Michael Keaton is an American actor who has already acted in a variety of film genres, ranging from drama and romantic comedy to thriller and action. He is also a producer and director, and his breakthrough movie was “Night Shift.”
He received additional recognition for his dramatic portrayal of the title character in Tim Burton’s “Batman” and “Batman Returns,” and as a result of his success in the film industry, he gained a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most talented and versatile actors.
With all of the characters he has played throughout his entire career, Keaton viewed his performance in Alejandro Iárritu’s film “Birdman” as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a part for which he was destined to perform.
Michael Keaton discusses Alejandro Iárritu’s film “Birdman”
“Birdman” is a black comedy-drama film that stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson. He poses as an outdated Hollywood star hoping to revive his failing career by producing a major Broadway production.
Among the movies he’s appeared in before, Keaton remarked that this one had a distinct quality that made him feel like he was born to fulfill the role he does in it.
“As we were fairly well into it, you could tell that what Alejandro was attempting was at least kind of working, and even if it wasn’t a giant ‘hit,’ you were part of something that was really special – and it’s not just the single-shot thing; it’s more than that. So as we were going along, I could already tell on some level this is already working. He’s a really outstanding director, the way he’s passionate about his work and everyone’s work and the script and the words. He’s an extreme taskmaster. Not just this movie, every movie he does, he’s demanding.”
In addition, he claims that the movie was one of his most challenging to shoot, saying, “Oh yeah. Not just because of the way it was shot. You get lazy making films because you have multiple takes; you have time to really work on the script, learn your lines on film. And that’s not necessarily a crime. But there was none of that luxury at all. We had intense rehearsals working on the scenes emotionally as an actor. And then just the difficulty in having to be ultra prepared for all the shots. Every time we talk about this, I think: God, I don’t know how he made this movie. I don’t know how any of us made it.”
When asked which particular scene was the most difficult to film, he answered: “[Long pause.] I don’t know … Edward Norton said it was kind of liberating because you play the full scene out without any stop and start. To some degree, they were all difficult, but there are a couple of times when I do these turns [of character]. I destroy my dressing room, and it ends up being a comedic scene. And the scene where I have to fake out Edward, and I tell him a lie, and I basically put a performance on to convince him about my abused background. That quick turn was challenging. And then the final scene in the play when Riggan was kind of at his end …”
Based on audience and reviewer responses, the movie was clearly a hit, which the actor recognized by adding, “I knew it would get a reaction. But the amount, the quantity, and the quality of the reaction is unbelievable. Not just people in the entertainment business, but just people. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t let you not deal with it. You have to deal with it. Love it and be moved by it, and go back and see it again and think about it. It kind of shakes you up. It grabs you around the neck and throttles you.”
Participation of Michael Keaton in the writing of the script
Along with being an actor, Michael Keaton is also pursuing careers as a producer and a director; one aspect of both jobs in common is how involved they are in the script. The actor asserts that “Birdman” adhered quite closely to the screenplay, despite his prior acquaintance with being involved in the script from the filming of “Beetlejuice.”
“There really wasn’t a “Beetlejuice” per se [in the original script]. Or if there was, I didn’t know what Tim Burton was talking about, and I said, let me think of some ideas and show it to you. This script [Birdman] was pretty much it. Whatever you think about and however you interpret a scene, it was a little bit of that, but more Alejandro directing and how he wanted the scene to be and what it should be about.”
As a matter of fact, the filmmaker didn’t have Keaton in mind when he wrote the script, but he did contact him first to play the part. “I don’t know. I know that during an interview, someone asked him what would have happened if I’d said no. He said, ‘I’m fucked!’” he shared.
The prior theater-related work of Michael Keaton
Michael Keaton was not the only actor who had experience working in theater since he had done several small-scale theater projects before starring in “Birdman.”
“Very little. A couple of little things in college and when I dropped out of college to make some money to go back to school. I was doing a little play in Pittsburgh.”
He further disclosed that theater and acting in Hollywood are something he would love to do both and more.
“[Laughs.] Kinda both. But mostly do more. I’ve had offers over the last couple of years. But it never worked. It’s a commitment. You can’t just say I’ll drop in for a couple of weeks and then leave. You really have to commit your time to it. It’s physically demanding. Your lungs, your voice. You get spoiled making movies.”
