Hollywood is not without its urban legends. Tombstone, the 1993 western about real-life cowboy legend Wyatt Earp, had a notoriously difficult production. The first director was fired a month into shooting, and there's been much speculation over the years as to the extent of the work star Kurt Russell did behind-the-scenes. Some have gone as far as to say he was the director of the film in all but title, but no one has ever confirmed it. Co-star Val Kilmer has now given his full recount of filming Tombstone and while he doesn't say Russell was the director, he's the main reason the film was successful.
Leave it to Doc Holliday to stick up for Wyatt Earp. Originally, late screenwriter Kevin Jarre was set to direct the feature, but his inexperience as a director caused them to miss shots they needed and fall behind schedule. He was fired after one month and then the late George P. Cosmatos was brought in with extremely little prep-time. In a lengthy blog post, Val Kilmer detailed his account of filming, which he admits is slightly different from Russell's version. Kilmer writes that Russell sacrificed "his own role and energy to devote himself as a storyteller." He even helped out the director who came in as a replacement by drawing "up shot lists."
As Val Kilmer recalls, everyone was "100% supportive," making special mention of Powers Boothe, Bill Paxton, and Sam Elliot for being team players and going above and beyond for the movie. But none of them, he writes, did so on quite the same scale as Kurt Russell.
Both Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer worked extremely hard on Tombstone. Kilmer even moved in with Russell and crashed on his couch so they could get more time to time to tweak the script and go over the schedule. Kilmer joked that he got all the best lines (he totally does; Doc Holliday shoots quotes as well as any bullet) and that Russell gave up his own screen time in order to serve others.
Tombstone is an excellent film, and its behind-the-scenes drama gives it a very interesting underdog story. It went up against a different Wyatt Earp film starring Kevin Costner -- which had bigger stars and a bigger budget -- and creamed it. I'd be remiss if I didn't include a clip, so here's an excellent scene of Doc Holliday confronting Johnny Ringo in a stand-off, with some classic Holliday zingers.
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