Michael Keaton hasn’t mapped out his day yet, but earning his first Academy Award nomination for his leading role in Birdman certainly set the right tone.
“I intend to smile the rest of the day. That’s my goal. Just keep smiling,” the Golden Globe-winning actor says. “And I’m so grateful. But what makes this triply sweet is to get nominated inside a movie like this, because this is going to change everything in terms of filmmaking. Cinephiles are going to keep discussing this for years to come.”
Alejandro Iñárritu’s movie, about a former comic-book blockbuster actor desperately trying to resurrect his career—and keep his sanity—by mounting an ambitious Broadway play, was a high-wire production without a proverbial net. One camera and long takes were used to make the film feel like one extended cut, putting immense pressure on the cast and the crew to get everything right once the camera was rolling, less one misstep ruin an entire minutes-long take. “I don’t think any of us knew to what degree the difficulty factor was going to be,” he says. “But the truth is if you gave in to [the panic], you’re kind of f-cked. It’s like we were building a mine or a building. Everybody would show up and say, ‘Okay, where were we yesterday? Are we this far down the shaft,’ you know what I mean? What are we doing now? And you really just had to bear down and be locked in—all of us, every day. Which for me, I like, frankly. I like the intensity.”
Keaton’s last day of filming was the memorable Times Square scene where his character Riggan Thomson accidentally locks himself out of the theater—in his underwear. “What can I say, what a way to end it: You’re emotionally naked for 28 days and on the 29th, you’re literally almost naked,” he says.
In his 30-plus year career, Keaton is most famous for his hit comedies and the two Batman blockbusters that added another layer of meaning to Birdman. But he also starred in a few serious dramas—like Clean and Sober—that were critically acclaimed but overlooked by Oscar. “Had that movie come out when the whole independent film phenomenon started to take off, that would’ve got a lot of recognition,” he says. “I was really proud to be in it. But if you’re an actor thinking, ‘Will I get a prize?’ you’re thinking wrong and maybe you need to be doing something else for a living.”
Looking back on his career and looking ahead at the bright future partially fueled by Birdman—he recently finished Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, a drama about the pedophile-priest scandal—Keaton is philosophical. “I’m blessed that I’ve had a lot of turns and curves—one of the best things that happen to an actor, if you ask me,” he says. “Early on, I was doing well in television and then things went dry for a year or more. So you go, ‘Oh, I see how it works.’ I’ve chosen a career that’s going to be unpredictable, to say the least. And that’s a good thing, if you learn that early on. Look at Clint Eastwood’s career. There’s been a lot of twists and turns in his career probably. I consider mine minor compared to some people’s.”