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Cool Hero: Val Kilmer

Val Kilmer is the latest Batman -- Will this role finally provide the actor star power?

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Cool Hero: Val Kilmer

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There's something about Val Kilmer that makes even the most earthbound person invoke the spiritual. ''I hate metaphysical mumbo jumbo,'' says Joel Schumacher, director of Batman Forever, ''but you know when people say other people are old souls? There's just something about Val...'' And producer Brian Grazer stumbles for words until finally giving in to ''He definitely has an aura.'' Oh, please, you think, spare me the details. But here he comes, the man who transformed into a shaggy Jim Morrison for The Doors (1991) and a gaunt Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993), skulking across the bar of L.A.'s Four Seasons Hotel, hazel-eyed and lush-lipped and so damn perfect-looking that reason flees and you think, ''So this is what God intended.'' He shakes hands, then meanders off with a promise to return. He lopes back 10 minutes later and slowly settles into a chair, but then his cellular phone rings, and he and it and a pack of cigarettes are off to the corner for another 15 minutes. You think of Grazer's comment about Kilmer's behavior back on the set of 1985's Real Genius: ''He would just evaporate. No one could find him.'' You reassure yourself that the movie in question was ultimately completed. But it's nevertheless a relief when Kilmer reappears, turns off the phone, leans back in the chair, and lights another cigarette, apologizing for the habit. ''I don't smoke,'' he says with utmost sincerity while inhaling deeply, ''but Shiherlis does.'' (Chris Shiherlis is the criminal he's currently playing in Michael Mann's Heat, costarring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, the character for whom he is sporting dyed blond hair.) Then, after the first of many long pauses — taken luxuriously between sentences as well as subjects — he begins to speak about Batman Forever, the anticipated summer behemoth in which, with the aid of costars Jim Carrey (the Riddler), Tommy Lee Jones (Two-Face), and Nicole Kidman (Dr. Chase Meridian, psychiatrist and love object), he is tersely winging his way to fame.

''It's been easy to promote because [reporters] laugh if they have any serious questions,'' Kilmer says, speaking so slowly you worry that day will break before he finishes. ''There's no angle on it. Sometimes it's harder if you really care about the project, because there's something you want to make sure gets across, but there isn't with this. It is what it is. It's done. It's big.''

Kilmer, 35, has never done big before. Since his Juilliard school days and scattered roles in blockbusters like Top Gun and forgettable films like Kill Me Again, he's flirted along the edges of Hollywood, living in Santa Fe with his wife, actress Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, raising their daughter, Mercedes, 3, and now their newborn and as yet unnamed son, writing poetry, and taking the occasional job when it suited him. His choices — there have been only 10 feature films — have earned him a cult following in the industry, but it's Batman that promises to bring him into the mainstream.

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