Hollywood actor Val Kilmer met the press today at the West End’s Playhouse Theatre, where he’ll make his British stage debut next month in Andrew Rattenbury’s new stage adaptation of film classic The Postman Always Rings Twice (See News, 12 Apr 2005).

The production, first seen at Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse last October (See News, 22 Sep 2004), opens at London’s Playhouse on 8 June 2005 (previews from 24 May), where it’s booking for a limited ten-week season. Kilmer plays drifter Frank opposite Charlotte Emmerson (pictured at today’s event with Kilmer), who reprises her performance as Cora, the bored wife of a 1930s roadside diner owner, whose drab existence is shaken up by Frank’s arrival.

Speaking today, Kilmer explained that one of the reasons he was drawn to the story is because “I know what it smells like” having grown up in Los Angeles “about ten miles from where this story takes place” in a poor family with a constantly travelling father who visited similar diners.

He also welcomed the opportunity to return to the theatre, where he started his professional career before achieving fame in films such as Batman Forever, The Saint, Tombstone, Top Gun, Willow, The Doors, True Romance and Wonderland. “I feel kind of embarrassed I’ve waited this long to come back (to theatre)”, Kilmer said today. “It’s what I do best…. I love sharing a story with an audience.”

He had high praise for UK audiences in particular. “The audience here is very sophisticated and probably the most well read audience on earth.” He thinks London theatregoers, for example, are much “smarter” than those on Broadway where he believes standards are “deteriorating”.

And local enthusiasm for theatre seems to be infectious. Kilmer recalled that on his first trip to the UK at the age of 14 and, since then, “every time I come (to this country) I have that surge of youthful excitement about acting and theatre”. Since arriving this past week, he has already seen National Anthems, starring his former schoolmate and fellow Hollywood star Kevin Spacey, and plans to catch more shows during the rehearsal period for The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Also on hand today, writer Andrew Rattenbury revealed that he first wrote the stage adaptation for The Postman Always Rings Twice in 1992 but was unable to secure the rights. The current production got off the ground thanks to star Charlotte Emmerson, who found it on a friend’s bookshelf and gave it to Lucy Bailey, with whom she’d had success with the 2000 revival of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll, which transferred from Leeds to the National and on to the West End.

Speaking today, Emmerson likened her new role to the title character in the Williams’ play. “Cora feels like Baby Doll grown up,” she said. “That might have been the direction she would have gone in.”

Having been involved with the project from the start, Emmerson has played Cora throughout, but Kilmer will be her third Frank. Iain Glen played the character in a workshop production at the National Theatre Studio, while Patrick O'Kane came on board for the Leeds run.

Producer Rupert Gavin said the intention was always to bring on a big name for the London season and that Kilmer has been “top of our list” for six months. Rather than finalising casting, the main purpose of the West Yorkshire Playhouse engagement was to answer the question: “Will audiences accept something that has been a movie as a valid, credible piece of theatre?” He and Rattenbury, who returned to James M Cain’s 1934 novel as the basis for the new stage play, were very conscious, he said, of not falling into the “When Harry Met Sally trap”.

With its mix of eroticism and violence, James M Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice caused moral outrage in the US when it was first published in 1934. Hollywood has twice filmed the steamy tale: in 1946 with Lana Turner and John Garfield; and in 1981, with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson.

Kilmer’s forty-plus Hollywood films have included Batman Forever, The Saint, Tombstone, Top Gun, Willow, The Doors, True Romance and Wonderland. On stage, his numerous off-Broadway productions include The Slab Boys, Heny IV Part 1 and ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore. His last stage appearance was last year’s musical version of The Ten Commandments in Los Angeles.

British actress Emmerson has appeared on television in Foyle’s War, The Alan Clark Diaries, Peak Practice and other programmes. She’s familiar to theatregoers for her recent credits in the likes of The Cherry Orchard, The Good Hope and The Coast of Utopia at the National, as well as Baby Doll, which transferred to the National and West End after it’s initial season at West Yorkshire Playhouse.

The Postman Always Rings Twice reunites Emmerson with the same creative team as Baby Doll - director Lucy Bailey and designer Bunny Christie. The new production is presented in the West End by Rupert Gavin on behalf of ATG and Maidstone Productions in association with Hilary Williams. The Playhouse Theatre has been dark since the conclusion of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Spanish Golden Age season repertory on 26 March 2005.

- by Terri Paddock