Val Kilmer likes to make trouble. With a strong director, he performs. In the absence of one, he can become a liability, as he proved last fall on the set of The Island of Dr. Moreau, the New Line sci-fi jungle adventure whose tormented production became an apotheosis of all that is absurd about Hollywood.
Director Richard Stanley spent four years developing what would become the story of a marooned lawyer who discovers an island inhabited by a mad scientist (played by Marlon Brando), his assistant, Montgomery, and their terrifying ''humanimal'' creations. New Line agreed to fund the project with Kilmer on board in the starring role, but then the actor began to waffle about spending so much time on camera. ''Val's opening gambit was to reduce the lead by 40 percent,'' says Stanley. ''My initial note to him, which started the relationship off badly was, 'No, we can't reduce the role you're crazy.' So I came up with a way to save my own ass. I was the stupid idiot who suggested he play Montgomery.'' Eager to mollify a star who, post-Batman, could sell tickets, New Line agreed and gave the leading role to Rob Morrow. ''New Line's point of view was, Val was the money,'' says Stanley, ''and if it came down to being between me and Val...''
It took only three days. Last summer, Morrow, Kilmer, and the Moreau crew headed down to Queensland, Australia, with Brando planning to follow them. The first day, with the script still being rewritten, Kilmer and the humanimals, played by actors in costumes, set out to the sea on a storm-swept morning. ''He'd do [the lines] but he'd throw it all away,'' says Stanley. ''And he kept insisting on odd bits and pieces of his wardrobe that didn't make sense, like a piece of blue material wrapped around his arm. It was like, 'Why is that around his arm, and will he take it off?''' According to an actor on the set, the lines Kilmer recited were ''lines written for other characters, in other scenes.''
On the second day, when Kilmer didn't show up until 3 p.m., Stanley still wasn't worried. ''An agent at CAA,'' which represents both the director and Kilmer, ''told me not to worry, that every Val movie loses the first two days.'' But on the fourth day, after seeing the dailies that Stanley had shipped to L.A., New Line fired the director. Stanley believes that Kilmer influenced New Line's decision: ''He would refuse to rehearse. He's clever, because then we'd just shoot it, and the moment you shoot it, it's rushes, and it goes back to the company.'' Michael DeLuca, New Line's president of production and development, says, ''I didn't give [Kilmer] a strong director. And that was my fault.''
New Line stopped production, and brought in director John Frankenheimer; Morrow, who wouldn't comment, fled the set and was replaced by David Thewlis (whose character was completely rewritten). ''By the time Brando arrived, the script had collapsed,'' says Stanley. ''No one was willing to say no to anything, which is why Brando wears an ice bucket on his head in one scene.'' (Brando did not respond to a request for an interview.)