An Iconic Batman Returns: Michael Keaton on Picking Up The Cape & Cowl
“Frankly, in the back of my head, I always thought, ‘I bet I could go back and nail [Batman].’”
This is what Michael Keaton tells The Hollywood Reporter in a new feature profile, reflecting on the character that turned him into a massive star in 1989. Keaton first played the Caped Crusader in Tim Burton’s game-changing Batman, which reignited audiences love for the larger-than-life superheroes that have now come to dominate pop culture again. Keaton reprises the role of Bruce Wayne in Andy Muschietti‘s The Flash, marking the first time he’s stepped into the cape and cowl since Burton’s Batman Returns in 1992. Keaton famously turned down playing Batman a third time after that—until now.
At the time Burton cast Keaton, it was a somewhat controversial choice and not immediately understood by executives. “I had met lots of the square-jaw type of actors, but it’s like, well, why does somebody need to dress up like a bat?” Burton told THR. “They don’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, they’re not a big action hero. They’re somebody who’s intelligent and kind of screwed up. And Michael has such an intensity that it’s like, ‘Yeah, I could see that guy wanting to dress up as a bat.’ It’s all rooted in psychology, Jekyll and Hyde and two sides of a personality, light and dark, and he understood that.”
Burton was right. Keaton was excellent in the role, and both Batman and Batman Returns were huge hits—but then he stepped away, right when most actors would see they had an unbeatable franchise on their hands and cash in.
“Look, he had a franchise character in Batman, but he stepped away from it because he wanted to pursue other characters, as big as that was,” director Barry Levinson tells THR. “He has a yearning to try things as opposed to worrying about, ‘What is my identity in the film world?’”
So what brought him back? First and foremost, it was Birds of Prey writer Christina Hodson’s script for The Flash, which finds Ezra Miller’s supersonic superhero obliterating the laws of physics and crashing into parallel universes, which allows him to come into contact with various versions of DC superheroes. This means not only Keaton’s Batman but Ben Affleck’s, too.
“Frankly, in the back of my head, I always thought, ‘I bet I could go back and nail that motherf**ker,’ ” Keaton tells TRH. “And so I thought, ‘Well, now that they’re asking me, let me see if I can pull that off.’”
Keaton had to read the script multiple times to wrap his head around the multiverse concept. Once he understood it, it clicked. “What’s really interesting is how much more I got [Batman] when I went back and did him. I get this on a whole other level now. I totally respect it. I respect what people are trying to make. I never looked at it like, ‘Oh, this is just a silly thing.’ It was not a silly thing when I did Batman. But it has become a giant thing, culturally. It’s iconic. So I have even more respect for it because what do I know? This is a big deal in the world to people. You’ve got to honor that and be respectful of that. Even I go, ‘Jesus, this is huge.’”
We recommend you read the full profile here. The Flash is due in theaters on November 4, 2022.
Featured image: Featured image: Michael Keaton attends the premiere of Columbia Pictures’ “Spider-Man: Homecoming” at TCL Chinese Theatre on June 28, 2017 in Hollywood, California. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)