Michael Keaton: Playing Batman ‘was hard then; it ain’t that hard now’


Michael Keaton covers this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly to promote Birdman. The movie has received an insane amount of awards buzz already. It’s a backstage satire about a character with a similar career trajectory as Keaton. He plays Riggan Thompson, a veteran actor who once played a superhero and then stepped away from it all. In the movie, Riggan attempts a comeback by directing a play based upon a Raymond Carver novel.

Keaton, of course, enjoyed massive success in the 1980s (with movies like Beetlejuice) and worked steadily throughout the 1990s. Keaton also played Batman twice and hung up the costume when “he no longer felt creatively fulfilled.” He moved to Montana and enjoyed a low-key life, mostly paying the bills with voice work. Keaton’s done a few minor roles in recent years, but Birdman is his first real comeback role. In new interviews with EW and the New York Times, Keaton says this is the hardest role he’s ever played. Definitely harder than playing Batman:

Does Birdman draw on Keaton’s experiences? “The truth is that I was playing a person, just a person. And I was both as connected to Riggan and as disconnected from him as you can possibly be. And I have to tell the truth about that.”

The stressful shoot included 10-min, unbroken shots: “You’d go home, and have dinner, and then you’d start to think about the next day’s work. And that’s when the panic would set in. These were all really good, accomplished actors. And everybody showed up every morning frightened. The crew too. I think we were all thinking, I don’t want to be the guy who lets everybody down. Just on a practical level, I had to stay locked in. It was extremely demanding, the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Will Ben Affleck be a good Batman? “Chris Nolan is great, but I’ve never seen any of the Batman movies all the way through. I know they’re good. I just have zero interest in those kinds of movies. I mean, people are asking me, ‘Is Ben Affleck going to be any good?’ And my attitude is, First of all, why would you ask me? Second, he’s probably going to be very good, and third, frankly, it’s all set up now so that you’re weirdly kind of safe. Once you get in those suits, they really know what to do with you. It was hard then; it ain’t that hard now.”

On the Oscar talk: “What do I think about it? I think there’s chickens, and there’s hatched chickens.” No matter the part, he added, reaching for a sports metaphor to describe his career, “I play it like I’m losing.”

[From EW.com & NYT]

Keaton’s comments about how it’s easier to play Batman these days are … dangerous in a soundbyte world. Heck, I’m guilty of using that quote for a headline. Is he throwing shade at Ben Affleck? Nope. He is not. I think Keaton is alluding to how these newer superhero films work. Both DC and Marvel package their leading actors and keep them under a tight leash. These studios are so good at marketing that an actor’s performance doesn’t matter that much anymore. Marvel is probably more guilty of this than DC, but Keaton’s point stands. By the time an actor scores a superhero role nowadays, the studio is convinced that they’ve hired the right person. The actor still has to do the work, but the marketing outweighs all.

Michael Keaton

Photos courtesy of Entertainment Weekly & WENN

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62 Responses to “Michael Keaton: Playing Batman ‘was hard then; it ain’t that hard now’”

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  1. kri says:

    Hello, hotness. I am so excited to see “Birdman” and I love the way MK has lived his life. This Oscar race is going to be crazy tight this year.

    • joan says:

      So glad he’s back; he looks hotter than ever. This should be a real comeback.

      It occurs to me that the reason True Detective Season II is so disappointing to me is that it needed an actor like him — he’s in the Matt McC. and Woody H. league.

      Maybe True Detec III if he’s not too busy.

  2. Mitch Buchanan Rocks! says:

    Sparkles needs to play Batman that is the only way it will be interesting again.

  3. AuroraO says:

    Thems fightin words, Affleck.

  4. elo says:

    IMO Keaton will always be Batman. I agree with him, with all the CGI and green screens and such, it probably is easier for modern actors playing super heroes. The audience isn’t really looking for a great performance anymore. Aside my mom used to think he was hot in the 80s and 90s, I’m starting to see it now that I’m older. He’s pretty handsome.

  5. EEV says:

    He’s my all-time favourite Batman, and Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns my fave superhero flicks, hands-down.

  6. Irishserra says:

    Love Keaton. His comments are on target.

    Will always love him as Dogberry in Much Ado.

    • TQB says:

      Oh! The memory of Dogberry made me smile. Thanks.

      “I play it like I’m losing” is my new personal sports metaphor for my life. Great to have him back.

  7. aenflex says:

    Keaton was the best Batman, IMO. Nicholson/Keaton were amazing. Suffice it to say Michael Keaton is one of my favorite actors. The Dream Team!

  8. Observer says:

    My favorite Batman

  9. Mel M says:

    Love Mr. Mom for eva!

  10. Mixtape says:

    He’s coming off like a cranky old man here… but he’s absolutely right.

    Although it may be easier, I feel kind of bad for superhero actors these days as they are given little or no opportunity to bring something to the table other than a name to sell tickets and a body to fill out the suit… although I’m sure they’re crying all the way to the bank.

  11. Chicagogurl says:

    Forever dong! I just loved Keaton. Blame it on my latchkey kid status but mr mom, best batman, beetlejuice all had a profound imprint on me. Keaton is so versatile and really expands what’s on the page. Sigh.

