Michael Keaton was interviewed by Playboy
their July 1992 issue. This took place after "Batman" (1989) and
before "Batman Returns" (1992) was released. Here are excerpts
from the interview concerning his Batman work.
[The opening words from
insiders figured it had to be a joke. After all, cinematic
superheroes had to be as muscled as Schwarzenegger, as square-jawed as
Stallone, as sensitive as Costner. What was Warner Bros. thinking
when it cast a five-foot-ten, 160-pound goofball as the Caped
Crusader? To make matters worse, even before the 1989 release of
"Batman," film critics and fans of the beloved comic book cast their
votes: There was no way Michael Keaton could convincingly play
the title role. First of all, he had never offed a bad guy in his
movies; furthermore, he was just a comedian.
But Keaton got the last laugh when
"Batman" earned more than
$400,000,000 worldwide, becoming the sixth-highest-grossing film in
history. As a result, Keaton was catapulted into the ranks of
Hollywood's heaviest hitters. It was only a matter of time before
a sequel showed up in movie theaters, and that time has arrived.
Opening nationwide this month, "Batman Returns"- starring Keaton,
Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman and Danny DeVito as the Penguin- is
expected to become another box-office bonanza.
There was no blatantly obvious
reason for the success of
"Batman." Despite the fiendishly comic capers of Jack Nicholson
as the Joker and the drop-dead beauty of Keaton's leading lady, Kim
Basinger, the film was dark and forbidding. And it was often
depressing: Keaton chose to portray Batman- or, rather,
multimillionaire Bruce Wayne- as a brooding eccentric in need of
psychotherapy. Such characterizations usually don't make for a
runaway hit, but moviegoers ate up Keaton's offbeat interpretation and
so did most reviewers.
the fanfare, Keaton's checkered film career was all but forgotten,
which may have been to his advantage. Things were off to a good
enough start in 1982, when Keaton played the world's strangest morgue
attendant in Ron Howard's "Night Shift," co-starring Henry
Winkler. Then, in 1983, he again won praise- and genuine stardom-
with his deft and funny portrayal of an unemployed
executive-turned-househusband (to Teri Garr) in "Mr. Mom." But
the well went dry: For five years, Keaton got bogged down in a
series of undistinguished comedies. He also had trouble mastering
the script-selection process that Hollywood reserves for proven
box-office stars (he turned down the Tom Hanks role in "Splash").
He was even fired from Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo."
But in 1988, director Tim Burton cast Keaton as the satanically smarmy
spook in his stylized horror-comedy "Beetlejuice," and the actor and
director hit it off. Burton had intrigued movie-goers with his
equally bizarre "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" (he would later direct
"Edward Scissorhands"), and his unique style behind the camera seemed
to blend perfectly with Keaton's singular manner in front of it.
"Beetlejuice" was a hit, and Keaton was back on track.
came "Clean and Sober." In his first dramatic role- Keaton
played a cocaine abuser- he not only showcased his range as an actor
but also reestablished himself as a bankable Hollywood headliner.
The next year, Keaton and Burton were reunited with "Batman," and the
actor hit superstardom. As Keaton himself might say (and did say
in "Night Shift"): Is this a great country, or what?
[There are more opening
words to the interview, but not pertinent to
"Batman" fans. If you want to read the entire thing, buy the
magazine. Below are selected questions and answers from the
Playboy: You have
defined yourself as an actor who has a side job of Batman. What
do you mean by that?
that the productions are so huge and the experience is so unlike
making other movies that Batman actually feels like a different
job. One day on "Batman Returns," I started working on a scene,
then we broke- and it wasn't until a month later that I was asked to
come back and finish it. The scene consisted of me walking around
the Batmobile and looking down into an abyss where the Penguin- Danny
DeVito- is supposed to be. Danny, meanwhile, was wandering around
somewhere, wondering when he'd be coming back. All movies have a
stop-start quality to them, but no movies are stop-start like this-
with all the special effects required, all the technical
intricacies. As an actor, I'm always trying to hang on to my
character, and by now, that's become second nature- but I can't do it
on a Batman movie.
