Three decades ago, Christian Slater met Val Kilmer on the set of True Romance, the Quentin Tarantino-penned, Tony Scott-directed crime thriller. Slater played Clarence Worley, an Elvis Presley fanatic, while Kilmer portrayed the Mentor, an Elvis-like figment of Clarence’s imagination. Slater and Kilmer, who first made their names in the 1980s, would go on to work together another three times in the early 2000s, making their latest connection on Jonathan Kasdan’s Willow (2022) sequel series all the more fitting.
With COVID-19 restrictions preventing Kilmer from reprising his beloved rogue swordsman, Madmartigan, from Ron Howard’s 1988 film, Kasdan knew he needed another wildcard-type character that could bring a similar energy. So he created Allagash, a former knight and running mate of Madmartigan, and the first person he thought of for the role was Slater.
Slater, having loved the original film, immediately understood that he’d be filling the void of Madmartigan as best he could, so he made a point to reach out to Kilmer and let him know that he’d be paying tribute to him.
“[Val is] obviously in a very difficult situation, but I just expressed my love. And I certainly let him know that the spirit of Madmartigan was going to be running all the way through these eight episodes,” Slater tells The Hollywood Reporter of Kilmer, who has been open about his health struggles. “So he was such a part of this, even though he wasn’t physically able to be there.”
Slater’s career was revitalized when he was cast as the eponymous character on Sam Esmail’s psychological thriller series, Mr. Robot, co-starring Rami Malek. Similar to Kilmer’s role in True Romance, Slater played a figment of Malek’s character’s imagination, earning himself a Golden Globe in 2016 (and a handshake of respect from Leonardo DiCaprio en route to the stage).
While Slater is grateful for the complex roles he’s gained since Mr. Robot, he’s most appreciative of the friendships that remain.
“It was a very special time, and it was a very special show. What’s nice is that we’re all still friends. Rami, Sam, Carly [Chaikin] and I still get together and hang out,” Slater says. “We’ll spend New Year’s together and do things like that. So, some nice friendships and bonds happened as a result of that show.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Slater also discusses how his Willow character reminded him of another notable role of his in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He then looks ahead to his parts in Unfrosted and Pussy Island, the feature directorial debuts of Jerry Seinfeld and Zoe Kravitz, respectively.
Well, Christian, I hope you catch this reference, but hello, friend.
(Laughs.) Of course! We can say “goodbye, friend” at the end, too.
I’m starting with Mr. Robot because I think it’s partially why we’re talking today. To me, that role reminded everyone of how dynamic you are as a performer. Do you feel like you’ve been riding a second wave ever since?
Mr. Robot has helped extraordinarily in getting further opportunities to play some characters I can sink my teeth into. Mr. Robot was an extraordinarily special experience that I cherish. I loved that character, and I love Sam [Esmail] and Rami [Malek]. It’s great to work with people who are so creative and brilliant. So to be a part of that was a lot of fun. But it was such a serious show, so it was nice to do something like Willow with a different energy.
Yes, you were tasked with bringing some of that Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) energy to the Willow series, and Allagash certainly does that. He’s even introduced in a cage like Madmartigan was.
Yeah, I thought that was a nice homage.
Overall, was Willow an easy sell?
To a certain degree. I was a huge fan of the movie. I fell in love with Val Kilmer and his energy and what he brought to the movie was just fantastic. Warwick [Davis] and I are also friends. We’ve crossed paths a lot in our history. We did a production of Spamalot at the Hollywood Bowl about five years ago and we had a total blast together. So when I heard about a Willow series, I thought, “Oh, this is interesting. This is unexpected. What a fun thing to update and reintroduce.” And when Jon [Kasdan] started to talk to me about the character and what he wanted to do, it just felt like a nice fit.
He was also so open to ideas. There was a lot of freedom, and that’s what the movie felt like, too. It felt like things were made up on the spot. Everybody seemed to be having a good time while being creative. So that was the kind of energy that Jon wanted to bring to the series, which is unusual with so many people making decisions. So I was given some leeway with the character of Allagash.
Allagash further proves that you play dodgy, slippery and deceitful so well. Do you have any theories as to why you’re so adept at duplicitous characters?
(Laughs.) It’s hard to put into words why that is the case. Maybe it’s the eyebrows. Maybe it’s the way that I communicate. I’ve also been surrounded by sly and duplicitous human beings my whole life, so I’ve picked up energy from that. There’s always just been an element of unpredictability. You never know what I’m going to do next, which is a fun way to go through life. It’s unpredictable. So you’re not quite sure if you can feel completely trusting of this guy or what his real agenda is.