  12. Jaderu says:

    You can throw anybody into the Batsuit and it will work. The villains are where it’s at with Batman. With that said, I love Keaton. Mr. Mom is one of my all time favorite movies.

    • FingerBinger says:

      They threw a Batman suit on George Clooney and it didn’t work.

      • Jaderu says:

        Nipples ruin everything.

      • FLORC says:

        There was more wrong ith Clooney’s Batman. Arnold as the villian and the Batman on Ice vibe was cringeworthy.

      • Bridget says:

        Was there anything that wasn’t wrong with Clooney’s Batman movie? From the batsuit with nipples, to Arnold’s awful Mr. Freeze, to the subplot with Alfred being sick, that movie was just terrible.

  13. Hawkeye says:

    The first Michael Keaton movie I ever saw was Mr. Mom, and that’s how I imagine he is in real life. Which is to say totally awesome.

    I mostly agree with his comment about the safety of a superhero role like Batman today, but I think some of it is also projection. A lot of fans were upset by him being cast in the role, it was a gamble but gave him a major career boost, and there was a lot at stake in general with that film.

    • GiGi says:

      I just watched Mr. Mom with my kids for the first time – still a great movie!

    • lucy2 says:

      Me too! I watched Mr. Mom a million times as a kid.

      I think he’s partially right about most superhero roles – with all the CGI, marketing, and everything else that comes along with it. That said, I understand why he hasn’t watched TDK trilogy, but he’s missing out. I loved those films. I really enjoyed the Keaton/Burton first two as well, but the darkness of TDK movies is a more interesting take on the character, IMO.

  14. Juls says:

    I love that he used the word “ain’t,” y’all!

  15. mommak918 says:

    I miss beetlejuice. anddddd he is hot…oy

  16. Sumodo1 says:

    Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!

  17. tinyfencer says:

    I loved him so much in Jackie Brown.

    Having said that, I clicked on the picture expecting a story about Sting. Anyone else see a resemblance?

  18. inthekitchen says:

    Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls, Michael!

    • Peachy says:

      “Was that accidental or were you trying to quote TLC on purpose?”
      Lol! One of the best parts in The Other Guys!

  19. lamgirls3 says:

    My favorite Batman! There’s something about his mouth in that mask…very sexy. Also, Mr. Mom is crazy funny!!

  20. geekychick says:

    Best Batman ever! Oh, I love MK. Does anyone remeber him as crazy guard on Much ado bout nothing? God, he was so great.

  21. Jay says:

    I wish Burton had made a third Batman movie with MK.

  22. Tippy says:

    I’ve never watched any of the Batman films but am thoroughly enjoying the new television series Gotham.

  23. BadAssCompass says:

    sexy and grumpy 😀 wish he’d moisturize a bit tho’..
    first time I saw the trailer for the Birdman I said to myself: and the Oscar goes to… Michael Keaton! It would be a wonderful comeback story and his talent deserves it. Batmen aside, can you imagine Bale doing Beetlejuice? he was basically a Joker and a Batman and now he has this meta-role with Birdman. How brilliant is that?

  24. CB says:

    He’s right. I’ve yet to see a superhero movie nowadays where an actor is asked to go outside of his comfort zone. The casting/scripting is so tight that nowadays the actor fits the mold of the hero before reading a line. The only ones I’ve been truly surprised by are Hathaway’s Catwoman and Ledger’s Joker. Nolan’s Batman was pretty much Christian Bale with a deep voice while all of the detective/intelligence aspects were thrown into Morgan Freeman’s character. I love GotG, but Chris Pratt played the goofy underdog so…Chris Pratt. Henry Cavill was boring as Superman, but Superman on paper is kind of boring anyway.

  25. smcollins says:

    MK has always been good looking, but now? Yowza! This matured look is definitely working for him. And that EW cover? Can’t wait for my copy to arrive! My MK crush has been reborn. 😉

    • Esmom says:

      I know, my thoughts exactly. And along with his looks his charm and charisma seem to be in top form, too.

  26. Mindy says:

    His Batman comment is spot on. It’s a LOT easier to play any superhero now than it was when he put the Batsuit on for the first time. Comicbook/sci-fi/fantasy genres are mainstream now. Think about conventions from back then… they were ridiculed (you told someone, that you went to a comic book convention over the weekend back then, you were almost GUARANTEED to hear “get a life” from SOMEONE). Now, San Diego comic con sells out 2 hours after the tickets go on sale – 9 months BEFORE the convention happens. When he and Nicholson teamed up int he first movie, there was always the chance that it would FAIL SPECTACULARLY and that mainstream audiences wouldn’t go to the film – Reeves Superman films had already come and gone. No matter how good/bad Affleck is as Batman, that first weekend the film will make, at the very least, 100 Million domestically.

    I adore Keaton – I can’t WAIT to see this film.

  27. Someonestolemyname says:

    He’s still my favorite Batman.

  28. Leah says:

    It’s much easier to cast a super hero movie today because they aren’t star driven. You don’t have to find someone who is a big star in addition to looking like Thor. Good luck with that. You cast the best person for the job, even if they’re nobody, and people will show up for the story.