Val, adjusted

The new and improved Val Kilmer is a lover, not a fighter. Just ask Robert Downey Jr.

"A woman can see a man from a mile away. We're like elephants."

Val Kilmer is known for playing complicated, eccentric characters.Pitch-perfect turns in dark fare such as Wonderland,The Doorsand Heat earned raves and contributed to his image as a serious actor. But Kilmer, 45, has a talent for comedy as well. In fact, his first roles during the '80s were in screwball films, including Top Secret! and Real Genius.

Divorced in 1996 from British actor Joanne Whalley, with whom he has two children, Kilmer makes his home on a ranch in New Mexico. Calling from Los Angeles while on a promotional tour for the hilarious new crime caper Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, in which he plays a gay private detective, Kilmer was eager to chat about his return to the lighter side of things.

Time Out New York: There's a scene in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang where you kiss Robert Downey Jr. How was it?
Val Kilmer: I've only kissed two men in my whole life and the other one was Colin Farrell. Robert's just better.

TONY: Really? More supple?
VK: More giving. Colin—he's a guppy. Robert's a giver.

TONY: How did you decide how gay to play your character?
VK: I was hoping with a nickname like "Gay" Perry I could be subtle and get across the value of having a tough guy be gay. I had a fantastically written role. I just had a ball every day. I've always admired Robert Downey Jr.'s work. He's a really bright guy, and to have him play somebody who's not so swift was so much fun. I blew more takes on that movie than anything in my whole life.

TONY: So comedy is harder than drama?
It's all the same. You have to make believe. I'd been looking for a comedy for years and years. I was so happy to find this one because it's risky and strange, but also because it's about Los Angeles. I was born here so I have similar feelings about the place as [director] Shane Black. Like New Yorkers and New York, you grow up with a sensibility that you just can't really get unless you've lived there for a long time.

TONY: And now you live in New Mexico—on a ranch. Does it get lonely? I think of New Mexico as sprawling and sparsely populated.
VK: Yeah it is, thank God! I love the solitude. I love the wilderness. I love having a lot of wildlife around. When I have free time, I go to Africa and Alaska—places really off the map. I get enough time in the city, I can't remember being lonely in New Mexico.

TONY: Do you think about getting married again?
VK: Yeah! Women are great.

TONY: We're dazzling creatures.
VK: A lot better than men, I think.

TONY: In what ways?
VK: Men are kind of clunky and more fumbling. A woman can see a man from a mile away. We're like elephants. They're like butterflies. Men are like, [Slowly] I'm coming to talk to you now.

TONY: I don't imagine you as an elephant. How is your luck with the ladies?
VK: I never had any lines. I never dated; I always had girlfriends. I broke up with my last girlfriend three or four years ago, so I've really only been dating since then. It's fun.

TONY: How is fatherhood?
VK: My daughter, Mercedes, is going to be 14 at the end of the month and my son, Jack, is 10. I'm very lucky. You meet them and you think, Yeah, I should have a kid. What could be more fun? They're interesting, they're beautiful, they're funny, they're smart.

TONY: I should tell you, just for your own edification, that I had a huge girlhood crush on you.
VK: Really?

TONY: I did. Right when I was crossing over from crushes on movie stars to crushes on guys in bands, The Doors came out.
VK: I'm lucky like that.

TONY: You got a lot of attention, and not just from preteens. Okay fine, I was 16. But anyway, what is your least favorite description of yourself?
VK: It's always been this backhanded compliment. I get accused of being so thorough as an actor, as if that's somewhat unattractive behavior. I've never met anyone any good at anything who didn't work really hard. It's puzzling because the fact that I care about my work is presented as a negative.

TONY: Yeah. An ex-boyfriend accused me of "trying to make sense of everything and put it into some kind of framework."
VK: [Laughs] There are two ways to go through life: You can not be serious about it or you try to figure it out.

TONY: So then, what's next for intensely fastidious Val Kilmer?
VK: I'd love to do another comedy. I'd love to do five more comedies. I'm tired of being all mean and shooting people.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang opens on Friday 20.