Every actor who has put on the cowl and cape as Batman over the years approaches the character in a different way. In the case of Michael Keaton, he doesn’t have the physical stature of a superhero in the same way Ben Affleck or Christian Bale does, so his version of Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, in “Batman” and “Batman Returns,” seemed to focus on the dark psychological elements of the character. So, when you hear Keaton explain the reasons for leaving the franchise when filmmaker Joel Schumacher replaced Tim Burton, it definitely makes sense.
Speaking on the Backstage podcast, from In The Envelope, Michael Keaton talked about his approach to the character of Batman, and the moment he realized he wasn’t going to make “Batman Forever” with Joel Schumacher.
While Tim Burton’s “Batman” is far from gritty, especially in this day and age, Michael Keaton says he was always approaching the character for Bruce Wayne from a true emotional honesty, always looking at his dark past and the psyche that brought him to superheroic vigilantism. “It was always Bruce Wayne. It was never Batman,” Keaton said about both the appeal of the character and the key to understanding the character.
“To me, I know the name of the movie is Batman, and it’s hugely iconic and very cool and cultural iconic and because of Tim Burton, artistically iconic, I knew from the get-go it was Bruce Wayne,” said the actor. “That was the secret. I never talked about it. [Everyone would say] Batman, Batman, Batman does this, and I kept thinking to myself, ‘Y’all are thinking wrong here.’ [It’s all about] Bruce Wayne. What kind of person does that?… Who becomes that? What kind of person [does that]?”
Keaton doesn’t quite say it, but it seems it’s pretty obvious that the actor knew that Joel Schumacher was taking the ‘Batman’ franchise into a less serious direction and could see that “Batman Forever” would be more on the campy and silly side; something he just couldn’t justify for his portrayal of Bruce Wayne.
“And then when the director who directed the third one, I said, ‘I just can’t do it,'” revealed Keaton. “And one of the reasons I couldn’t do it was—and you know, he’s a nice enough man, he’s passed away, so I wouldn’t speak ill of him even if he were alive—he, at one point, after more than a couple of meetings where I kept trying to rationalize doing it and hopefully talking him into saying I think we don’t want to go in this direction, I think we should go in this direction. And he wasn’t going to budge.”
He continued, “But I remember one of the things that I walked away going, ‘Oh boy, I can’t do this.’ He asked me, ‘I don’t understand why everything has to be so dark and everything so sad,’ and I went, ‘Wait a minute, do you know how this guy got to be Batman? Have you read… I mean, it’s pretty simple.'”
It’s going to be interesting to see Keaton step back into the role of Batman on the big screen in the upcoming “Flash” film, which seems to be heading towards a more comedic tone, especially given the previous appearances of the Flash in the DCEU. Regardless, perhaps Keaton still retains that serious, dour Batman presence while surrounded by other superhero hijinks. We’ll just have to wait and see when “The Flash” hits theaters in November.
For more about his acting choices about Bruce Wayne, Batman, and his entire career, you can hear the rest of the podcast below: