Now obviously, Kilmer’s not the first serious actor to pop in a big comedy performance. Abrahams and the Zuckers had already proven that the straighter an actor plays their material, the funnier it is. Such was the case with Leslie Nielsen and Robert Stack in “Airplane!” But Kilmer was only 24 at the time he made “Top Secret!” and devoted to the craft. He’d most recently been doing Shakespeare, so cutting loose wasn’t second nature just yet. As Kilmer told ScreenCrush in a 2014 oral history celebrating the movie’s 30-year anniversary:
“My acting training is formal and I was fresh out of Hamlet-land and the Juilliard School. The boys always wanted me to have more fun, but I wanted to be good and I took it all way too seriously.”
Ultimately, the actor learned how to embrace the zaniness of movies like “Top Secret!” and, as recently as 2010, Christopher Nolan favorite “MacGruber.” All he had to do was learn how to actually have a good time on set. As he told ScreenCrush, “Message to young actors: When your bosses tell you to have more fun, believe them and do it. It doesn’t happen that often!”
Unfortunately, we’ll probably never get to see Kilmer’s comedy chops on display again due to his ongoing battle with throat cancer. Over the last year, fans have started to realize just how much they miss seeing him on screen, as evidenced by his small role in “Top Gun: Maverick” and looming presence on the Disney+ series “Willow,” with hopes that he might eventually make an appearance. Whatever comes next, it’s hard not to hold out a small sliver of hope that we’ll see just how silly he can get at least one more time.