Entertainment

Val Kilmer reveals he begged Top Gun: Maverick bosses to return through AI voice technology


Val Kilmer has revealed he ‘begged’ Top Gun: Maverick producers to reprise his role through AI technology, after undergoing a tracheotomy in 2014 following a throat cancer diagnosis.

The actor, 62, who rose to fame in the original 1986 blockbuster as Lieutenant Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky, confessed ‘people struggle to understand when he’s talking’ but insisted he’s still the ‘exact same person’.

Following years of financial woes, his ex-girlfriend Cher soon footed his medical bills when he awoke in a pool of blood, which he had coughed up after a lump grew and caused difficulty swallowing.

Fascinating: Val Kilmer has revealed he ‘begged’ Top Gun: Maverick producers to reprise his role through AI technology, after undergoing a tracheotomy in 2014 following a throat cancer diagnosis (pictured in 2019)

Having found himself blacklisted by Hollywood for being difficult to work with, Val was forced to plead his case to bosses on the sequel starring Tom Cruise.

He argued: ‘Tom was Maverick, but Maverick’s nemesis was Iceman. The two went together like salt and pepper.

‘It didn’t matter that the producers didn’t contact me. As The Temptations sang in the heyday of Motown soul, “Ain’t too proud to beg.”‘

Throwback: The actor, 62, who rose to fame in the original 1986 blockbuster as Lieutenant Tom 'Iceman' Kazansky, confessed 'people struggle to understand when he's talking' but insisted he's still the 'exact same person' (pictured in-character)

Throwback: The actor, 62, who rose to fame in the original 1986 blockbuster as Lieutenant Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky, confessed ‘people struggle to understand when he’s talking’ but insisted he’s still the ‘exact same person’ (pictured in-character)

Writing in his autobiography, I’m Your Huckleberry, that he ‘presumed this was the day of my death’, he received an emergency tracheotomy after the fateful morning. 

Cher even arranged for him to be treated at the renowned David Geffen School of Medicine, where he underwent chemotherapy and radiation for two months.

Afterwards, he lived at the Believe songstress’ lavish guest house in Malibu, writing in his book, ‘Once Cher works her way inside your head and heart, she never leaves.’

The procedure included an incision through the front of his neck as well as his windpipe, the scars of which Val covers with scarves. 

Oh dear: Having found himself blacklisted by Hollywood for being difficult to work with, Val (left) was forced to plead his case to bosses on the sequel starring Tom Cruise (right, in 1986)

Oh dear: Having found himself blacklisted by Hollywood for being difficult to work with, Val (left) was forced to plead his case to bosses on the sequel starring Tom Cruise (right, in 1986)

Val said: ‘I was struck by throat cancer. After being treated, my voice as I knew it was taken away from me. People around me struggle to understand me when I’m talking.

‘But despite all that I still feel I’m the exact same person.’

Having dated Cindy Crawford, Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer in his 1980s heyday, his big break certainly came from Top Gun.

However, he later confessed he thought the script was ‘silly’ and was forced to accepted the ‘silly’ role due to being under contract with Paramount Pictures. 

Kind gesture: Following years of financial woes, his ex-girlfriend Cher soon footed his medical bills when he awoke in a pool of blood, which he had coughed up after a lump had grown and caused difficulty swallowing

Kind gesture: Following years of financial woes, his ex-girlfriend Cher soon footed his medical bills when he awoke in a pool of blood, which he had coughed up after a lump had grown and caused difficulty swallowing

Now, a British artificial intelligence (AI) company has recreated the actor’s voice – with amazingly realistic results.

London-based firm Sonantic used his voice recordings from throughout his career, which were fed to their AI to create the lifelike yet artificial mock-up.  

Film producers could potentially use the tool – described as ‘Photoshop for voice’ – for voiceovers if they have a role in mind that would be suited to Val’s tones. 

Val, whose career has spanned nearly four decades, has starred in mega-hits such as Willow, The Doors, Tombstone and Batman Forever. 

Worrying: Writing in his autobiography, I’m Your Huckleberry, that he 'presumed this was the day of my death', he received an emergency tracheotomy after the fateful morning (pictured in 2019)

Worrying: Writing in his autobiography, I’m Your Huckleberry, that he ‘presumed this was the day of my death’, he received an emergency tracheotomy after the fateful morning (pictured in 2019)

But after undergoing a tracheotomy in 2014 as part of his treatment for throat cancer, his voice is now barely recognisable. 

Luckily, Val himself is also able to use the AI tool in his personal life, to help him communicate, rather than relying on a voice box to speak.

The artificial voice, which speaks in the first person as his in Sonantic’s video, could easily be mistaken for the real thing. 

