Michael Keaton discusses nudity, superheroes and a (potentially) “gushing” Oscar speech with ShortList's Louise Donovan
In your new film Birdman, you play Riggan Thomson – a former Hollywood golden boy known for playing a famous superhero. There are surely parallels there with your own life, post-Batman, but you’ve said you couldn’t relate to Riggan. Why?
He’s so f*cking annoying. He’s such a whiner – actually, it’s not that he’s a whiner; he’s just so needy. But then I didn’t relate to the character I played in Desperate Measures. I was going to say [I didn’t relate to my character in] Clean And Sober, but to some degree everybody’s probably got some sort of addiction. For a long time I had an addiction to going running. But I don’t relate to Pacific Heights, you know? I guess I don’t relate to Riggan’s personality type.
Did the art-imitating-life element draw you to the film at all?
Well, that would have been a reason not to do it, because it would really be obnoxious to dwell on, “Oh let’s talk about me and my life.” Who gives a sh*t about that? I’m not saying I don’t feel good about myself; I just have zero interest in that. First of all, it’s more about Alejandro [González Iñárritu, the director] than me; I’m just the vessel. What drew me was Babel, Amores Perros, Biutiful – all those things he’s done. It’s really simple.
You’ve previously worked with the likes of Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino – how is Iñárritu different?
This movie is about him. People keep saying: “You did this, you did that” and I go, “Yeah I know”, but that’s not the truth. It’s Alejandro. This is him working out his stuff. When you see his other movies you go: “Woah, I want to be in business with that guy.” This guy is so unafraid of passion. He’s not coy about things, he’s got a huge set of balls.
Riggan’s face jumps from desperate to happy and crazed in the space of seconds. Was it a tough part to play?
I look at it both ways – it was really tough, daunting, frightening, but also there’s a kid in the candy store element, too. It’s like surfing. I’m not a surfer – I ride a snowboard – and surfing is different because in deep snow you feel the levels, but in packed snow you don’t. But when you’re in water, I imagine from [what I’m told by my] surfer friends, you’re constantly… You have to surf every scene. Naomi [Watts, Keaton’s Birdman co-star] may look at you a little differently than she did in the last scene, so you surf that, and then you know Zach [Galifianakis] is gonna come in and I’ve got to drop into depression, come up and be funny again. It’s fun.
There’s a scene where you run through Times Square in your boxers. How was that?
Fun, because it was so f*cking crazy. Then, honestly, what happens is that it quickly becomes very not crazy. Once you’re in your character mood, you’re this guy and weirdly you go: “OK, I’m in my underwear, and I don’t want thatto make me look really uncomfortable.” You just think about him, how desperate he is and how he’s trying to hold his dignity together.
There’s also a lot of unflattering close-ups…
It’s purposely not flattering. People say I look like that because obviously I do, but it’s not that hard to make someone look bad. I like it. I’ve done this before. Beetlejuice isn’t the most attractive dude in the world. Dogberry [in Much Ado About Nothing] isn’t either. But I like when you get to have teeth. I met Tim Spall the other day, who I f*cking love. He and I were talking about The Hunchback Of Notre Dame – it was one of the movies that made me think as a kid: “Wow, I wonder what it’d be like to have that job”. It feels like more work to be well coiffed and made to look handsome, because I have to be careful about what I do.
Does it take the pressure off?
You have to be willing to make yourself unflattering. You make your eyes look tired. You look horrible. It’s really freeing because you just go, “OK, take all your clothes off in Times Square”. Then, of course, you see yourself and go: “Woah, dude, I think I’ve gone a little too far”.
If you win an Oscar for Birdman – which could very well happen – what style of acceptance speech will you go for? Gushing, really emotional or something a bit cooler?
[Laughs] No, I think weeping and gushing is cool. I see a totally phony, gushing, pandering, obnoxious, long, vomiting, spewing type of speech.
This year was the 25th anniversary of Tim Burton’s Batman – how do you think that film changed blockbusters and superhero films?
Tim changed, or started, everything. And I’m proud of the choice I made, in terms of how to play Batman. It’s probably easier now because Tim paved the way, and if I did anything to pave the way, I’m proud of that, too. I’ve never seen [a superhero movie] beginning to end. Oh actually, I saw the first Spider-Man – I thought that was really good. You can step into it more easily now, is my guess. Technically, [superhero movies] do everything for you. They create a world where all you’ve basically got to do is show up, not f*ck it up too much and you’ll come off OK.
Finally, Christian Bale recently said he felt jealous to see Ben Affleck wearing the cape and cowl – do you ever get that?
No. Do you know why? Because I’m Batman. I’m very secure in that.
Birdman is in cinemas 1 January 2015
(Image: Rex Features)