On the first one, I had to learn
really fast how to
fit into what feels
like an enormous painting. That's kind of difficult when you come
into it cold. Michelle Pfeiffer told me, "This is the hardest
thing I've ever done." In fact, when I first met with Danny and
Michelle, I warned both of them to be ready for something a little
different. I could see the look of confusion and fear in their
eyes. They reminded me of Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis when they
did "Beetlejuice." It was tough for them because they never quite
knew what [director] Tim Burton was going to have them do, or
when. I didn't have that problem.
is your third film collaboration with Burton. Do you
Some actor-director combinations work really well.
Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack made several movies together. I
think Tim and I are the twisted version of Pollack and Redford. I
really feel best when I'm working with him. Tim looked rested and
relaxed at the beginning of Batman Returns, and that made me a little
nervous. But as we neared our deadline, he got totally pale, his
hair stood out like electricity was shooting through it and his arms
were flailing. He was pacing around, trying to explain what he
wanted. Other people might have looked at him and worried.
I figured I had him just where I wanted him. I thought, Here we
go, now we're in the groove. This is the Tim I know and trust.
with you in "Beetlejuice," Burton approached you to star in
"Batman," but you were reluctant about doing the movie. Why?
dumbfounded when he first called me. I think I tapped the
receiver a few times and said, "You sure you have the right
number?" But that didn't last long because it was Tim, so I knew
there must be something to it. I said, "Yeah, of course I'll read
it," thinking no way would I do it. I pictured Batman as one of
these arms-akimbo superheroes. If he'd been written that way, I
would have been first to admit I was the wrong guy. I was also
really tired. I had done a few movies back to back and didn't
want to be away from my son for four months. [Keaton is single
with a son from a previous marriage.- Ed.] And one other
thing: I had always wanted to work with Jack Nicholson, and I
thought, Damn, if this is going to be my only shot, I don't know if I
want to take it. I felt that it would be better to work with Jack
where we're two people dressed in some sort of normal garb.
But when I read the script, it made
sense to me- it
was pretty damn good. When I talked to Tim again, I said, "I
don't think you're going to agree with this, but here's my take on
Bruce Wayne: He's essentially depressed and a little nuts, real
dark and a couple of steps off. Yet, at the same time, he's not
off at all. And he's focused."
gets real focused when he sees a woman he's interested in.
In the first movie it was Kim Basinger- Vicki Vale- and in this one
it's Michelle, who plays Selina Kyle, the Catwoman. That focus
doesn't always last because Bruce Wayne has a lot of other things on
his plate, which is why he's always a little absentminded and
preoccupied. Tim agreed with my take on Bruce Wayne. I saw
that Batman had the potential to become a franchise, but the risk was
that it might look really stupid, and I'm sure that Jack felt the same
wait until after Nicholson signed to play the Joker before you
agreed to become Batman?
kind of simultaneous. I was holding out to see what he was
doing. If Jack is doing the part, then it's a whole other movie.
reassuring to you?
When Jack and I talked about the movie, I felt even
better. You could see that he was thinking, formulating.
Playing the Joker wasn't a casual choice on his part.
I'd met Jack only once before, years
ago, real fast
somewhere. He's probably the only person I've ever seen who
literally knows how to sidle. I was at a party and he saw me
looking at him. He kind of backed up to me on an angle, faked
left, went right, threw me a compliment and then continued the
conversation he was having.
of Nicholson's acting choices casual?
you anything that they're not. Jack is so intelligent. I
once heard him asking himself questions about the Joker: "How far
does he go? What is he going to look like?" Jack knows so
much about moviemaking that I figured he'd be a real important force in
"Batman." And he was. He added a lot to the mix. For
every four things I added, Jack probably added eight. He was a
big help, especially given the time, the budget and the insanity of
that movie. Things were often very tense. People were
risking their careers on "Batman." We were in London and
executives were flying back and forth and making big deals. We
worked under a lot of pressure.
deal of that pressure was on you. After Warner Bros. announced
that you were going to play Batman, approximately fifty thousand fans
of the comic strip wrote letters of protest--
know how I found out about that? We were probably halfway through
shooting "Batman" when I took the Concorde from London back to Los
Angeles for a quick visit. On the plane, I started reading the
Wall Street Journal, and there on the front page was my picture- I
still wonder how those little drawings are done- and an article about
how Batman fans wanted somebody like Sylvester Stallone or Clint
Eastwood to play the character. The fact was, a lot rode on this
choice. After that, I went back and finished the movie knowing it
was out there. I just kind of dug in.
