Val Kilmer, Mark Twain, and One Very Special Undergraduate
By Sarah Alban
It's 1 p.m. on a Tuesday, and you're sitting in Dulany Auditorium at William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri, where you and a thousand other undergraduates are suffering through finals week, and then Val Kilmer asks, "You had a final this morning?"
And he's asking you. Not a bunch of people.
Staring down from a stage maybe five rows ahead of you, the face of Bruce Wayne, Gay Perry, Moses, and Iceman (variously) looks down at you and waits for an answer, which you squeeze out through a smile and a half-finished yawn. Val Kilmer has just caught you yawning, and now he's asking you about your morning final.
"Did you pass?" he asks and waits for an answer.
It was Tuesday, May 1, 2012: the day Val Kilmer and a William Woods University undergraduate talked about the undergraduate's final.
Fulton is feeling pretty special this week, because Val has brought his three-year Mark Twain project, a play called Citizen Twain, to Dulany Auditorium for one night.
Val has been working on the Citizen Twain script for three years and on a movie screenplay, Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy, which he's also directing and producing, for eight years.
"I wanted to find a story—and I did—that would keep me interested from day to day," Val says.
The story he dived into was that of Mary Baker Eddy, who wrote about God, and Mark Twain, who wrote about Mary Baker Eddy. The movie's website sums up how that dynamic worked:
"In public, Twain satirized Eddy without mercy, using language that’s still wickedly funny. In private, he was consumed with questions about mind and body, life and death, illusion and reality, which he suspected only she could answer."
Val calls Twain a genius, but he says writing a movie about a writer isn't easy. To a crowd of about 100 during a Q&A open to university students and press, he asks if anyone can think of a good movie about a writer.
Nobody is saying a thing.
Not even, "Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy," cheekily.
And then, finally, someone mercifully suggests, "Adaptation?"
And that's at least partially why a screenplay about Mark Twain is progressing through its eighth year, aging and becoming sharper. Val has also taken some time to spend with his son.
Val will accept an honorary doctorate Saturday morning at WWU and give the undergraduates' commencement speech, too.
As for movies about writers: Barton Fink. Capote. Misery. Adaptation. And, likely, Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy.
Find more about the film here: www.twaineddyfilm.com.