Praising the results, the real Val said: ‘I’m grateful to the entire team at Sonantic who masterfully restored my voice in a way I’ve never imagined possible. 

HOW WAS AI VAL KILMER MADE ? 

For the project, Sonantic gathered audio recordings of the actor from his films, which were digitally ‘cleaned’ to remove background noise. 

Next, the experts generated transcripts from the audio before pairing the audio and text together in short chunks that could be fed to the AI during its training. 

The firm generated more than 40 different voice models and selected the ‘most expressive one’, said CTO John Flynn. 

Kilmer can use the tool in his personal life, to help him communicate, by inputting new sentences for the AI to say. 

‘As human beings, the ability to communicate is the core of our existence and the effects from throat cancer have made it difficult for others to understand me. 

‘The chance to tell my story, in a voice that feels authentic and familiar, is an incredibly special gift.’ 

Sonantic CTO and co-founder John Flynn described the ambitious project in a blog post on his company’s website. 

The firm is mostly used to working with video game studios like Obsidian, Embark, Sumo Digital to record dialogue for their characters. 

Flynn told MailOnline his firm were approached by Kilmer’s team late last year as they were creating the Amazon Prime documentary, Val

‘We all came together – Val as someone who’d lost their voice and Sonantic as a company who creates best in class quality voices,’ he said. 

‘There was lots of brainstorming around how we could work together and what we could do – poetry, interactive games, other promotional material for films he might be involved with. 

‘But it always came back to the fact we wanted to give him something for his craft, something that had flexibility to enable him to create moving forward, so we ended up creating a voice model for him.’  

Incredible: The procedure included an incision through the front of his neck as well as his windpipe (Val, right, pictured with Kurt Russell, left, in the 1993 movie Tombstone)

Incredible: The procedure included an incision through the front of his neck as well as his windpipe (Val, right, pictured with Kurt Russell, left, in the 1993 movie Tombstone)

For the project, Sonantic gathered audio recordings of the actor from his films, which were digitally ‘cleaned’ to remove background noise. 

Next, the experts generated transcripts from the audio before pairing the audio and text together in short chunks that could be fed to the AI during its training.

The firm generated more than 40 different voice models and selected the ‘best, highest-quality and most expressive one’. The results left Val’s son, Jack, close to tears. 

‘We’d worked on the voice model and heard it so many times, but when we played it for Val and his team it was incredibly emotional for us,’ Flynn told MailOnline. 

Wow! His big break certainly came from Top Gun. However, he later confessed he thought the script was 'silly' and was forced to accepted the 'silly' role due to being under contract with Paramount Pictures

Wow! His big break certainly came from Top Gun. However, he later confessed he thought the script was ‘silly’ and was forced to accepted the ‘silly’ role due to being under contract with Paramount Pictures

‘I remember talking to Jack after presenting the voice model, and him telling us how powerful it was, like it was the first time he’d heard his dad’s voice in years, so he was quite moved.’ 

Val will be able to use the AI model in both his professional and personal life, according to Flynn. 

‘Kilmer can take part in TV or film productions that require voice overs or replacement dialogue that will be created by Sonantic’s easy-to-use computer app,’ he told MailOnline. ‘He can license that audio to different productions and studios.

‘The voice model can be used as a personalised replacement to robotic speech generating devices and help him communicate in his day-to-day life.’ 

The CTO wouldn’t reveal to MailOnline whether his firm is working with any other actors in a similar way. 

‘We believe actors will always work real-life jobs but this gives them the opportunity to earn money doing virtual work too,’ he said. 

Technology: London-based firm Sonantic used his voice recordings from throughout his career, which were fed to their AI to create the lifelike yet artificial mock-up (Val is pictured with Meg Ryan in the 1991 movie, The Doors)

Technology: London-based firm Sonantic used his voice recordings from throughout his career, which were fed to their AI to create the lifelike yet artificial mock-up (Val is pictured with Meg Ryan in the 1991 movie, The Doors)

‘For example, they can turn up for an important audition while their voice model works on an advertisement or other work.’   

Amazon Prime Videos’ autobiographical documentary of Val Kilmer’s life, ‘Val’, was released on August 6. 

The film contains thousands of hours of footage ranging from home videos to test shots for his iconic films such as Top Gun.

Top Gun: Maverick is soaring into UK cinemas on May 25 and May 27 in the US. 

Impressive: Top Gun: Maverick is soaring into UK cinemas on May 25 and May 27 in the US (Tom pictured in-character)

Impressive: Top Gun: Maverick is soaring into UK cinemas on May 25 and May 27 in the US (Tom pictured in-character)



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