE: Thursday, April 10, 1997              TAG: 9704100063



                                            LENGTH:  123 lines


THE MAN WHO might still be Batman, but chose to be a Saint instead, had just been asked why he is so often called ``disturbed,'' ``demanding'' and ``difficult.''

``Those stories are out there. I'm aware of them, but I can only assume they're just a part of the work. They don't matter to me. They're not true, in my opinion,'' said Val Kilmer. ``Yes, I'm demanding about my work, but only as it pertains to work. The only time I worry about those stories is when they affect other people. I've had to make lots of phone calls. My mom, for example. She calls me regularly and asks, `Is this true?' ''

Mom must have been calling a great deal lately. Kilmer, who is finally getting real movie-star status with the current ``The Saint,'' has supposedly been acting like a movie star long before this. The stories keep surfacing.

John Frankenheimer, who directed Kilmer and Marlon Brando in the ill-fated ``The Island of Dr. Moreau,'' has been quoted as saying: ``There are two things I will never do. Climb Mount Everest and work again with Val Kilmer. There isn't enough money in the world.''

Joel Schumacher, who directed Kilmer in ``Batman Forever,'' told me, ``I think Val needs psychological help. Why should I keep my mouth shut? Because I want to work with him again? No! These stars are getting fabulous salaries, and I think too many people are keeping their mouth shut. I was grateful when Val agreed to play Batman. I was more grateful when he positioned himself so that he couldn't play Batman again.''

There was the story that Kilmer burned a member of the crew with a cigarette on the set of ``Island.'' (He denies this).

There was the story that, while filming an action movie, he took a baseball bat and trashed an automobile as a shocked crew watched.

There's the story that Brando told him, ``Some actors get the size of their salary confused with their talent.'' (Kilmer admits that Brando said it to him but he says Brando was talking about another actor.)

There's the story that Kilmer demanded that every member of the crew on ``The Saint'' submit their astrological signs for his approval before they were hired. (He labels that rumor ``silly.'')

Then there's the sweater story. It chronicles how the budget of ``The Saint'' was upped by several thousand dollars, perhaps hundreds of thousands, because Kilmer demanded the right sweater be found for him to wear in a single scene. He reportedly turned down dozens, perhaps hundreds, of sweaters.

Reportedly, a studio representative was paid to fly to Australia to shop for the right sweater. Kilmer admits only that he ``tried on about 12 jackets and sweaters for the scene. It was an important scene because it's the scene when he, Simon Templar, tries to seduce her. Yes, I want the costume to be right. I want everything to be right. I'm a participant. But these stories are a bit much.''

Kilmer, sitting at the trendy Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, said: ``I've never been in this business for money or anything else other than trying to do good work. If I'm demanding, which I don't think I am, overly, it's for the good of the picture. I never have been the type to go to parties or premieres. I don't live in Los Angeles. Maybe I'm regarded as an outsider, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I have no concept of money. I live three miles (on a ranch near Santa Fe, N.M.) from people who can't afford windows. They have plastic. That concerns me. These stories don't.''

Kilmer may just be doing damage-control to combat all the bad press, but he gives the impression that he really doesn't care about stories he can't control.

``I care about the work and about my children. They're the two things,'' he said.

He's supported by Elisabeth Shue, his co-star in ``The Saint.''

``He was wonderful to work with,'' she said. ``He's committed. He's uncompromising. He collaborates with others. In our case, collaboration was so important because the romantic relationship of our two characters was so vague in the script. We improvised and created these roles ourselves.''

In more speculation, the tabloids claimed that the happily married Shue and the just-divorced Kilmer were playing their love scenes too realistically - off camera. The tabloids printed telling photographs.

Shue, in a separate interview, claimed the photos were from rehearsals. ``Those photographs were taken in public. Would we be clinching in public if it wasn't preparing for the film? I don't think either of us is that dumb,'' she said.

Kilmer, 36, has seemingly had things go right most of his life. He grew up on a spacious ranch once owned by Roy Rogers. At age 17, he became the youngest student ever admitted to the prestigious drama department at Juilliard. At 24, he was given star billing in his very first movie, as an Elvis-like character in ``Top Secret.'' He got a star-making breakthrough as one of the hunky pilots in ``Top Gun.''

with Tom Cruise.

He's specialized in eccentric characters, and he's avoided top stardom by simply not working for years at a time. He played an alcoholic Doc Holliday in ``Tombstone'' and the rock star Jim Morrison in ``The Doors.'' He played Elvis Presley in ``True Romance'' and Billy the Kid in television's ``Gore Vidal's Billy the Kid.''

He's known to go to extremes to get at his characters. For a 90-second bit in ``Tombstone,'' he practiced a Chopin nocturne every day for four months.

Kilmer's life has also included disturbing sides. His father, a distributor of aerospace equipment, made and lost a fortune in real estate. His younger brother, Wesley, had an epileptic seizure and drowned in the family swimming pool.

His eight-year marriage to British actress Joanne Whalley-Kilmer ended in divorce. A custody battle continues over the children, Mercedes, 5, and Jack, 1.

Kilmer claims that ``few businesses are like this one in that you learn before the cameras. It's all in the public.''

For ``The Saint,'' he was instrumental in changing the film from an action formula to a romance.

``It could have been a literary character or a comic book character,'' he said. ``I wanted it to be the former. Elisabeth and I worked at creating a relationship between these two characters.''

Kilmer admits that he hopes ``The Saint'' turns out to be a franchise. He's signed for sequels. The franchise would replace the one he once had with ``Batman'' (a role taken over by George Clooney).

``The situation was such that I couldn't appear in the `Batman and Robin' film,'' Kilmer said. ``In order to do `Heat' and `The Ghost and The Darkness,' I had to get permission from the `Batman' people. Finally, `The Saint' couldn't be put off. It made it impossible for me to do `Batman.' I didn't feel, at the time, unwanted by the `Batman' people. I learn now that they could have made it easier for me to return than they did.''

``The Saint'' has opened to strong box office receipts, making it likely that, after all, the former ``Batman'' may get his franchise. ILLUSTRATION: Color photo by Paramount Pictures

Val Kilmer, as Simon Tempar, makes a quick getaway in "The Saint" KEYWORDS: PROFILE INTERVIEW BIOGRAPHY

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