The classic 1993 western was a team effort, but Kilmer says Russell was captain of that team.
And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, here’s the rest of the story. In response to countless queries about the making of Tombstone — the enduringly popular 1993 western in which he played a grandiloquent Doc Holliday opposite Kurt Russell’s gritty Wyatt Earp — Val Kilmer insisted in a lengthy essay posted on his website this week that “Kurt is solely responsible for Tombstone’s success, no question.”
And not just because Russell gave him all of the best lines.
“I was there every minute,” Kilmer wrote, “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 [the] 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 two 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 percent 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 ... .
“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.”
Kilmer also paid tribute to two of his costars — Powers Boothe and Bill Paxton — who passed away earlier this year.
“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.’”