Growing Up Kilmer: Val's Son Jack Steps Into the Family Business in 'Palo Alto'

·New York Bureau Chief, Yahoo Entertainment

Jack Kilmer wasn't planning on going into the family business when he first met his "Palo Alto" director, Gia Coppola … in the first grade. But these are the kinds of things that happen when you're a Kilmer.

The 18-year-old son of Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley (who divorced in 1996) recalls crossing paths with Francis Ford Coppola's granddaughter several times since that first meeting, when she was a sixth grader helping out with his after-school care program. One recent Labor Day, their families were spending the weekend together when Gia brought up her directorial debut project, an adaptation of James Franco's collection of short stories, "Palo Alto."

"Me and my family spent the night at her mom's beach house over Labor Day a couple years ago and we had a really nice dinner. I brought two of my friends and we were just skateboarding and drinking beers and hanging out and she was just fascinated," Jack told Yahoo Movies during the Tribeca Film Festival. After spending more time together, the 27-year-old director studying Kilmer and his pals as they did everything but aspire to act, Coppola suggested Jack read the for the part of Teddy, a sweet stoner with a toxic best friend (played Nat Wolff) and a huge crush on the straight-laced April (Emma Roberts).

"She just put it really simply, like, 'Why don't you come read for the part so we can hear a kid, how you might say some of these lines or hear it from a 17-year-old kid? Like, how would you naturally say some of these lines?' … And then she said, 'Well, why don't we put you on tape, and then I guess it was like a real audition tape," he recalled.

[Related: 'Palo Alto' Premiere Slideshow]

The experience completely changed his perspective, as well as his relationship with his parents.

"She made me see acting in a completely different way than I'd ever looked at it before," he said. "I have always had a great respect for actors and I love movies, but acting was also what my parents did … I always had other ways of expressing myself but now I'm really into it."

He added, "It's cool because I'm realizing more what they have been doing their whole life and why they've been doing this for their whole life. I can relate to it more because it's both of their most passionate thing they do. It's just like enthusiasm for life, really."

Watch the trailer for "Palo Alto":

As a kid, Jack gravitated towards other art forms, especially music. He first learned to play the drums, and gradually picked up several other instruments, even performing in a band during high school. Still, he's never played with his father, who famously portrayed Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's "The Doors."

"I haven't jammed with him. We definitely have lots of other musical experiences together though," Jack shared. "The first few records I had were from him. The first time I listened to Jimi Hendrix was his, him showing me that and that was really important to me. That is really important to me. And The Beatles. He just has really interesting things to say about music.

"He's kind of hip … but he's into some weird music and it's not just the cool stuff. His music taste is pretty awesome – it's just all over the place."

Jack claimed he "definitely" had a normal high school experience, complete with giving "teachers a really hard time," being "stubborn" about homework, and going to prom.

"Prom was cool," he recalled, remembering the white corsage he gave his date. "She was my girlfriend in ninth grade. It was senior prom and I hadn't talked to her in a long time but remembered in ninth grade, she was like 'Oh my god, you're taking me to prom. We're going to go to prom senior year if we're still together.'"

For now, Jack is sticking to acting – he'll next be seen in "Len and Company" opposite Rhys Ifans and Juno Temple – but he's not so sure appearing on camera with his father is a bridge he wants to cross. (Val plays April's dad in "Palo Alto," but the real-life father and son never share any screen time.)

Still, Jack's determined to follow his proud papa's advice – "just be honest and go with my instincts" – and it appears to be working. The New York Daily News said he "makes a strong mark in his first film," while The Wrap described his performance as "very natural and instinctive. Whatever it is he's currently got, here's hoping the movies don't beat it out of him."

"Palo Alto" arrives in theaters on Friday.