NY Film Festival 2014: Michael Keaton Talks Birdman


Michael Keaton is in no way a stranger to the well, flighty character, both mentally and physically speaking, that he plays in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.

Sort of. Seemingly a satire in some ways, of Keaton’s ambivalent transformation into Tim Burton’s Batman a quarter of a century ago, Birdman appears to be Keaton’s venture into unprecedented extreme acting.

Including, as he relates in this conversation when the movie premiered at the NY Film Festival, fleeing nearly naked through Times Square, when not flying through it.

Keaton at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con.

How did it feel to be Birdman, and what do you think about this character – is he depressed or simply crazy?

MICHAEL KEATON: How did it feel? It feels good. The second question, what do I think about the character? The character is Alejandro, so you should ask him!

No, the character is really one of the most difficult things I’ve done. Not in terms of the character necessarily, but in terms of how the film was made.

In sometimes 30 or 40 seconds, you have to surf a lot of different emotions. And be part of this genre picture, and fit into this genre picture,

And because this picture is always shifting and moving, it’s got so many levels. So therefore, it was really, really difficult.

But I like that. I like difficult most of time.

And did you get to keep that Birdman outfit?

MK: No, to your third question. Did I keep the outfit – what a great idea! How stupid am I not to keep one of those, Now I’m thinking how to get one of those!

What about the big theme in Birdman, how fame, celebrity and how being a movie star, blur mentally with being an actor?

MK: I think everybody is a celebrity now, because of YouTube. Most people are walking around in their own movie!

So this is not a big deal anymore. I think everybody is kind of a celebrity in their own head, and they are.

Birdman also bashes theater critics, so how are you with critical reviews about your work?

MK: This is where I’m really a dope! I thought originally you should be courageous, and read everything.

And I did that a couple of times. And I thought, well I’m not doing that anymore!

Admittedly if someone says hey you had a got nice review, I’ll read it. I’m open to making myself feel better!

But I think I’ve been treated basically fairly. I know I’m the

wrong person to ask!

And you know, there are probably a lot of going, out there going, oh no. You aren’t!

What about those wild special effects, with you flying all around midtown Manhattan?

MK: When the special effects come in, I mean it’s just out of nowhere! And I totally dig it.

I go yeah, there’s a little treat. A little megaplex action superhero movie dose for you right there.

How about that scene of yours, running around nearly naked in Times Square?

MK: That proves I really am nuts, that I am really crazy! Because it’s hard to…explain!

I was just talking about actors having a part in their brain that will make something happen. Like if someone said, you’ve got to swim across the English Channel.

Somehow, some actor would. Because he wants to work so badly. He would figure out a way to swim across the English Channel. Even if he couldn’t swim!

So I get this Birdman script, and I’m reading and enjoying it, blah, blah. And then his robe gets caught in a door.

I think, that’s funny. Remember to play that really real. I’ll figure it out when I get there.

So let’s go do it. You never stop to think, I’m actually going to have to take my clothes off and run through there!

You read it the same way as, he comes home from work, kisses his wife and says hi to his kids. That’s like, he runs through Times Square in his underwear.

So you show up on the day and go, wait a minute. Why didn’t I think about this!

How about looking back at when you really were Batman in a movie, 25 years ago?

MK: Batman afforded me the luxury of not having to take things that I wouldn’t necessarily have to. I was kind of already doing that anyway, and sometimes to a fault.

It wasn’t always the greatest thing that I was turning things down or I wasn’t out there working. I’m not bragging about it.

I had a young son, and I wanted to be around. I just didn’t want to go away and do a movie. I turned down movies, nothing special.

What’s next?

MK: I’m in the middle of a movie called Spotlight. It has a really good script again,

with a really good director and another really good cast.

The controversial theme of the pedophile priest scandal didn’t make you think twice?

MK: I thought for a minute about not doing it! But it’s stuff I care about, so I’m doing

that now.

Your co-star Naomi Watts says this movie about the theater brought back some theater nightmares for her, like having the wrong clothes – or even no clothes at all. What about you?

MK: I have that dream too. About Naomi being naked! And it’s not a nightmare!

More information about the NY Film Festival is online at: Filmlinc.com.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.