Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman sees Batman star Michael Keaton take on his first leading role in years, playing Riggan Thomson, an aging actor on a meandering road leading to a full-blown mental breakdown. When we first meet Riggan, he’s at the start of that road and beginning to feel like nothing really matters. He starred in the multi-billion dollar Birdman franchise 20 years ago, but since flying under the radar as an actor for a while, people are already forgetting him.
The broad comparisons between the former Batman and his character are less than subtle, and a stream of superhero jokes follow at Keaton’s expense. But if there ever was a victorious comeback, Keaton’s is it. Birdman has received multiple awards nominations, with Iñárritu gaining a ‘Best Screenplay’ gong at this year’s Golden Globes, and Keaton himself taking home ‘Best Actor’.
Screenwriter Armando Bo is filled with praise for the actor. “I think he has something that is almost magical in a way,” he tells us. “What’s magical is that when you see this movie you can’t imagine anybody else. I think that he’s an amazing actor. People love him, so it’s really positive for the movie, and I can’t see this movie with another actor. I can’t imagine it. It plays with reality, what is real, what is not, and I think he makes that really, really powerful… Alejandro made a great choice, and now I see that he was the only one.”
“[Keaton] was incredibly professional and hard-working, and physically on his game,” Thompson agrees. “He was so impressive, because these actors really went through tests, doing these long, long scenes without the crutch of knowing that they could freshen their makeup for the close-up. With these actors it was such a combination of doing a theatre piece and doing a movie. He was incredibly impressive – a really brilliant sort of equalitarian with the crew and respectful of everybody. He has very little ego, and he worked like a stealth actor. I was really impressed with him. I thought he was fantastic.”
Keaton acknowledges how tough the role was. “The character is really one of the most difficult things I’ve done,” says Keaton. “Not in terms of the character necessarily, but in terms of how the film was made… Within sometimes 30 or 40 seconds, you have to surf a lot of different emotions and be part of this giant picture. Because this picture is always shifting and moving, it’s got so many levels. So therefore it was really, really difficult, but I like that.”
The symmetry between Keaton and Riggan’s career is apparent, but strangely, Keaton has said that the character was the most unlike himself than any he has ever played.
“I think he made the character his own, and it was just fantastic to see him turn into Riggan, which is crazy because the main character has nothing to do with him, personality wise,” Giacobone tells us. “They just share this sort of past, this superhero past, but the work he did was just fantastic. I mean, I am so happy that he’s the one doing it, because every time I see him I’m amazed. It was a crazy thing to do, it was a very intense journey, but at the same time the way it was shot [made it] very difficult.”
Birdman is in cinemas now – check out our 5-star review.