Through his long career, Michael Keaton has brought a number of memorable roles to the big (and small) screen. To some he is Beetlejuice, to others he is Bill Blazejowski or Ray Nicolette, and to some his is Batman. With his new film, “Birdman” opening, many more may think of him as Riggan Thomson.
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and sporting the somewhat unwieldy full title of “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” Keaton appears in the movie as a Hollywood actor who has come to New York to write, direct, and star in a Broadway play. In an art imitating life moment, Keaton's Thomson once starred in a Hollywood superhero franchise as Birdman.
What it is important to remember though is that Michael Keaton is not Riggan Thomson and Birdman and Batman are not the same character. In other words, “Birdman” the film, is not about Keaton.
One of the real questions though is whether knowing he would have to talk about his time as Batman due to “Birdman” made doing the new movie difficult. Keaton offered up a wise answer to that question, pointing out that there are people out there do grueling jobs (working in a coal mine was his example) on a daily basis in order to make ends meet. Having to talk about Batman because of “Birdman” is not on that scale.
“Because I'm probably lazy, I just jumped right over that,” Keaton continued. “I can't remember, there probably was a conversation about that. I literally can't remember because we had a movie to make.”
Whether or not Keaton can separate the roles, and whether or not a comparison ought to actually be drawn, many people going to see the movie will enter with the knowledge of Keaton's previous work. That, too, is not something the actor thinks about.
“The only thing I'll say is I'm amazed and unbelievably flattered, and even more unbelievably grateful that the people who saw my movies early on, or movies I was in early on,… are still sticking around and curious about anything else I do.”
Not that he necessarily wants to, but Keaton will never be able to divorce himself from that earlier work. People have seen him portray memorable characters for decades.
“Birdman” might add another role for people to think about. Or, perhaps, a role that people will think about first when they consider Keaton. His past, however, will always still be there and some of that is Keaton's own fault.
A sequel to “Beetlejuice” is one of those things discussed on a semi-regular basis, and the actor understands why. He told us, “I'm probably the first one who ever said, 'Hey, we should do this again.'”
Will he? That is somewhat more murky.
“I think that would be pretty cool… if Tim [Burton] did it, it'd be cool.” But, Keaton did not indicate that any concrete plans existed.
On an acting level in this film, Keaton's role in “Birdman” requires that he go from portraying a character who is living out a fantasy in his head to a terribly down to earth, important, moment without a break, and that he do so more than once. That is part of why Keaton's performance has awards' buzz surrounding it (as do those delivered by his co-stars).
Those scenes, Keaton said, were not easy, but he loved the opportunity to do them. “That scene when Zach [Galifianakis] walks in… I was so determined to just hit that right, you know, and I think I got pretty close.”
“Birdman,” opens in theaters this Friday, October 17th. Outside of Keaton, the cast also includes Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, and Andrea Riseborough.