I don’t know for a fact that Rod Lurie’s deathbed director (i.e., a major brand-name helmer who begged Lurie to never work with a certain actor, according to Lurie’s account) was the late John Frankenheimer, and that the actor Lurie promised to never hire was Val Kilmer. But these are pretty good guesses.
Lurie described the late unnamed helmer as a “mentor” on Facebook yesterday, which is the same term he used in describing Frankenheimer in a 10.4.16 interview to promote Killing Reagan. (Quote: “My mentor was John Frankenheimer.”) When I asked Lurie about this, he said “no comment.”
Frankenheimer is on the record for having loathed and despised Kilmer after working with him on the horribly troubled Island of Dr. Moreau shoot in the mid ’90s. Frankenheimer has been widely quoted as saying “even if I was directing a film called The Life of Val Kilmer, I wouldn’t have that prick in it.”
Frankenheimer was also quoted as saying “I don’t like Val Kilmer, I don’t like his work ethic, and I don’t want to be associated with him ever again.”
The late, great John Frankenheimer.
Frankenheimer, whom I knew slightly, died on 7.6.02. By that point Lurie, who apparently became chummy with Frankenheimer after writing something fair and respectful during a rough patch in Frankenheimer’s career (possibly during or after the Dr. Moreau debacle), was well situated as a feature director, having made Deterrence (’99), The Contender (’00) and The Last Castle (’01).
So let’s imagine Lurie sitting by Frankenheimer’s bedside sometime in early or mid ’02, except Lurie isn’t Lurie — he’s me. Speaking with my attitude, my philosophy, my sense of things.
Including the fact that I harbor no ill feelings about Kilmer. I helped report that “Psycho Kilmer” Entertainment Weekly article that ran in mid ’96, but I had a nice chat with him at a party he threw at his home back in ’04 or thereabouts. (He had just finished working on Oliver Stone‘s Alexander.) I ran into Kilmer again in the fall of ’11 while having lunch with Descendants costar Judy Greer. We waved and smiled as Kilmer sat at a nearby table. When I tried to pay the bill the waitress told me the check had been taken care of by “that man sitting over there,” except Kilmer had left by that point.
Frankenheimer: I want you to promise me one thing, Rod. I may not be around much longer, but I want to know that you’ll never, ever work with that prick. Please.
Frankenheimer: Will you promise me this?
Lurie: No Kilmer?
Frankenheimer: I want your word.
Lurie: For what…the rest of my life?
Frankenheimer: We’re friends and I want you to promise me this.
Lurie: Look, John, I love you like a father and I’m sorry for what you went through, but you can’t…
Lurie: You know as well as anyone that we all…
Lurie: We all have our own paths to follow, John. What if, you know, what if he’s really right for a part 10 or 15 or 20 years from now?
Frankenheimer: The man was Nosferatu! He’s alienated every director he’s worked with.
Frankenheimer (frowning): I helped you along in this business, Rod. I mentored your ass and you can’t promise me this one thing?
Lurie: And I respect you too much to make a promise I may not keep.
Lurie: And what’s it to you anyway? You hated working with him, okay. Others have felt the same way, fine. But people adapt and change and whatnot, and I might decide down the line that Kilmer is really right for a part. What do you care? You won’t be around.
Frankenheimer: I’ll be looking down on you, Rod, and I want the satisfaction of knowing that a friend of mine has kept his distance from one of the worst all-time motherfuckers.
Lurie: That’s not a very celestial or compassionate view of the human condition, John. You’re about to push into the great cosmic beyond, but I have a career to steer through rough, choppy seas. A career that may last for decades…who knows?
Lurie: Every director steers his own course for his own reasons. You were friends with Frank Sinatra, and what did he sing? “For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has not.”
Frankenheimer: You disappoint me, sir.
Frankenheimer: I changed my mind. You should work with Kilmer after all. You guys’ll get along.
Lurie: I’m not saying I’ll work with Kilmer, or that I want to as we speak. I respect what you went through and realize that you’re looking out for me. I get it. I’m just saying that some day I might have a different view. Who knows?
Frankenheimer: I think it might be better if you left now.
Lurie: Can you just answer…
Frankenheimer: I’d like to be alone now!
Lurie: Who are you to tell me who to work with and who not to work with? You made your own calls all your life, and went your own way. You were close with Sinatra and you loved Bobby Kennedy, and then you had a bad time with Kilmer, okay. But I’m making my own decisions about who I’ll work with. I’m sorry. I love you and I…uhm.
Frankenheimer: Goodbye, Rod.
Lurie: Goodbye, John.