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Val Kilmer on Bringing Mark Twain to North Texas

Tonight, Val Kilmer will be the guest of honor at the Dallas Film Society’s Art of Film event. Elvis Mitchell will talk to the actor about his career in the movies. But when I met up with him Thursday afternoon at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, the stage was foremost on his mind.

That’s because for a decade now, he’s been developing a one-man show, Citizen Twain. Kilmer plays Mark Twain, but he refers to the show as a “dual biography.” That’s because hovering in the air is Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. Though the two never met, Twain was one of her sharpest critics.

“They both represent I think by any kind of historical observation or psychological investigation into our history, let’s say crucial principles. Mrs. Eddy was a self-made woman and Mark Twain a self-made man,” he said.

Still, this is Twain.

“It’s fundamentally a comedy as Mark Twain was primarily a humorist. It’s a character study, and I’ve been very gratified to find out by the workshops that I’ve been doing that the audience finds the same things funny that I’ve been finding funny for several years on my own.”

Kilmer says the show is still in the workshop phase, and he’s keen to do some of that workshopping in North Texas. He was even in town about a month ago looking at theater spaces.

“I got very excited when I looked at the Wyly Theatre. And the Frank Lloyd Wright theater’s just gorgeous here,” he said about the Kalita Humphreys.

Theaters of that size would both work great if we were talking about a few nights. But Kilmer wants to settle in for a couple of weeks each in Dallas and Fort Worth. I learned that through a chance run-in with Dallas Summer Musicals’ Joann Holt last night at the Angelika, where we were both catching an advance screening of Hitchcock. Holt is handling the publicity for any North Texas performances of Citizen Twain, and she says that picking a theater is trickier than you might think. The major houses (Wyly, Winspear) are too big for a long run. Any SMU venue is unavailable during the school year. And most other places have something already booked. Holt said she’s meeting with Kilmer today to go over other options for a proposed early spring 2013 run.

There’s also another tricky element to performing a one-man Twain show – the fact that Hal Holbrook has been doing one for 50 years now. Kilmer acknowledged that that has crossed his mind, but it hasn’t deterred him.

“He’s done it very differently. He’s been very strict in the writing – it’s only Mark Twain’s writing. I do a bit of writing in my play. I was very relieved when he was supportive. If he wasn’t, I would still be pursuing it – I’ve been working on it for 10 years. But it was nice to have his support.”

My complete interview with Kilmer, during which we actually talk about some movies stuff, will be included in an upcoming episode of The Big Screen podcast.