There’s been much speculation over the years as to just how much work Kurt Russell did behind the scenes of Tombstone after the first director was fired.
Having been questioned countless times about the circumstances behind the 1993 Western, John Henry “Doc” Holliday actor Val Kilmer decided it was time to lay all his cards on the table about his close friend — both on- and offscreen — who played Wyatt Earp.
In a lengthy blog entry Thursday, Kilmer made it plain and clear: “Kurt is solely responsible for Tombstone’s success, no question.”
Initially, the late screenwriter Kevin Jarre was set to direct the picture, but he was replaced a month into production after, the story goes, he became overwhelmed in the duty and fell behind schedule. Jarre was replaced by the late George P. Cosmatos, who had to hit the ground running.
That is where Kilmer’s tale begins.
“I was there every minute and although Kurt’s version differs slightly from mine, the one thing he’s totally correct about is how hard he worked the day before, for the next day’s shot list, and tremendous effort he and I both put into editing, as the studio [Hollywood Pictures] wouldn’t give us any extra time to make up for the whole month we lost with the first director,” Kilmer wrote. “I watched Kurt sacrifice his own role and energy to devote himself as a storyteller, even going so far as to draw up shot lists to help our replacement director, George Cosmatos, who came in with only two days prep.”
Russell admitted as much in a 2006 interview with True West magazine, when the actor said he made it clear to studio brass he did not want his name listed as director, but that he did help out behind the scenes quite a bit.
According to Kilmer, Russell spread himself thin to make production work.
“I was very clear and outspoken about what I wanted to do with my role, and actors like Powers Boothe, who we just lost, and Bill Paxton, were always 100% supportive, even in the blistering heat and sometimes as the day would fade, at the possible expense of their own screen time,” Kilmer wrote. “I would even go up to [Russell] and whisper, ‘Go for another…’ meaning another take when I thought he could go further, but in the interest of the schedule, he would pound on,” Kilmer wrote. “Very Wyatt-like come to think of it.”
The two close friends even lived together for a short while as they hammered out their roles, Kilmer wrote.
“He and I worked so hard I eventually moved in with him and slept on the sofa when Goldie wasn’t in town, so we could use the extra 20 minutes writing or going over schedule, etc. And I got all the best lines and he knew it and still laughed and joked every single day,” according to Kilmer.
Kilmer doesn’t flat out say Russell directed Tombstone, but wrote, “I have such admiration for Kurt as he basically sacrificed lots of energy that would have gone into his role, to save the film. Everyone cared, don’t get me wrong, but Kurt put his money where his mouth was, and not a lot of stars extend themselves for the cast and crew. Not like he did.”