was released, "Batman" pulled in a quarter-billion dollars in the U.S.
and Canada alone. Were you surprised by its success?
know because I couldn't tell what kind of movie it was. I was
almost as surprised as anyone else when I first saw it. I had no
idea about some of the things that were in there. There are
scenes in "Batman Returns" that I haven't seen, either. While
we're working, the second unit is off filming Batmobile shots, special
effects and explosions. There will be a ton of things in "Batman
Returns" that I won't know about until I see the first cut. So in
that sense, I feel disconnected. Working on these movies is like
being in the middle of some huge machine.
success of "Batman" change your life?
to say something that I've never said in an interview
before: I'm so tired of this fucking question, I can't stand
it. [Laughs] Look, anytime you're in a hit, it changes your
life in the sense that people who don't necessarily have any taste
become aware of the amount of money the movie made. They
associate a lot of that with you. Consequently, their desire to
work with you goes up proportionately. Dig it? If it made a
hundred million, they like me a lot. Two fifty? Well, if I
said, "Come and hold up my house for a week on your shoulders," they
would figure out a way to do it. So you have to know that.
of all, the character- Bruce Wayne- is powerful. He has
power because he has money and because he saw his parents killed, which
sent him into serious introspection and illness. But he still
functions as a major force in society. You have to be powerful
from that. It finally comes down to the whole look of the
picture, especially the look of the damn Batsuit. It just
to various press reports, working in that suit wasn't a
picnic for you. True?
was difficult. I'm
pasted, glued, strapped and tied all through the Batsuit. It's
made out of neoprene, latex and rubber, and it also has some metal
parts. Mostly, it's like being on the inside of a rubber
band: It gives, but there's this constant pulling. If I get
too thin, I rattle around in it. If I put on a few pounds, it
becomes too tight and everything takes twice the exertion. I also
sweat a lot in it. And I can't drink any coffee when I'm in it-
and I truly have a caffeine addiction- because they didn't build it
with a fly and zipper. They put what amounts to a portable
bathroom in there. But it's a safe suit. When I'm wearing
it, I feel like I'm the poster boy for safe sex. It also makes me
feel isolated, which is perfect for the character.
worried that by playing Batman you might get identified with the
character in the same way that Christopher Reeve became identified with
start with, I didn't sign a sequel deal, and I don't know if Reeve did,
either. I think the real problem Reeve had is that he hadn't done
many other things people had seen, so they knew him only as
Superman. I say that in his defense. However, I remember
Reeve being interviewed on the set of the fourth Superman movie, and he
made a big point of saying, "I'm tired of being identified as
Superman." I thought, Really? You know what, Chris?
Unless you signed a sequel deal, you never had to make four of them.
saying you won't make four Batman movies?
know what I'll do. The way I'm feeling right now, if somebody
says, "Hey, by the way, Tim and I are going to do another one in two or
three years and you've got to tell us if you're going to do it," I'd
say, "Yeah, I'll be there." But two years down the road, if I
look at a script and it's awful, or if Tim's not around, or if some key
elements aren't in it, I'm going to say I'm out. From a business
standpoint, sequels make absolute sense, but so many movies are being
made with sequels in mind that the whole thing's getting stupid.
"Gandhi 2" would have been in big trouble: "We put him on
intravenous- and he's back!"
In any case, there's hope for us
Harrison Ford did the Star Wars films without hurting himself, and now
he's going to make movies based on Tom Clancy's novels.
item about "Batman Returns": You originally wanted Annette
Bening to play Catwoman. Why?
this really great off-center quality, and I'd just seen her in "The
Grifters." So when Tim said to me, "We've got to think about
Catwoman," I mentioned Annette and he said, "What a good idea."
It was that simple. No one else was discussed. But then
Annette became pregnant and had to drop out.
we've heard, the hunt for her replacement didn't exactly rival
David O. Selznick's search for Scarlett O'Hara, but it certainly had
its dramatic moments.
talk about really knowing you're in Hollywood. One day after
Annette was out of the running, I was talking to Mark Canton, who was
then in charge at Warner Bros. and heading up the Batman project.
