For Val Kilmer to learn Jim Morrison’s mannerisms for the biopic “The Doors,” the actor had to work very hard. Here’s how he prepared.
As far as icons go, American singer Jim Morrison is a definite top feature. Morrison was unlike any other artist in songwriting, with his lyrics receiving high praises. His musical career started in 1965 after he graduated from UCLA. Morrison and his UCLA mate Ray Manzarek formed the rock band “The Doors.” Then drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger joined them.
Morrison and his band “The Doors” dominated the American music scene in the late 1960s. They released multiple hit songs like “Light My Fire,” “Love Me Two Times* and “Touch Me.” They also starred on shows with multiple stars of the era like Elvis Presley and “The Beatles.” However, things got worse as their fame progressed.
Morrison started taking drugs and coming to recording sessions drunk and late. His troubled and concerning lifestyle soon led to something tragic. On July 3, 1971, Morrison died while lying in his Paris apartment’s bathtub at the young age of 27. His death meant he joined the likes of Amy Winehouse, who also died at 27 after living a troubled life.
Still, with his short career and troubled personal life, Morrison’s legacy and impact on rock music remained after his death. So in 1991, a biopic about the singer titled “The Doors” got released, and the actor who portrayed Morrison, Val Kilmer, earned a lot of praise for his performance.
The movie also launched Kilmer’s career, who until that point was relatively unknown in the industry. However, unbeknownst to most people, Kilmer went through a lot to deliver such a sterling performance portraying Morrison. So in this article, we’ll examine the steps and processes Kilmer went through before delivering one of the best acting performances of his career.
Kilmer Mirrored Morrison’s Lifestyle
A year before filming started for the biopic “The Doors,” Kilmer started dressing like Morrison. The actor also listened to his music and studied how the late musician spoke. Kilmer became a mini-Morrison, living exactly like the late singer. He also learned 50 songs from the band’s catalog and then devoted time and effort to learning Morrison’s mannerisms.
The biopic details the story of Morrison’s drug addiction, alcoholism, hippie lifestyle, and relationship with Pamela Courson. However, to tell the tale, Kilmer had to become Morrison temporarily. Speaking about his preparation after a video of one of the rehearsal sessions leaked, Kilmer noted:
“I was working hard getting my mannerisms down and trying to get that same edge the Lizard King had.”
Most fans praised Kilmer for his performance, with many admitting they found it difficult differentiating between him and Morrison. However, portraying Morrison the way he did not just happen overnight, and Kilmer had to overcome some obstacles.
Kilmer Hard To Convince the Band
Jim Morrison’s charm and bigger-than-life character dominated most of his short career and loomed after his death. Many kids revered him, and his persona or rebellion mixed with art appealed to multiple youths.
Even after his death, many fans still flocked to his grave yearly to drop flowers and remember the talented musician. So death, in a way, made Morrison even more popular. His life, persona, and legacy made any attempt at making a biography about him very tricky. However, the people involved in the production knew they had to get it right.
Big industry names like John Travolta, Charlie Sheen, and Jason Patric were touted as actors who might play Morrison. However, when director Olivier Stone selected an unknown Kilmer, the decision raised some eyebrows.
Although Stone met many actors who had an interest in playing the role, something about Kilmer impressed him. The actor had a perfect look and the aura to capture Morrison’s attitude and mannerisms. Kilmer used his money to record a video of himself doing an impression of Morrison to get the part. After the producers saw the clip, they invited the actor to a studio session.
At the studio, Kilmer impressed them with his almost identical vocals to that Morrison’s. Afterward, they invited the surviving band members Manzarek, Krieger, and Densmore to the studio. The producer’s played Kilmer’s vocals on “The WASP.” However, when one of the band members could not differentiate the voice, they immediately gave the part to Kilmer.
Portraying Morrison Was Exhausting
Filming Morrison’s multiple concert scenes were very taxing on Kilmer, and it often ended up as an endurance test. At the end of one of the sessions, the actor slumped in exhaustion. Portraying the self-destructive singer also meant Kilmer had to understand his dark side. As a result, the actor met many people whom the late musician had hurt and ‘broken spirits.’
Kilmer and actress Meg Ryan who portrayed Morrison’s girlfriend Pamela Courson spent a lot of time recreating the couple’s dance of death. In comparison, filming one of the several fight scenes, they had to pick broken glass from their knees between takes.
Living inside the life of Morrison and Courson was not easy for both actors, and they had to support each other. Kilmer went to therapy even after the movie’s filming because he could not shake the character. In the end, the movie served its purpose by bringing Morrison’s life and serving as a cautionary tale for the upcoming generation.