Val Kilmer is shedding more light on his decision years ago to walk away from the Batman franchise after playing the Caped Crusader only once in 1995's Batman Forever.
The actor for years has maintained he did not return to the role for Batman & Robin (which was the initial plan when he took over for Michael Keaton) due to scheduling conflicts with another project he was working on, 1997's espionage thriller The Saint. Of course, there were plenty of stories from the Batman production that painted Kilmer as unbearable to work with. ("He wanted to do Island of Doctor Moreau because Marlon Brando was going to be in it. So he dropped us at the eleventh hour," Batman Forever and Batman & Robin director Joel Schumacher previously told The Hollywood Reporter.)
However, in a New York Times profile published Wednesday, Kilmer alludes to a bigger reason he was unimpressed playing the character, which occurred after a visit to the set from billionaire businessman Warren Buffett and his grandkids. (He also maintains the scheduling component.)
In the lengthy profile, which is peppered with Kilmer quotes (but they are few and far between as the actor has a difficult time talking after a procedure on his trachea due to throat cancer), the onetime superstar says he relished playing characters with depth, such as Doc Holliday in Tombstone. And if he wasn't going to do that, he wanted to have fun playing entertaining characters, noting, "I would’ve loved to have been on Saturday Night Live as a regular." And on the set of Batman Forever, Kilmer had a profound moment of realization that the character of Batman, for him, was neither special nor fun.
The actor explained to the Times' Taffy Brodesser-Akner that one day during production he remained in the Batsuit (which he is on record numerous times saying he hated wearing) because he heard some special guests were stopping by the set: Buffett and his family. However, the kids had no interest in talking to Kilmer, they just wanted to play with props and ride in the Batmobile, the actor noted. That's when Kilmer realized anyone could wear the mask. “That’s why it’s so easy to have five or six Batmans,” he told Brodesser-Akner. “It’s not about Batman. There is no Batman.”
As for those stories that he torpedoed a lot of future projects for himself by being a terror on sets, including Batman Forever, Kilmer said, “Everyone has to work out their own salvation. How to live and by what morality, and I found that the part that I feel bad about is hurting somebody in the process.”
Kilmer's go as Batman was followed by George Clooney in 1997's Batman & Robin, which is considered by most fans (and critics) to be the weakest of all the Batman films. It was such a mess, Batman would not be on the big screen again until 2005's Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale, both of whom returned for two more films. That trilogy was a massive box office and critical success.
Ben Affleck then took up the cape and cowl (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League) before burning out and walking away from plans to star in and direct a stand-alone film. Robert Pattinson will be next up to play the iconic DC superhero in Matt Reeves' The Batman, though production on that new take is currently on pause amid the coronavirus pandemic.