Michael Keaton Looks Back on ‘Batman,’ Talks Cut Bat-Trance Scene
A recent interview with Michael Keaton has shed some light on the actor’s acclaimed work on Batman, the Tim Burton film based on the DC Comics superhero that launched the comic book movie genre as we know it. Among the insights Keaton shared with The Los Angeles Times’ Hero Complex was the creation of a cut scene in which his Bruce Wayne prepares to venture out as Batman by entering a kind of trance. The venerable actor also shares his thoughts on Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.Keaton, now 59 and oh so perfect to play Batman in a film based on The Dark Knight Returns, told Hero Complex blogger Geoff Boucher that the winter of 1988 was a particularly grim time for the actor. In retrospect, Keaton thinks it enhanced his performance as Batman.
“It was a lonely time for me, which was great for the character, I suppose,” said Keaton, now 59, reflecting on the film that paved the way for the crowds of superheroes in cinemas today. “I would run at night in London just trying to get tired enough so I could sleep. I didn’t talk to people much. My little boy was a toddler, and the woman I was married to at the time, we were not together but we were trying to figure it out and get back together.
“It was me in London, alone, and my sleep during that whole movie was never right,” he added. “As often as I could, I was getting on the Concorde and trying to get back to spend some time with my kid.”
Batman earned over $400 million at the box office and is the undisputed father of all the epic superhero movies to follow, but the film’s status as a beloved genre classic with a grand legacy was anything but a forgone conclusion for Burton, Keaton and their collaborators. Indeed, according to Keaton, none of the principals had any idea whether Batman would be any good at all.
“It was an extremely difficult undertaking and Tim is a shy guy, especially back then, and there was so much pressure. We were in England for a long time shooting at Pinewood and it was long, difficult nights in that dank, dark, cold place, and we never knew if it was really working,” Keaton said. “There was no guarantee that any of this was going to play correctly when it was all said and done. There had never been a movie like it before. There was a lot of risk, too, with Jack looking the way he did and me stepping out in this new way. The pressure was on everybody. You could feel it.”
Most intriguingly, Keaton revealed the existence of a scene that never made into the final cut of Batman. Devised by Keaton himself, viewers were to witness Bruce Wayne undertake a kind of psychic preparation to venture into the night as Batman.
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.
Naturally, Keaton is enormously fond of The Dark Knight, the only Batman film that eclipsed the grandeur of his and Burton’s original. The actor said Christopher Nolan’s approach to the material was similar to where he thought the character needed to go next, and that he was dismayed when the powers that be decided to direct the franchise into the ultimately dire straits that sidelined the cinematic Batman for so many years.
“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.”
For much more from Michael Keaton and his Batman experiences, including his approach to playing Bruce Wayne (as opposed to Batman, his Batman voice, his working relationship with Tim Burton, and his thoughts on Batman Returns as well as a number of his other films, be sure to read the complete interview by Geoff Boucher at Hero Complex.