By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—It becomes clear rather quickly that Michael Keaton (nee Michael Douglas) began his career as a stand up comedian. He’s sharp, funny and can think fast on his feet. Of course, the native Pennsylvanian has had a long career as an actor, starring in comedies like “Night Shift,” “Mr. Mom” and delivering solid dramatic performances in “Clean and Sober,” “One Good Cop”.
During his heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Keaton stepped into the cape and put on the cowl in Tim Burton’s “Batman,” a dark live-action take on the classic DC Comics superhero. He reprised the role in 1992’s “Batman Returns,” also directed by Burton, who had first cast him in the 1988 fantasy comedy “Beetlejuice.”
Now 62, Keaton doesn’t appear to have lost his edge. In the rebooted “RoboCop,” directed by Brazilian filmmaker Jose Padilha, he plays a coolly ruthless business tycoon who builds robotic armaments. Seizing an opportunity to win over public opinion and government approval of his ethically questionable merchandise, he directs his chief scientist (played by Gary Oldman) to build a hybrid robot/human, using high tech technology and what’s left of a Detroit police officer, who was attacked by a vengeful illegal arms kingpin.
Playing a charismatic, sweater-wearing Bill Gates-type, Keaton’s Raymond Sellars is actually bent on making his prototype work no matter what the consequences. He didn’t count on the human within the machine to be a problem for him, though.
Having once spent a great deal of time confined inside an uncomfortably rigid Batman suit, Keaton could relate to the constricting costume that Swedish-American actor Joel Kinnaman had to wear as the title character in “RoboCop,” but ribbed him nonetheless.
“I got no sympathy from Michael Keaton when I got my suit,” Kinnaman recently quipped at a press conference. “He was like shut the f*** up! You’ve got it easy. They had to glue my suit on!”
During that same interview, Keaton recalled his “Batman” days, and how he found his inner superhero back in the day.
Q: Could you relate to Joel’s confinement in the suit, having worn a heavy costume like that before in the “Batman” movies?
Keaton: A long time ago, when they were asking me about the first “Batman,” I was serious, but I just worked my suit man. I just let that suit go to work for me. And that’s kind of what you have to do. I’m very claustrophobic, and we didn’t know that the suit was even going to work at all. Literally, I think hours before we were about to start shooting with me in the suit, we had shot a lot of Bruce Wayne stuff, which was the key by the way to the character. I never really worried about the Batman thing. The way in was through Bruce Wayne. That was always it for me. The Batman thing was—I don’t know what I was going to do with that. The moment I got in (the suit), I went, “Oh man, I’m in trouble! I really have to face this thing.” You couldn’t get out of it. This thing was wrapped tight. It didn’t totally work because one of the first shots, this whole thing came out of… I mean, I’ll take some credit for it, but this thing was practical. This whole thing (he stands up and does his signature stiff, full body movement from one side to another) moves around) really came from the first time I had to react to something and I tried to turn my head, and my face (went inside the side of the mask). I’m very very claustrophobic. So, they actually used some of this plywood, one of those old boards that they put you on. Normally, I drink a lot of coffee, I eat a lot of vitamins, I drink a lot of water, but I could have none of that because I couldn’t get out (of the costume) to go to the bathroom. Honestly, I started having panic attacks. So, I thought, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this, man!” I was really, really scared, and then it hit me: Let the suit do the work. I went “Oh, this is perfect.” This is designed for this kind of really unusual dude. There’s this Bruce Wayne guy who has this different personality and is really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it. I just take all that stuff that the suit was giving me. I was like, “I got it! I know exactly how to do it.” It’s odd how those things happen to actors, that thing where something comes up and you just kind of get it. I don’t know how you get it, but actors get it in that sort of regard. I think it’s fear.
Q: What did you think of Joel’s performance, given the restrictions of his costume?
Keaton: I’m going to say this first: Yeah, we had a conversation about that—about 11 minutes ago, actually. I kind of saved it for him. (He laughs.) No, I mentioned it to him once before. I find talking about acting often is not very interesting and kind of very self-involved, so I’ll go through this very quickly. Without making a big deal, Joel’s really, really a fine actor. This cast is so good. Wait until you see the movie. It really pays off. Every scene, you see it with his and Abbie Cornish’s (who plays Kinnaman’s supportive wife) emotion. Usually, with (action) movies, you don’t feel real emotion, but this cast is so good on every level. Joel’s job is particularly difficult, because people don’t know how hard that is to do what you need to do because your natural instinct—or your unnatural instinct—might be to say, “Let’s face it, without context it’s kind of ridiculous.” So your inclination or your desperation make you want to kind of go out with it. What he did do was kind of suck it back. He makes these unbelievable transitions too, I noticed. He’s human then he’s a robot and then he’s human, and then he’s a robot again and then a human again, and that’s really, really hard to pull off in a big, black suit. I was really knocked out by the movie. I hadn’t seen it until about a week ago or so. I kept watching Joel, and it’s really extraordinary in what he did. He probably won’t get any credit for the degree of difficulty that was required, and I didn’t hear him speak about this before, but in a way the suit becomes your body.