HOLLYWOOD -- Hollywood legend Michael Keaton insists acting is not easy, but he enjoys interesting characters and finding out if he could pull off playing them.
Keaton clarifies that he doesn’t avoid leading-man roles; he just likes doing smaller, character parts more.
“The real fun is in characters,” he asserts when we talked recently for the promo of his latest film "The Protégé," now out in U.S. theaters. He plays a killer in the action-thriller opposite Maggie Q and Samuel L. Jackson.
In films like "Batman," "Beetlejuice," "Multiplicity," "Birdman," "The Paper," "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and many others, Keaton seems to gravitate towards characters who are often described as quirky and highly intelligent. They’re unique individuals who possess a coiled intensity.
I first interviewed the highly acclaimed actor in 2017 for "American Assassin." Then and now, he struck me as a quiet, kindly man. But this last interview, like almost all Hollywood interviews since the pandemic started, was done virtually. Having a conversation with him while he’s filtered through the laptop screen felt more familiar and somehow also more intimidating because on-screen is where we all have watched him through the years. It’s where he becomes someone else.
On interview day, he greets with a friendly smile and warm eyes. You almost feel like he’s just like you and me, up until he considers a question and somehow those famous, superheroic eyebrows become more arched, and you remember he’s Batman.
Q: What is it about this character that made you go, 'I know this person, and I know how to play him.'
I’m not sure I actually said to myself, “I know this person.” I think what I said was, “Oh, look at this movie, this is fun! I've never played a character like that before.” So that always makes me interested. To see if I could do it, pull it off. But in a movie like this, with a character like this, you have to suspend belief a little bit and just say, “All right. Don't ask too many questions about the character because you might say, ‘Well, could he really do that?’ It’s a movie. Everyone's larger than life, so you just kind of give into the style of the movie and the genre. And I thought it was fun. I think he's a really fun character, you know.
Q: I love that first meeting (with Maggie Q’s character) in the film, in the bookstore.
He's always, you know, calculating. He works on a bunch of levels. What was interesting about him was, not everything's physical with him. If he doesn't have to be physically lethal, he won't do it. He prefers to outsmart someone, you know. Kind of keep his hands clean. But it was cool because if you can't get it done that way, he'll get it done however he has to get it done.
Q: To many, you are the definitive Batman and you’ve also played so many other indelible characters. But it's your depth and versatility that make you one of the actors that newcomers and other actors really look up to. Do you have anyone that you also look up to?
First of all, it's not an easy job. On one hand, I think the perception is, you know, it's easy. And if you think it's easy, it's probably because the actor is making it look... he or she is making it look easy. It's not easy. So I think all actors are good.
I don't look and judge at all because who am I to judge, for one thing. But sure, you know, early on there were certain people I would clock and watch and admire and try to learn from and steal from if I could. And then eventually, you say, ‘Well, I'm going to be, I’m going to find my thing.”
But you know, current day, there's so many, there's so many good actors. I mean if you name one person, then you think, ‘Well, what about... What about this woman? What about that man? And what about that guy?’ So I hesitate to use names. But if you think of Joaquin Phoenix, that's like otherworldly, man. That guy's a monster. I mean, that's like: Phew. I just... I just can't stop watching him, you know. That's just one example.
But you know, I’m probably really a character actor actually because that's where the fun is. Just to be the... I don't know, clever guy, leading guy. I like it, I'll take it, I’m blessed to be able to do it sometimes. But that's probably not where the real fun is, you know. The real fun is in characters. And a lot of times those are smaller roles. So I do them because I like to do it. It's kind of more fun to do, actually.