The notion of being an entertainer in the public eye comes with heavy baggage for 28-year-old Mercedes Kilmer.
The actress, who appears with her father, Val Kilmer, in the new movie “Paydirt,” saw her childhood scarred by her dad’s rabid fans and paparazzi.
“I was traumatized by people trying to climb our gates and take pictures of us when I was a kid,” she told The Post on the phone from vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “I never felt deterred from acting, but I was really reticent about engaging with the public until now.” She vividly remembers the high point of the insanity. “Especially in the late ’90s and early 2000s, when my dad was superfamous, he couldn’t go anywhere. And paparazzi culture was so evil. People could find your address on the internet. That really did affect me.”
Still, she’s made the choice to be an actor herself, as has her younger brother Jack; their mother, Joanne Whalley, is an actress as well.
Mercedes thinks today’s culture, with celebrity social-media accounts, is a big step forward. “With Instagram, actors can put out their own content, so people don’t break into their houses to get it!” she said. Mercedes, who resides in LA, is making her feature film debut in “Paydirt,” a heist thriller, playing a newly-minted D.A. and the daughter of a semi-retired sheriff (her dad) determined to bring down a crime ring.
Playing opposite her dad would have been meaningful at any time, but especially now: Val, 60, is a survivor of throat cancer. His tracheotomy has radically changed his voice, which can be hard to understand: In “Paydirt,” another actor’s voice is dubbed over his.
Val, a Christian Scientist, said in a recent interview that “I prayed, and that was my form of treatment,” though he also received chemotherapy and radiation. Mercedes isn’t a Christian Scientist herself, but said, “I respect his faith a lot, and his choice in how he chose to heal.”
Making “Paydirt,” which shot in December 2019, opened the actress’s eyes to the paucity of work for actors with disabilities — a category she didn’t initially even associate with her father.
“Being so close with my dad, I don’t think of him as a disabled person, so we didn’t really talk about it beforehand,” she said. “But I thought it would be easier on set than it was. And it really revealed the narrowness of my own training. I thought how easily the conversation [about disability] could have been brought up.
“My dad is so talented, he has such an ability to communicate, even outside of his speech. I learned so much from him about how you can communicate physically. That’s really enriched my own work as an actor,” she said.
Her father’s work in “Paydirt” — and the coronavirus-delayed “Top Gun” sequel — has inspired Mercedes to advocate for more work for actors with disabilities. It’s an issue that, even in this era of upheaval in Hollywood, remains low-profile. “I think everyone has so much to gain from working with disabled actors. This film really shows how successfully it can be done,” she said. “There’s no reason not to.”