While the publicity people at Paramount Pictures have been working full time to tout “Top Gun,” the studio’s action-packed summer film about Navy fighter pilots, one of its featured players has been working overtime on a documentary film dealing with the ultimate fight--nuclear war.

In fact, even at the world-premiere party for “Top Gun,” held here in mid-May at the trendy Palladium, Val Kilmer was working on the film. He asked “Top Gun” star Tom Cruise, Cher and other celebrities the same questions he had been asking stockbrokers, cab drivers, artists and others on the streets of New York during the week. His efforts were meant “to open up communication” on the subject of nuclear arms.

“I don’t know a lot of things about the subject (of nuclear arms), but about communication, I do know that if you embrace people, you get more options, and if this can work on a personal level, it should be able to work on a global level,” the 26-year-old Kilmer said.

He was speaking on a recent evening, between his promotional duties for “Top Gun” and his activities as writer, producer and director of the untitled documentary.


With him was John Connor, veteran camera operator of such films as “E.T.,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Top Gun,” who is co-producer and director of photography on Kilmer’s project.

An expansive Kilmer said the documentary is not intended to be anti- or pro-nuclear. And steering clear of spelling out his own point of view, he defended the fighter pilots in “Top Gun,” such as Iceman (his role), as “the men who are helping to secure the safety of this nation in the reality of today’s world.” But he was firm in his conviction that “a way needs to be found out of this nuclear predicament.”

“Gandhi said something that is very much at the heart of this documentary: ‘The means are the end in the making.’ ”

Before coming to New York, he had already shot for four weeks on location in New Mexico, where he lives. The state is also, he pointed out, not only “the birthplace of the nuclear age” but a major target for Soviet missiles. He cited a range of interviews completed there, with interviewees ranging from physicists at the Los Alamos nuclear facility to Latinos who have come of age with the bomb.


Kilmer and his crew of about 25 also combined a trip to Washington, D.C., for another “Top Gun” premiere, with interviews with French restaurateurs, members of Congress and Peter Sellars, the iconoclastic theater director at Kennedy Center, among others. Kilmer said he plans to continue on to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“Everybody says this is something that’s on their mind,” said Kilmer, who asks those interviewed about their general hopes and fears for the future but finds that “100% of them quickly come to the subject” of the nuclear threat.

Kilmer said his own interest in the subject has grown, along with his consciousness, since his professional debut five years ago, when he wrote and starred in a play about terrorists for Joseph Papp’s Public Theater here.

“In trying as an actor to understand rather than judge my character, I recognized my prejudices,” he recalled. “I started to become more interested in communication, I started reading newspapers in a different way and I started reading different kinds of books, such as (Jonathan Schell’s) ‘The Fate of the Earth.’


“I also started to feel pretty blue about what young people face, living under the weight as we do, consciously or subconsciously, of this (nuclear threat).”

In April he met Harvard professor Craig Shindler, who was in New Mexico to conduct a series of debates called “Dialogue Days.”

“His aim was to arrive at common points of agreement among diverse people on such issues as nuclear arms,” Kilmer explained, “and one point is that nobody wants to die.”

It was then he decided “to try to take a look at the condition of the world now and come up with a positive vision of the future” and, with Shindler’s advice and help, set out to plan the documentary.


“Most films made about the future acquiesce toward death,” said Kilmer, citing a range from “Terminator” to “Testament,” “and I don’t want to be told how to define my future.”

Having financed the documentary from the sale of a New York apartment and his earnings from “Top Gun,” Kilmer said he plans to put his acting career on hold until he completes the film, which he hopes will be ready for theatrical distribution by mid-1987--maybe sooner, he said.

“There are 125 films coming out this summer, and a very, very small number of them are life-affirming,” Kilmer said. “People are starving for such films.”