• Golden Globe Awards

Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Some call it the biggest comeback of the decade. He just calls it having a long career. But any way you see it, Michael Keaton took flight with Birdman the role that has earned him the second Golden Globe nomination of that career.

In the last ten years Keaton has done a lot of voices for animation movies, some really excellent TV movies and miniseries but not a lot of good films. No wonder he jumped at the chance to play Birdman: “For an actor – when you get a script like this – you just jump up and say ‘thank you, God’.” He says. “It’s no one’s fault but there aren’t many good scripts, and when you say that it often sounds like ‘there are no good writers’. There are a lot of good writers, but it’s a corporate environment. You can’t even say that it’s good or bad, it’s a world economy now and the movie business is part of it. So to get something really, really good, the chance gets smaller and smaller because the world is a giant mall, there is Starbucks and not very many Tony’s Pizza, the mom-and-pop restaurants. In that same vein it’s very difficult to find beautifully written scripts. So the good fortune to get one is ‘ oh my God, I’m so grateful.”

It’s been 25 years since Keaton played Batman for Tim Burton and unlike his Birdman character, the caped crusader never felt like a monkey on his back: “There was really only one scene that rang pretty true, when the journalist says ‘he’s never gonna do another one’. The rest was so crazy, it never happened to me that way. Hey, doing Batman was awesome, it was fun, I’m so glad that I am him. I embrace it.”

Do actors get as crazy as in Birdman when insecurities kick in? “It’s definitely heightened in this film. Maybe… All the actors I have worked with have been great. But you can be great and crazy.” The actor who divides his time between Santa Barbara and Montana is known to be just one of the guys when he’s on his ranch. Hunting deer, shooting birds and drinking whiskey with the locals it is not surprising that he likes Westerns. This is where he gets away from Hollywood and from himself. Even though he doesn’t believe in generalizations about the business: “It’s easy to create clichés about actors. I see bigger egos among newsmen. That’s why anchormen are so funny. Every time you go to a tiny, tiny place the local anchorman has the biggest ego you have ever seen.” Which brings him back to Birdman: “Everyone has an ego and that’s why Birdman is such a good metaphor: he is the negative ego, everybody’s got one and you have to say, ok, I know you exist but you have to take a back seat, I gotta be the boss, you cannot be the boss.”

Born 63 years ago in Pennsylvania it became obvious early on that he needed a stage name. Contrary to popular belief though, it was not Diane Keaton who inspired him. Asked about his name change he once remarked: “Yeah, I had to change my name because there were two other actors registered at Equity with that name. One of them is doing quite well from what I understand, the other is making cheap porn movies…”

Beetlejuice is still considered to be his breakthrough, even though he had worked steady for years. He calls the drama Clean And Sober the most fun film on set despite the tough subject matter, and Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing one of the top five experiences of his career even though he felt he was acting in another language, having never done Shakespeare before. Which pegs the question of whether he considers acting art or craft: “I think film making is an art. It’s how you do it. Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix and those guys make it an art. I like actors. I think everybody is good. It’s a courageous thing to say I wanna be filmed, exposing myself to all these things. I give everyone credit for trying.”

Elisabeth Sereda