Did you reach out to Val Kilmer about your Willow role?
I did, yeah. He’s obviously in a very difficult situation, but I just expressed my love. And I certainly let him know that the spirit of Madmartigan was going to be running all the way through these eight episodes. It was just amazing to be on set and get the vibe and the sense of how appreciated and loved he is as an actor. So he was such a part of this, even though he wasn’t physically able to be there.
Was the True Romance bathroom set where the two of you met for the first time?
I think it was, yeah. That was probably the first time we’d met. He was amazing. He was a great Elvis and just a very interesting guy. We’ve gotten to work together a few other times since, and he always brings a very interesting, quirky and unpredictable energy to what he does. So Allagash would be the kind of guy that Madmartigan would have hung out with. These two guys would’ve been going at each other and competing for numerous things throughout their friendship and loyalty.
Since you both became stars at different points in the ‘80s, was there ever a competition between the two of you?
Not really. He is a little older than I am, so I don’t think we were ever really in the same category. I never felt like there was a great deal of competition.
Did Allagash give you any flashbacks to Will Scarlet in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves?
Without a doubt. From what I recall, Will Scarlet made up a song as Robin Hood [Kevin Costner] was crossing the little river there, and Allagash also likes to make up songs on the spot. So when I got there, I was surprised to learn that Allagash was a songwriter, but we were able to incorporate that into the story, which was fun for me. They didn’t expect it at times, but sometimes, I would just deliver the lines that were written, as a song. (Laughs.) So that surprised them, and I’m glad they kept a lot of that stuff.
In case it wasn’t obvious up top, I desperately miss Mr. Robot, so much so that I routinely listen to bootlegged score from the final few episodes. They never released the score from the second half of the final season [Volume 8].
Really?! That’s interesting. I wonder why.
I guess the composer, Mac Quayle, just hasn’t been able to get to it yet. He spins a lot of plates from what I can tell.
He was so amazing.
Do you miss the series as well?
To a certain degree, I do. I certainly feel like it had a beginning, a middle and an end. It was a very special time, and it was a very special show. I loved that whole experience, and I look back on it very fondly. What’s nice is that we’re all still friends. Rami, Sam, Carly [Chaikin] and I still get together and hang out. We’ll spend New Year’s together and do things like that. So, some nice friendships and bonds happened as a result of that show.
Yeah, I was going to ask if Carly’s wedding was the last time you saw everybody, so that’s nice to hear.
That wedding was a blast! We had a really good time there. (Laughs.)
You guys block shot seasons two through four in order to accommodate Sam Esmail directing every episode. So what was the last scene you and Rami filmed together?
Gosh, that’s a good question. It could very well have been all of those scenes with Krista (Gloria Reuben) in her office at home. It could’ve been that from what I recall. I don’t exactly remember what scene it was, but it was in that general vicinity.
You’ve got some interesting stuff coming up including Jerry Seinfeld and Zoe Kravitz’s feature directorial debuts.
Yeah, [Seinfeld’s] Pop-Tart movie, Unfrosted, is potentially hilarious. When we were doing the read-through of the script, we were all on a Zoom chat, and it was just unbelievable to see these hilarious comedians popping up on the little squares of Zoom. So it has a brilliant cast, and it’s definitely a fun romp. Seinfeld is just great. This was his first feature directorial gig, and he did an amazing, amazing job. I’m a part of the Milkman Mafia; that was my role. So you gotta be on the lookout for milkmen; they’re up to no good.
Again, duplicitous! (Laughs.) Another duplicitous character. I’m getting pigeonholed, it seems. And Pussy Island, Zoe Kravitz’s movie, I don’t know if that will be the final title. I hope it is, because why not? That was also just a great experience. We were in the Yucatán for seven weeks, and we all stayed at the same hotel, Hacienda Temozón. It’s this rustic 200-year-old hotel that used to be some kind of mine. I don’t know what it was exactly, but it was a great experience. Channing [Tatum] was great, and it’s a crazy, crazy story. All of the characters are nuts, so we had a blast on that one.
Well, Christian Slater, as you suggested, goodbye, friend.
(Laughs.) Goodbye, friend!
Willow is now available on Disney+. This interview was edited for length and clarity.