Val Kilmer knows that real pain and emotion, brought to the movie screen, are good things.
“It hurts when it happens. But as an actor you want it to hurt, you want to experience that pain,” says Kilmer. “Because the more effectively you portray it, the more people will be moved by it.”
This explains the poignant drama and tearful moments that play out between Kilmer – who underwent a two-year throat cancer battle that required a tracheotomy that still greatly impacts his voice – and his 28-year-old real-life daughter Mercedes in “Paydirt.”
The duo play father and daughter onscreen amid the over-the-top drug dealing and AK-47 firing in the indie-crime drama (available on demand, digital and in theaters Friday).
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“One hundred percent real,” Kilmer says of his screen moments with Mercedes, one of two grown children from his marriage to “Willow” actress Joanne Whalley.
During a joint video interview, Kilmer semi-jokingly admits he doesn’t want to go to that emotional place “five times a week.”
Mercedes, in her film acting debut, plays a newly appointed district attorney who is more concerned about the health and well-being of her dangerously self-neglecting screen father, Sheriff Tucker.
With lines like, “We’re worried about you, me and Mom” and “You’ll always be my dad no matter how (expletive) things become” the true feelings in their tearful scenes burst through. Mercedes says working with her father was such a challenge, she tried to block out of her mind that they were actually related in order to get the lines out.
“The most difficult context in which to create my father (on screen) would be with my actual father,” she says. “But then, undeniably, our actual relationship did enrich the script.”
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The “Paydirt” role came about by happenstance when Mercedes breezed into her father’s Hollywood offices to drop something off as Kilmer was meeting with writer-director Christian Sesma.
As fate would have it, Sesma had already written a part where the grizzled sheriff, obsessed with locking up his drug-dealing nemesis (Damien Brooks), would have a devoted daughter. There was no need for auditions.
Mercedes shot for a week with her dad last December. The experience has been eye-opening in terms of professional respect for her father, and working in show business.
“It made me acutely aware of how much I’ve lost in not having had a training that integrated actors with disabilities and how much there is for everyone to gain,” she says. “It’s so exciting to see, like maybe for the first time, a lead actor with a speech disability and to see how skillfully and creatively everyone was able to accommodate that.”
Asking Kilmer how he so effectively communicates on film brings out his cheeky side that’s never far from surface. “I manage to work magic whenever I’m in front of a camera,” he says, eyes twinkling.
The actor wears scarves and high-collared winter jackets to cover the tracheotomy scars in many scenes in “Paydirt.” In others, director Sesma removed the scars using visual effects. Kilmer’s dialogue was “100 percent” dubbed in the editing studio by voiceover artist Jesse Corti to capture those performances, says Sesma.
Perpetually self-deprecating, Kilmer interjects goofy moments in the video call by cracking jokes or showing off his long ponytail. “I feel great, and my health is excellent,” he says, breezily setting aside questions about his health. “And Mercedes feels great, looks great and her health is excellent.”
He says he’s eager to reveal his role in “Top Gun: Maverick” alongside former screen frenemy Tom Cruise, even if he maintains the wall of secrecy around the film, now delayed until July 2, 2021.
Kilmer won’t even say if he’s seen the final product. “Can you tell by the sparkle in my eyes? Maybe I have seen it,” he says.
After throwing on a cool pair of sunglasses, Kilmer deflects the question of whether we’ll see his Tom “Iceman” Kazansky don his immortal Ray-Ban sunglasses again onscreen.
“I don’t know if that’s a secret or not. And you never know what they keep or what they take out of the movies. So you may see me in them, and you may not,” he says. “But there’s definitely a hairdo.”