Speaking of being a college dropout, Keaton revealed that he did it to work and earn money instead because he couldn’t afford his tuition.
“I dropped out to make money, then went back, and then dropped out to make money again because I couldn’t afford my tuition. I dropped out to get a job. I was working for a survey crew. Work on the roads with road crews. I had a zillion jobs. I shoveled asphalt off the back of a truck, drove a cab. I did a ton of stuff. My brother gave me a little part-time job selling building materials on construction sites, so I did that.”
Michael Keaton discusses the subject of his new movie, which is about the sex abuse issue in the Catholic church
After promoting “Birdman,” Michael Keaton has another project in the works; however, he hasn’t finished filming it yet. This new movie of his focuses on the problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.
“I think I have a day we have to go back and grab a scene in the winter. That was a nice little movie to work on. Not the cheeriest of subject matters.”
Keaton also provides a description of his character, Robby Robins, an editor in charge of a Boston Globe team looking into the controversy shown in the movie.
“Yeah. He describes himself as a player/coach. He’s a reporter and an editor of what in some cities they call the Metro section. The Boston Globe has something called Spotlight that does investigative pieces. And Walter “Robby” Robinson heads that team up.”
The movie’s concept does seem intriguing, and the actor acknowledged that no one has really properly looked at the topic. He likewise shared his opinion of the vibe he believes the film conveys.
“Yeah, exactly. My guess is that it’s going to feel a little like All the President’s Men. I have the feeling that will be the vibe. Which is kind of nice because when is the last time you saw that kind of movie? Nobody really makes that kind of movie anymore.”
Michael Keaton talks about his Catholic upbringing
Michael Keaton was brought up a Catholic, and, of all the actors in the forthcoming movie on a Catholic-related subject, he is one of the few who would have a connection to it, which undoubtedly affected his ability to portray his part.
“It added and subtracted, but mostly added. It just pisses you off [the sex abuse scandal]. And then you have to say that doesn’t do you any good; I’ve got a job to do here. I’m an actor. And Robby got pissed off. Everyone got pissed off. [Long pause.] I was afraid that every day you go in and you have to deal with this. There are the words; there are the scenes; there are the descriptions. Detailed descriptions. You think, why am I doing this? I’m gonna get so angry and depressed. And actually, that’s not really what happened. Once again, it was a really good cast – quick on their feet, bright, knowledgeable about a lot of things. I actually enjoyed it.”
Not only did it impact how he played his role in the film, but him, being a Catholic, also shaped him as an actor and the person he is today.
“A lot, probably. I liked going to Catholic school. Not as fucked up as some people think. My experience was fine. It was classic knuckle-rapping and stand in the corner and corporal punishment. But it was just sort of what it was. I didn’t come away scarred for life. It kind of builds who you are. I was an altar boy. I liked being an altar boy. Me and my buddies got to go and serve Mass and go to school. I didn’t go to church all the time just ’cause I was an antsy kid. It was a good experience for me. It probably does shape who you are and what you believe in.”
Michael Keaton on his career as an actor
Michael Keaton, who began off as a comedian and then found success in dramas, is without a doubt one of the best actors in modern history. So it’s conceivable that he gets the acting and comedy bug at some point in his career.
“Yes. Being funny was fun. But when I was a kid, I used to play. Like, really play. I took my play very seriously [laughs]. Just playing out in the woods, or playing cowboys or playing army. Everything I did, I was intense about it. If you looked, you’d think that kid is so serious. But I was having a ball. Nothing was ever like, oh, I don’t know, just playing. If I played cowboys, I was as real as possible.”
When asked if that’s the kind of actor he became, Keaton is quite unsure, stating, “I guess. I just don’t believe anything unless it looks real. I distinctly remember watching Westerns as a kid, and if the cowboys didn’t look like they were authentic – if their clothes were too clean – I’d walk away. Shut the TV off and leave.”
The movie “Clean and Sober” came Keaton’s way when he was still a comic, and it served as a perfect opportunity for him to demonstrate his acting abilities and heighten his comedic potential.
