The Founder: Michael Keaton tells the story of the man who turned McDonald’s into a global brand

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Sinking your teeth into a stack of hamburgers - and getting paid to do it - sounds like a pretty sweet deal, but a few takes into a scene for his new film, and Michael Keaton had definitely had his fill.

“We just had to keep doing it over and over again,” the star says with a groan.

In The Founder, he plays entrepreneur Ray Kroc, who took a small fast food business in 1950s California and supersized it into the McDonald’s empire.

The trim 65-year-old, who hadn’t had a Big Mac in years, had to summon all his acting skills for the scene in which Kroc delightedly tucks into a juicy burger.

“I would have been fine with it if they had been freshly made,” he says. “But they had them all stacked up and we had to go again and they were cold, damp, kind of disgusting, and I had to go, ‘Mmm! This is tasty’.”

These days, such chains are as ubiquitous as “leaves on a tree or dust in the air” (indeed, since 1955, McDonald’s have opened in more than 36,000 locations globally). But as a child, Keaton was a fully fledged McDonald’s fan, and he recalls how a trip to his local Pennsylvania branch had a sense of occasion.

“There were these big arches with a glow off them... But you had to drive to it then, and the reason you drove to it was it was kind of an event - 15 cents for a hamburger, and pretty damn good, really tasty, and these really great French fries.”

The film itself leaves a slightly bad taste in the mouth as we learn of Kroc’s passionate but ruthless acquisition of the firm, which was set up in 1940 by brothers Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman).

We watch as the travelling salesman spots franchise potential in the burger operation, with its innovative and efficient methods of food preparation and service and eventually outmanoeuvres the brothers to create a billion-dollar enterprise.

Keaton was keen not to sugarcoat the tale, and to depict all aspects of Kroc’s character - from the admirable to the morally questionable. One of his favourite scenes shows Kroc alone, tidying up the front of a McDonald’s after closing time.

“He’s sweeping up, cleaning up and making the place look presentable, because he’s got everything riding on it,” says Keaton.

“Ray Kroc is an admirable guy, up to a point. And if the audiences can’t take the other half? Well, they should go watch Cinderella.”

He insists he has no issue with capitalism as a concept - and used his own brother, businessman Robert, as inspiration when trying to convey Kroc’s drive.

“Sometimes I’d go,’What am I doing in this scene?’ and...” says the star, clicking his fingers before continuing, “remember how Robert used to work, how hard he used to work, and I’d go, ‘Now I have that inside me to use’.”

Keaton could also relate to the repeated knock-backs Kroc is experiencing when the film begins, as he travels the country trying to sell multi-mixers.

“Rejection is part of the deal [as an actor]. There’s nothing to take personally. That’s how I imagine it is for salesmen,” says the star, who admits there was “one point early on” in his career when he considered jacking it all in.

Keaton came to prominence for many cinema-goers in 1988, when Tim Burton cast him as the lead in his supernatural comedy Beetlejuice.

A turn as Batman in 1989 (and a reprisal in 1992’s Batman Returns) remained his best-known role until 2014, when he played a troubled star on the cusp of a breakdown in Birdman, which earned him an Oscar nomination.

The Founder is in cinemas from Friday, February 17

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