ON PORTRAYING TWAIN
I’ve been asked several questions about working on the set of Tombstone, and about Kurt Russell’s role in bringing the film home.
“There were rumors that the set of Tombstone was quite tumultuous and that Kurt Russel basically directed the film. What was your experience on set?”
“Did Kurt Russell actually direct Tombstone? I’ve read about the conflict on the set, but I’m not sure who to believe.?
I’ll be clear.
Kurt is solely responsible for Tombstone’s success, no question.
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 wouldn’t give us any extra time to make up for the whole month we lost with the first director.
We lost our first director after a month of shooting and 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 2 days prep.
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.
Kurt did this for the film virtually every hour.
I would even go up to him 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. Very Wyatt-like come to think of it.
[Sam] Elliot used to drive all the way out to hell and gone just to watch some of our scenes. So many lead actors took small roles just to rock a great western script.
It’s not often you get to dust the likes of Clint Eastwood at the box-office. He had a film out when we opened and it just couldn’t keep up! Then Kevin Costner had all the dough and distribution money and stars, and couldn’t make a dent in our popularity. (Although I liked Dennis Quaid, and my first girlfriend is also in it which was super weird – Mare Winningham.)
Back to Powers for a moment, such a gracious actor and if you love acting go back and check out his early Emmy winning roles, he’s the real deal.
And Bill Paxton, like a cheerleader for all film, for all Creativity. Always happy like it was his first job. He would have been happy if you had lit him on fire and hung him upside down, as long as there was a camera running. Just like a perfect thespian. ALL THE WAY. SUPPORTIVE. Sweet.
We all miss them both. They were good men. The kind that make you proud of the “craft.”
That’s probably how it’s become a story that Kurt directed it. 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.
I’ll say it again, Kurt was responsible for the film’s success.
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.
Early on he said casually, “Well this is your picture…”
I didn’t know what he was talking about so like a bozo I made him explain himself. He is very, very articulate when he wants to be. Even I liked me when he was done complimenting my early days of filming…
And he is such a good dad and devoted to his girlfriend, and built his own home and ranch. C’mon. He’s a true superstar and wildly underrated as an actor. Not many guys with his range.
The gorgeous images in this post were created by the amazing Leigh Hefner.
I had opera at Julliard, and a decade of SERIOUS vocal training to do Shakespeare, so I would go work with Michael Jackson’s vocal coach in the morning – proper vocal training to widen my range – then play him tapes of Jim screaming and singing live. Drove my man insane. He would try to change it and I would always have to explain to him, “No, this is the way we want it!”
Every day, for months, I worked with Paul Rothchild (The Doors’ only producer) and their engineer, recording whole albums of The Doors. Our aim was to make it so good I might be able to have some songs done live in the film.
One day I freaked Paul out so much he went outside and refused to work. He was red hot and wouldn’t look at me. Eventually when he calmed down enough, he said, “I don’t know who told you that story because I was the only one there…”
It turned out the song Paul had put up I hated and didn’t want to record it, or at least not that day, and apparently what I said was so exactly what Jim had said to Paul when they were supposed to record it that he freaked out. It was too much for him. Spooky.
I tried to explain I wasn’t acting, it’s just how I felt about the song. So I went for a walk giving Paul a chance to regroup.
When I came back I thought of something to keep Paul animated and working and I rushed into the booth and said, “PUT UP ‘THE END’…” He quietly told me no, because I couldn’t sing the end.
We got in a a mild fight and eventually he said he didn’t want me to get down about recording or my singing, but he finally offered his trump card: “Val, you can’t record it. No one can. Jim couldn’t even do it. He only recorded it once and that’s wha’s on the record…”
“Put up’ THE END’… It’s all right,” I said.
So he did. And I nailed it. And Paul was weeping almost immediately so I had to look away but he added that extra emotion to my performance.
I messed up in 2 places… When Paul could finally talk he whispered, “Val, I swear to God, Jim blew 2 parts and we had to drop in to fix them. They are the same places in the song…!”
People have often spoken in a different kind of language about this particular performance, which I’ve always thought was because of Jim’s mythic interests and Oliver’s feeding that angle in the press. But any actor will tell you this kind of thing is what we do. That when you do your job, and really commit, and you are Lady Ophelia, you can really smell those flowers, and you really have memories of floating around that stage, right out of your mind…
But it’s just the blessing of acting. It’s not possession, its just a reminder of what we all can do with our minds, if we are open, and willing. We can do anything. I can’t sing like Jim Morrison. He’s a baritone tenor. So is Elvis. That’s about it for rock and roll singers. But I sing every song live in that film. Except for some second of a scream Paul was particularly attached to, that Jim did; I think it was on ‘WHEN THE MUSIC’S OVER.’
When the music’s over, yeah…
It finally happened: I outgrew my little old website over on Shopify. I’ve moved over to WordPress with a beautiful new site design and convenient, secure WooCommerce storefront.
You’ll see a lot of new pages, but it’s pretty easy to get around the whole site. Have fun exploring!
I wanted it to be easier for you all to stay up to date on my schedule (including Cinema Twain tour venues, art shows, and comic con appearances as well as other events like the upcoming inaugural Doc HolliDays in Tombstone Arizona) so there’s a whole section just for that!
The store has been reorganized and streamlined to make it easy for you to shop for art and I’m adding some other kinds of merch (check out the new “Iceman” tees!) I’m excited to be presenting my art while on tour and at several upcoming pop-up shows this year, and I have a few more surprises in my pocket.
I’ll be updating my blog much more frequently with the help of Team Val, so don’t forget to bookmark it. Also check out the sign-up options across the site – you can get on a list that will automatically send you an email when I’m going to be in your city, when tickets go on sale for an event (the VIP tix always sell out fast!) or even if I just want to show my fans some love with a special sale or a discount code for some of my art.
Until next time,
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