Val Kilmer learned 50 The Doors songs so he can get the role

The Doors is a 1991 American biopic about the 1960-70s rock band of the same name which emphasizes the life of its lead singer, Jim Morrison. It was directed by Oliver Stone, and stars Val Kilmer as Morrison, Meg Ryan as Pamela Courson (Morrison’s companion), Kyle MacLachlan as Ray Manzarek, Frank Whaley as Robby Krieger, Kevin Dillon as John Densmore, and Kathleen Quinlan as Patricia Kennealy.

The film portrays Morrison as the larger-than-life icon of 1960s rock and roll, counterculture, and the drug-using free love hippie lifestyle. But the depiction goes beyond the iconic: his alcoholism, interest in the spiritual plane and hallucinogenic drugs as entheogens, and, particularly, his growing obsession with death are threads which weave in and out of the film. The film’s depiction of Morrison was not well received by his close friends and family.

To get the role of Jim Morrison, Val Kilmer learned 50 Doors songs. He sung them so well that when they heard him sing them, the real members of the Doors couldn’t tell whether it was his, or Jim Morrison’s voice.

Casting

For nearly ten years prior to production, the project went through development hell after being considered by many studios and directors. Several actors including Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, John Travolta, and Richard Gere were each considered for the role of Morrison when the project was still in development in the 1980s. Even Bono from U2 and Michael Hutchence of INXS expressed an interest in the role, however Stone offered the role to Ian Astbury of The Cult. He declined the role because he was not happy with the way Morrison was represented in the film. When Stone began talking about the project in 1986, he had Val Kilmer in mind to play Morrison after seeing him in the Ron Howard fantasy film Willow. Kilmer had the same kind of singing voice as Morrison and to convince Stone that he was right for the role, spent several thousand of his own dollars and made his own eight-minute video, singing and looking like Morrison at various stages of his life. To prepare for the role, Kilmer lost weight and spent six months rehearsing Doors songs every day. The actor learned 50 songs, 15 of which are actually performed in the film. Kilmer also spent hundreds of hours with Paul Rothchild, who told him, “anecdotes, stories, tragic moments, humorous moments, how Jim thought, what were my interpretation of Jim’s lyrics,” the music producer said. Rothchild also took Kilmer into the studio and helped him in “some pronunciations, idiomatic things that Jim would do that made the song sound like Jim”. Kilmer also met with Krieger and Densmore but Manzarek refused to talk to him. When the Doors heard Kilmer singing they could not tell if it was him or Morrison’s voice.

Stone auditioned approximately 60 actresses for the role of Pamela Courson. The part required nudity and the script featured some wild sex scenes which generated a fair amount of controversy. Casting director Risa Bramon felt that Patricia Arquette auditioned very well and should have gotten the part. To prepare for the role, Meg Ryan talked to the Coursons and people that knew Pamela. Before doing the film, she was not familiar with Morrison and “liked a few songs” and said, “I had to reexamine all my beliefs about it [the 1960s in order to do this movie”. In doing research, she encountered several conflicting views of Pamela.

Krieger acted as a technical adviser on the film and this mainly involved showing his cinematic alter ego, Frank Whaley, where to put his fingers on the fretboard. Densmore also acted as a consultant on the film, tutoring Kevin Dillon who played him in the film.