“People always ask if you want to be taken seriously or are you looking for a serious role … I don’t know. I was a giant comedy fan. And I was a stand-up for a while, and I was writing comedy, and I had an improv group. So I loved comedy. I was trying to get good comedic movies. But I didn’t go in saying, “How can I be funny?” First, I looked at ‘How do I play this character?’ and then within that, I wanted to be funny. Then Clean and Sober was offered to me because Glenn Caron, the director, just had a feeling about my work and said I want that guy. He was very specific about why it was me, and I thought it was very well written, but it wasn’t like I set out to prove that I could do drama. It was a job that was offered to me, and I liked the way Glenn wanted to do it. That was it.”
We all know that the actor is a college dropout who began his career in theater in some way. So, at the time he was dropped, it appeared that he had little chance of breaking into Hollywood, yet Keaton found a means to go from Pittsburgh to Hollywood in order to pursue his aspirations. Where do you think he had the courage to take such a risk? Well, even he has no idea.
“When I look back at it now … first of all, I pat myself on the back for doing it. But the other part of me is like, ‘What was he thinking? He’s so crazy.’ It’d be harder now. I can’t remember the exact amount of money I had, but I know it was under $300 that I’d saved. Almost all of it was gone once I bought an airline ticket. No place to stay, no connections … no, not true. One guy who was already making a living as a comedy writer – I was moving to New York – and he said to me, ‘You should come and try LA out. It’s wide open.’”
Additionally, it appeared that he had performed in every genre during his acting career, with the only difference being the character descriptions. Like every other actor, he has something that he wants to do despite having already portrayed a variety of genres and various characters.
“Oh yeah. I did Shakespeare once, and there’s part of me that wants to do a little bit of that again because it was so challenging. Not to say I’m this great Shakespearean actor because I’m not – but it was so fun to try. I’d like some minor part. I’m too lazy to take on a major role. And something with music in it. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I have this idea that it would be fun to do a musical, but I don’t know what it is yet.”
There is no escaping the fact that many outstanding performers, like him, reach a certain point in their careers and just coast. Keaton, who has a different build, hasn’t yet made this choice.
“I get bored. I bore myself. It’s just not as much fun. But there is a part of me that thinks that could be an awful lot of fun. I see some guys that are really good at something, and … I really don’t mean this detrimentally or negatively. They go, “I know what I am, man. This is the thing I am. I’m good at it.” A part of me goes, “I wish I could do that.” Just really hone one thing. But I don’t even want to think about what I am. I just go, ‘What’s the job?’”
How did Michael Keaton meet Tim Burton?
One of the best filmmakers, Tim Burton, is recognized for his distinctive, unusual style, which frequently combines fantastical and horrifying subjects. Everyone wants to collaborate with him, and Michael Keaton is among the lucky ones who were able to and even revealed how they met.
“I got a call. I think David Geffen called my agent, who asked if I had seen Tim Burton’s work. He had done a little animated film. He’s got a script he wants Michael to do. I didn’t really know who he was, but I had a meeting with the guy. It was clear that he was an artist. He was trying to describe this movie [Beetlejuice], and I didn’t understand it, and I said ‘Whatever’ and forgot about it. My agent persuaded me to meet him again. So I went back and met him again, and I liked him, but I’m not getting what this character is. Because when Tim drew him, he didn’t look anything like what eventually I and Ve Neill [the makeup artist] came up with. I told her I had this certain image in my head that I wanted to do. And Tim had this idea of a striped suit. And then I just thought, I’m just gonna take a flier. Just give it a shot, come up with something crazy and just have fun.”
Keaton gained more appreciation for his dramatic portrayal of the title character in Burton’s movies “Batman” and “Batman Returns,” but despite the accolades, he too encountered mockery, which eventually went in his favor.
“Correct. My suggestion – which was ultimately what Chris Nolan did – was this is potentially an interesting character. I know it’s a comical thing but let’s explore a little more backward and then come forward – a thought which they [the producers] had zero interest in when we were talking about doing the third one. I was told, this is it, this ain’t changing. And I thought I don’t wanna do it. It wasn’t well written, and it was going in a direction that was very kind of ’80s. There was some shitty taste of the ’80s.”
Besides that, he acknowledged that the character’s development into something more intriguing and dark is what makes his portrayal of the character more engaging for the audience.
“Because it was inherently dark. I’m not sure they were charming. Go watch the first one. The first one is charming and not the kind of thing you would think of with that kind of movie. It’s the thing that will separate that from all the others, in my opinion. When you consider what Tim [Burton] was trying do and what he pulled off against all those odds, it was impressive.”