We were in his office and he said, "I'm getting calls about Catwoman
from every actress you can name." He began going down the list
for me when his phone rang. He picked it up and said, "Yes, fine,
but no, I can't right now. I'm busy." Just as we started
talking again, there was another phone call. "Please do me a
favor," he said. "Tell her I can't see her now. I'm in a
meeting." About thirty seconds later, the door flew open and in
walked Sean Young, who was a woman on a mission- but on a level the
likes of which I'd never seen before.
in and said, "How could I not be Catwoman? It's so obvious
that I'm supposed to be Catwoman." It was so strange and
bizarre. Sean was dressed catlike. No actual fur was
involved, but I recall her hair being tied up with a ribbon that kind
of picked her hair up. At a fast glance, it looked like she had
ears on the back of her head. She was dressed in all black- big
high boots, leotard and shorts.
made her pitch for the role right then?
the move. She went on for about two and a half minutes with what
seemed like one sentence. It was a lot like Bob Dylan's book
"Tarantula." While Sean was talking, I noticed that she had a
metallic object in her hand. I flashed on it for a second and
prayed to God it wasn't a gun. I wasn't alone in that- Mark had
the same feeling. But it wasn't a gun, it was a
walkie-talkie. I thought I would diffuse the situation by
bringing her back to earth. I said, "Hey, first of all, how you
doing? I haven't seen you for a long time, and you look great"-
which was true. That threw her for a couple seconds, and then she
went on again. I asked her what she was doing with the
walkie-talkie. She said- nicely, she wasn't mean- "I'm talking to
somebody." The walkie-talkie was crackling, and I heard things
like "Roger." I said, "Why don't you shut if off? Let's
have a conversation." And I think she did shut it off. For
a moment, I felt that might straighten her up. I said, "Hey, do
me a favor. I'm talking to Mark about something. Let me
finish up here- we're just about done- and then I'll leave and you guys
can have your meeting." Sean talked for another minute and
then went out and waited. I left and she came back in and talked
with Mark. I don't know what happened after that. But it
was wild and totally eccentric and great fun. I'll tell you
something: If the woman could bottle that drive with a sense of
humor, she'd be unstoppable.
sense of humor missing?
most part, yes. She's talented, but talent notwithstanding, I
laughed very hard after that. It was one of those great Hollywood
to become Catwoman- she dressed the part on Joan Rivers' TV
show- received a good deal of attention. Did she do anything
but I didn't really see it, so I'm not gonna say what it was.
Michelle Pfeiffer feel when finally asked to do the role?
time, she was preparing to do a movie. I'm sure that's what
happened- I haven't actually asked her- was that Michelle said, "OK,
send me the script," read it and felt it was not to be passed up.
Her name could have popped up just as easily and just as fast as
Annette Bening's. In a weird way, she was the most obvious
choice, if you think of it. I think it's going to end up being
one of those cases where Michelle turns out to be the only actress who
could have played Catwoman. She's so good.
to recognize you beneath all the makeup and costuming in
"Batman" and "Beetlejuice." Do you like being unrecognizable?
consciously, but there's great fun in that. On a very primary
level, dressing up wild is kind of where it all starts. When I
was five or six, I began doing things like putting on silly hats,
making faces, combing my hair crazy and walking in ways that looked
stupid. I cut out Hershey-bar wrappers because they were just the
right tone for Elvis sideburns. I used to lick them and stick
them on and perform for the family.
the cameras started rolling on "Batman Returns," Hollywood
observers have been predicting that it will be the biggest movie of the
summer and maybe of the year. Do you agree?
can't tell you that there's a lot more of everything in this one than
there was in "Batman" and that the Penguin is far more evil than the
Joker was. But other than that, I really don't know. One of
the reasons I hesitate to talk a lot about what I do and the medium in
which I work is that I honestly don't know much about them. And
I'm not being humble here, because there are things I do know a lot
about and don't feel at all constrained to discuss. But I just
don't know that much about acting and movies. Most people who've
done the amount of work I've done think they know a lot about it.
Usually, when I read what they have to say, I find them totally
pretentious and incorrect, so I hesitate to say anything because I
think I'm still figuring out a lot of things.