Film interview: Keaton wallows in the irony of new washed-up star role

Michael Keaton.
Michael Keaton.
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In Birdman, Michael Keaton plays a washed-up Hollywood star on the verge of a nervous breakdown, desperate to prove he’s more than the superhero he once played.

He may not be superhuman, but Michael Keaton is super-energetic. He talks nineteen to the dozen, making constant asides and asking rhetorical questions, so at times, it’s almost as if he is debating with himself.

But though he is enthusiastic, there is no arrogance or bravado about him.

When I enter the room we’ve arranged to meet in, he’s busy using a smartphone with a bright red cover that stands out boldly against his black jacket. He looks up, greets me warmly, and excuses himself, explaining, “I am sending a message to my son”. It’s a level of social etiquette one can rarely expect from a friend or family member in this modern digital age, let alone a Hollywood star.

We’re here to discuss his latest film - to give it its full title, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance).

Keaton plays Riggan, an actor who hopes to revive his flagging career by directing and starring in an ambitious Broadway production of a play he has also re-written himself.

Riggan is riddled with self-doubt and a fear of failure. As a result, his sub-conscious has started to speak to him in the voice of his former character Birdman; the superhero role that made him famous, whose poster looms over his dressing room.

The film - by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, of 21 Grams and Babel fame - is a brilliant satire on a film industry dominated by blockbuster comic book sequels. It is both darkly thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny. Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis all give notable performances.

And it invites audiences behind the scenes of the acting world - showing the human frailty behind celebrity.

“It was fun to play, but at the same time, this movie’s tricky - you can’t enjoy it while you’re doing it,” confesses Pennsylvania-born Keaton.

“It’s odd. You really enjoy it, but it was so hard to do these scenes - you have to be locked in.”

“It was really weirdly fun,” he adds of filming the scene. “It’s fun to play a guy who’s this screwed up. The parallels between Keaton and Riggan are obvious. Inarritu has said he wrote the role for him.

The 63-year-old began acting in the Seventies. He starred in Tim Burton’s (1988) Beetlejuice and his star was rising. It may have waned of late but with this film it looks set to sparkle once again.

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