Michael Keaton is having a damn fine run lately. His most recent film, Spotlight, marks the second Oscar winner for best picture he's been involved with in as many years. He didn't win any Oscars himself, but his portrayal of Riggan Thomson in 2014's Birdman earned him a best actor nomination, several way-less-important awards, and heaps of critical acclaim, after several years of being mostly out of the public eye.
Pretty much everyone who saw Birdman, or at least those who saw it and also have a basic knowledge of Michael Keaton's history, came away from it with one really obvious question: Was that movie about Michael Keaton?
You mean the movie about the guy who can't escape his superhero movie past? Why do you ask?
For those who have never seen it: The plot revolves around an actor who's trying to make a comeback after being best known for his role in a series of superhero movies. He walked away from the franchise that made him famous even though they wanted him to stay, a fact he's super proud of. Still, somewhere deep down, he sometimes believes he really is that superhero, even though the role sometimes seems like it haunts him more than anything.
Listen, that's Michael Keaton. That is absolutely Michael Keaton, and over the course of this article, I'll show you plenty of examples of just how true that is. However, when asked about the theory that he and Riggan Thomson are one in the same, Keaton dismissed the idea. So, that's the end of that theory, right? If Michael Keaton says he's not Birdman, then he must not be Birdman.
Well, not so fast. Let's take a look at his explanation for why fans are wrong to interpret the film as biographical in any way:
If I'm understanding correctly, he's saying he can't possibly be Birdman, because the actor who portrayed Birdman is an asshole in real life, and clearly, Keaton would never describe himself in such a way. The problem is, damn near everyone else in the world seems like they probably would. No matter where you are online, chances are you can find someone willing to call Michael Keaton a jerk.
Case in point: Here's a message board (unofficial, no doubt) where Starbucks employees talk about what their terrible jobs are like.
Way to be, Rob Lowe!
I get it -- not the most reliable source, and I suppose you could say the same about this professional autograph collector (yes, those exist) who swears Michael Keaton is one of the least-friendly stars in all of Hollywood when it comes to interacting with fans.
That first link points to a detailed account (with photos) of trying to get an autograph from Michael Keaton. Among the more interesting quirks -- he refused to sign in any color other than blue. It's never really explained, but I suspect it has something to do with his absolute, long-standing refusal to sign anything Batman-related.
What was that stuff about being haunted by the role that made him famous?
Still, that's a barista and a self-described "fanboy" and not a lot of context. Maybe these are isolated incidents. Maybe Michael Keaton is the best dude, just like he says. I really do want to believe that's true, but the details of the lawsuit filed against him for violating his contract and subsequently ruining the 2008 movie The Merry Gentleman give me plenty of reason to think otherwise, especially the part where he allegedly just up and went fly-fishing when he was supposed to be editing the film.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Seriously, what kind of asshole ever goes fly-fishing?
Awesomely, his defense in the case was basically that he couldn't be held responsible for how the movie turned out, because no one really knows anything about movies. If that precedent takes hold, I'm pretty sure no one could ever sue anyone for anything movie-related ever.
Also, I'm sure it's nothing, but I feel like I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't mention that when Keaton left the Batman franchise, he was replaced by Val Kilmer. For the record, Val is notorious for being one of the most awful people to work with in movie history, and it was no secret by that point.
Draw your own conclusions.
Anyway, Keaton's dismissal of the "he is Birdman" theory also mentioned that the character he portrayed in the movie was a total narcissist, whereas he's a more "salt of the earth" kind of guy. Maybe, but try telling that to Oscar Isaac. He starred in the 2014 film A Most Violent Year and tied with Michael Keaton for the honor of best actor at the National Board of Review awards ceremony. That meant they both got to give speeches. Guess which of the two didn't even sort of acknowledge the other when it was time to rock the mic?
Oscar Isaac did make sure to mention Michael Keaton, which kind of just made matters worse, seeing as how it prompted Keaton to jump back onstage after his co-award-winner finished talking. He mostly just wanted to assure everyone that he did have Isaac's name written in his notes -- he just forgot to read that part, which is precisely the kind of shit a do-for-selfer like Michael Keaton would say to try to save face.
In fact, forgetting to thank people seems to be a regular thing with Michael Keaton, particularly people who contributed to the upward trajectory of his career, as evidenced by this awkward video of him and Jack Nicholson accepting an award for Batman together, which starts with Nicholson reminding Keaton that he left someone out of his "thank yous" the last time he spoke and ends with Jack giving him the kind of glare that's normally reserved for Shelley Duvall in The Shining or refs at Lakers games.
If young Jack don't trust you ...
Oh, and since it's the kind of thing that I know inspires the Internet to call a person an asshole more than anything else, here's a clip of him ruining the plot of Batman during an interview with Letterman, right around the time the movie came out.
The crime happens at about the 5:49 mark in the video. In that same interview, he mentions that he almost didn't take the role because he always wanted to work with Jack Nicholson but didn't want to "blow" the opportunity on a movie like Batman. Oh, OK, maybe wait for Gung Ho 2, then, you conceited bitch.
Hey, speaking of that, there's another component to Michael Keaton's claim that his character in Birdman is in no way a reflection of him. Here it is:
Noooo, of course you haven't!
In other words, unlike his character in Birdman, Michael Keaton doesn't actually think he's the superhero he portrayed on-screen. I suppose this headline and interview would beg to differ.
Lest you think he's just being taken out of context in that headline, here's the actual quote, along with the question that prompted it:
He definitely has a concussion if he thinks he was a better Batman than Christian Bale.
Then, as if to bring it all together, here's an example of him both being a huge asshole and flying the Batman flag a little too proudly considering how long it's been since he was in that movie.
In that video, he proudly relays a tale of encountering a Spider-Man fan who was intently watching the ending of one of the most recent movies from that franchise while standing in the electronics section of a department store. Obviously jealous of the fact that Batman's only powers are confidence and being born rich, he decided to mess with this fan a little. During a scene where the actor who plays Spider-Man cries, Keaton leaned into the fan's ear and said, "Is he crying?" When the fan confirmed that was correct, Keaton leaned in again and added, "Pussy." He then brought it full circle by chiming in with one final insult: "Batman wouldn't cry like that." I suppose if anyone would know, it would be Michael Keaton, seeing as how he IS Batman and all.
Look, I'm not saying for sure that Michael Keaton's comeback movie is about Michael Keaton himself. That's something we'll probably never know for sure. However, I'm definitely saying that if the only evidence we have to the contrary is his own assurances that he's not nearly as much of an asshole as the character in that movie, I stand by the theory that he's definitely Birdman.
Adam is also Birdman. Follow him on Twitter @adamtodbrown.
Find out how Michael Keaton isn't actually Michael Keaton in 6 Insane True Stories Behind The Stage Names Of Celebrities, and check out how Birdman almost ended on a joke in 6 Baffling First Drafts Of Famous Movies.
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