‘Batman’: Michael Keaton on ‘The Dark Knight’ — and a lost scene from 1989 film

May 16, 2011 | 10:41 a.m.

We’re getting a tremendous response to the lengthy feature on Michael Keaton and his reflections on life, career, “Batman,” “Beetlejuice” and working with Tim Burton. There was plenty left over from the interview, however, so I went back to find more nuggets about the actor’s time wearing the cape and mask of Gotham City’s dark champion.

 On the magnitude of “Batman” and the landmark moment it represented in Hollywood history:

“It was awesome. It was so cool. It was so much work. Now it would be done so much more efficiently; that guy [Christopher Nolan, the director of the new Batman trilogy]  is great, he’s really, really talented, but at the time we did ours, there was no example to follow. It was new territory. And what Tim accomplished changed everything. It was hard. It was harder on Tim than anyone and he changed the way people look at those movies. That really is the case and the reason for that is the originality of Tim and the people Tim put together – [production designer] Anton Furst was off the chart, [composer] Danny Elfman was perfect, bringing in Prince and Nicholson, all of it was just so right and so huge. The promotion of the movie was genius too. The look of the movie was a turning point, too, you still see that around in different versions. What I remember is how so much of it was an experiment while we were doing it.  There was the practicality of how to get this stuff done. For a lot,  well, I don’t want to say we were making it up as we went along, but there were a lot of choices made to overcome difficulties as went along. This wasn’t the [CG effects] era you have now.”

Michael Keaton: A career in pictures

On Bruce Wayne as a character:

“The coolest thing from the get-go is that he doesn’t have superpowers, there are no magical things. He is a hero of intuition and inventiveness and discipline … I always knew the way in was Bruce Wayne. It wasn’t Batman. It was never Batman. That was the key. The only reason to do it, really, was to come at all of this from this guy’s point of view.  It was risky in my approach to it but not from my point of view. It was obvious to me that there was one way to play this role. There was no other way I was going to do it. The movie was different from what had come before. The discussion from the get-go was to do a hero that was based in the psychological. Then from there we had to figure out how to make the Batman half of this thing work. The suit really just amplified everything for me. It was really claustrophobic. It was a struggle every day because I’m a claustrophobic dude. It was all such a challenge and that was perfect for me at the time. I felt it was given to me for a purpose. I took as a mental exercise. I just used the isolation of it all and the feeling of 12 and 13 hours days in this mask and trapped in the suit. ”

tim burton and michael keaton Batman: Michael Keaton on The Dark Knight    and a lost scene from 1989 film

Tim Burton and Michael Keaton collaborated on two Batman films (Warner Bros.)

On the challenges of creating a believable secret identity on the screen: 

“The problem I had, the practical issue, is the fact that Batman is standing right there in the street light, how does the guy in front of him not know he’s Bruce Wayne? Now I know that sounds obvious and silly in a movie like this and you should let that go but that’s how I am. The problem with me is as an actor. That is exactly what I think about and I need to come up with something or the role is not going to work on some level. So I said to Tim, ‘Look, here’s what we need to do, as many times as you can shoot half-degrees off of him, he should be half behind things or at an angles where you can justify that people think he looks maybe familiar but they can’t put it all together.’ Tim immediately got that and started lighting in a certain way and using the angles on the suit, on that great mask, to create a distance, a literal distance and a distance in perception.”

michael keaton batman 1989 Batman: Michael Keaton on The Dark Knight    and a lost scene from 1989 film

Michael Keaton as Batman (Warner Bros.)

On the voice of Batman:

“There was another practical matter; Bruce Wayne is a man about town, a luminary, having to go to social functions and make public appearances, so people know his voice. So I came up with dropping his voice down, as Batman it comes from a lower thing that he drops down into, a place he has to reach to become a quasi-vigilante. That’s where that whole voice thing came from and it’s just to protect himself, it’s part of the transition inside of him from one thing to another thing. And the truth is I can talk about all this stuff and maybe it comes across or it doesn’t come across but I don’t know another way to do it. I have to find a way to make sense of what I’m doing before I can show up and try to make the whole thing work.  On one level it all sounds silly and superfluous, but it’s not actually, not at all. Not for me. I don’t know any other way to do it.”

On a scene that didn’t make it into the film:

There was a thing that never got in that was really interesting. I went to Tim and said that we should see if we could do a scene that showed the transition and Tim was really great about these things so we tried. I wanted to see and to show that transition when he goes from Bruce Wayne to Batman, the time when he’s about to don the suit and go out and wreak some havoc. That’s not a casual thing, obviously, it’s not putting on a jacket to go out for the evening. So what is that transition like? So there was a thing we did early on that showed him going into a sort of trance and it justified this shift in him. So we did that scene and it never made it into the film but I think helped me in a way. It was part of the way he became this other thing and even if you didn’t see it, it was part of the character and the way we created him. Tim was always open to that. Jack and Kim come to him, too, chipping in with ideas and it was a really creative environment.”

On the Batman films that followed his departure from the role:

“I never saw the other ones [in the 1990s] but I saw most of the one that starred Heath Ledger which, if you me, is off-the-charts. Amazing stuff. The whole thing was great, everyone involved is great. That approach and that tone is exactly what I wanted to do with the third film when we first talked about it. I really believed that Batman had the potential to be one of the coolest guys in cinema. I wanted to go back and remind people of where this character came from. I wanted to go darker with him but the people involved int he decisions weren’t going to go for that. By that time, it was a huge, rolling machine and it was going to go on either with or without me. As I heard what they wanted I knew, honestly, that I just didn’t know how to do that thing that they wanted. I didn’t know how to do it, literally, and in the end I couldn’t. I would have been horrible.”

– Geoff Boucher

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