After earning his superhero stripes as Tim Burton’s Batman, Michael Keaton is donning a new crime-fighting costume for Birdman. Though, in a schedule packed with comic book adaptations, the new film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams) isn’t exactly what some film geeks might be expecting. Despite it’s superhero hook, the film is actually a meta-riff on pop culture’s love for costumed-vigilantes – as a former comic book movie star attempts to put on a Broadway play.
Keaton and co-star Edward Norton (who is also no stranger to superhero movies) were on-hand at New York Comic-Con 2014 to promote Birdman – and show off three new pieces of footage from the film.
- Keaton came aboard because of his respect for Iñárritu.
- When Norton first read the script, he laughed so hard he woke people up. He called it an extraordinary script and Iñárritu was a director he wanted to work with (sight unseen).
- Norton says they’re committed to not prying open the curtain of how the movie was shot – but maintains it featured clever execution of a single-take style. A level of planning that you rarely see on a film.
- Keaton joked that he was paid for lectures on how the film was shot. Only to say that it’s not like anything we’ve ever seen before. He reiterated that, literally, it’s not like anything we’ve ever seen before. Not just in the way it was shot. Keaton loves the movie so much he forgets he’s in it.
- Summing up the story, Keaton says it’s about a man that wants to start a play, based on Raymond Carver story, and has a breakdown.
- Norton saw Birdman in the same screening theater that he saw Fight Club. He said it was the second time he walked out saying of that theater saying “What did I just watch?” It was a similar reaction as he had with Fight Club. Norton asserts it’s a blend of meta-humor and technical wizardry – a wonderful experience for movie geeks.
- Keaton opened-up about what it was like playing a costumed hero again stating: Having played Batman and being proud of playing Batman. I never back off that. Bold interesting and cool when Tim made it. I didn’t really put that together, Edward did [a superherho movie] too. I just go to work.
- Norton thinks that every character in the film is a reflection of Iñárritu. If you have a dream, everyone in the dream is you. He maintains that his character has a love hate, hate love relationship with Keaton’s character.
- Keaton says that Norton’s character shakes up his world and that the Birdman character speaks the truth – you just might not want to hear it.
- Norton believes the movie has a lot to do with ego and how ego propels you but can also hamstring you. Each character in the film is fighting a battle between their better nature and how their ego ties them up in knots. According to him, nobody in the movie is two dimensional. As you get to know each character they reveal a lot.
- He also commented on Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography – saying that if you look at Gravity, it’s a singular technical achievement that pushed effects work to a new level. Norton believes, if it’s possible, what Lubezki pulled off in this film is every bit as amazing – and yet in a totally different type of story and context.
- Speaking about the superhero genre – Norton believes it’s part of the heart of the debate in the film. He grew up on all the graphic novels, including Frank Miller, obsessed with that stuff. He believes it’s a rich pool, a whole modern day canon of mythic stories, and we all sit around hoping that someone will make films that capture how serious that felt at that time in our lives. No one reads them because there cartoonish. The great ones are dark and serious and long. Some are a swing and a miss, and some connect. For Norton, The Matrix captured the same sensation. He also said that he’d be up for another superhero role if it was something original and new and that he doesn’t ever discount the idea of doing it again. It’s the same as any movie – who is directing, is it well-written?
- Keaton followed-up by saying that when he took the origin Batman, he was unfamiliar with comic books and wasn’t a comic book reader. He believed he wouldn’t get the part because he saw Batman and Bruce Wayne in a certain way but didn’t think anyone at the studio would go for it. He met Tim Burton the next day, shared his view on the character, and Burton was nodding in agreement. Keaton asked: Are they going to make this? Burton said, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
Both Keaton and Norton were tight-lipped on the overarching Birdman story – as well as why the film is such a unique cinematic experience. However, the audience was treated to three separate pieces of footage.
First, the entire first ten minutes of Birdman were shown, introducing those in attendance to Riggan Thomson (Keaton), a has-been actor who once portrayed beloved superhero Birdman on the big screen (from Birdman 1-3). Without spoiling specific details, Thomson is shown meditating (and levitating) above the floor in his dressing room – until he is interrupted by a Skype call from his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone). In what is made to appear as a single take (via magical cinematography from Gravity‘s Emmanuel Lubezki), Thomson exits his dressing room, heads to the theater stage (where fellow performers are rehearsing a scene), and an accident occurs – sending the actor back up to his room pursued by his friend and producer, Brandon (Zach Galifianakis).
While the introduction doesn’t feature the Birdman costume or the superhero antics that some Comic-Con attendees might have been expecting, it does a great job of establishing both Lubezki’s ingenious camera play as well as Keaton’s sharp (and no doubt meta) performance. As indicated by Keaton and Norton, Birdman is a character story above all else – and it’s clear that Iñárritu establishes a strong and clever foundation out the gate.
The other two clips were much shorter but offered viewers a taste of the rivalry between Thomson and Mike Shiner (Norton) – a newly recruited actor in Thomson’s play. In the scene, which is better left experienced without spoilers, Thomson has Shiner trade verbal and physical assaults.
The final piece of footage hinted at how Iñárritu will ensure that Birdman is truly a response to modern comic book movie culture – instead of just a story about a guy that once played a superhero. In the scene, Thomson walks along a New York City street pursued by a walking (and then flying) Birdman – who is tempting him to once again don his wings and beak for a comeback. After a snap of Thomson’s fingers, a car explodes across the street, setting off a fiery action sequence above him – complete with crashing helicopters and a giant metal bird. Given the dramatic focus of the larger film, the scene was both impressive and visually stunning – with surprisingly polished production values.
Early reviewers are already raving about Birdman and, fortunately, audiences don’t have much longer to wait before they can see what Keaton, Iñárritu, and Lubezki have cooked up!
Birdman hits theaters on October 17th, 2014.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for any future updates on Birdman, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.