MICHAEL KEATON

Michael Keaton gets ready to talk about White Noise

Interview by Mark Walters

 Michael Keaton has been somewhat out of the public eye for a little while.  Originally he rose to Hollywood fame in the 80's catching attention in films like NIGHT SHIFT and MR. MOM.  After huge success with the first two BATMAN films, he continued to play a leading man in films like THE PAPER and MULTIPLICITY, and saw quiet but fun supporting roles in movies like MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and Quentin Tarantino's JACKIE BROWN.  In these last few years he's stayed away from big budget flicks it seems, even showing up in a made-for-cable film called LIVE FROM BAGHDAD.  Now he's back on the marquee, playing the lead again, and in what may be one of the creepiest concepts for a film in quite some time.  Personally I'm glad to see him return to the big screen.  Keaton has always impressed me as a leading man, even if he's playing a bad guy.  Though he began his career with comedy, Michael has worked in a wide variety of genres.  He's handled drama with terrific results in films like CLEAN AND SOBER, and even shown an imposing dark side with movies like PACIFIC HEIGHTS and DESPERATE MEASURES.  I had a chance to talk with him about his newest outing WHITE NOISE.  Producer Paul Brooks, who previously gave us MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, was also in attendance.  Here is what they had to say:

 

Paul Brooks talks about bringing on Michael Keaton, and the concept of E.V.P. (Electronic Voice Phenomenon)

Paul Brooks produced White Noise PAUL BROOKS: The studio thought "Where's Michael been?", and I thought well he's the guy for it.  Well (A) I just thought he'd be great in the movie, which he is.  And (B) he's one of these guys who is iconic, and so many people have such a good feeling towards him.  I think he is one of the American iconic actors, and I just wanted to work with him for ages.  And then finally found something... and he said "Finally after all of the shit scripts you've been handing me I get this one... maybe I'll do it."  The thing that's interesting about the movie is that it's based on something which is actually happening.  It's almost like it's been under the carpet for 20 years, and now suddenly people are lifting the carpet and saying "What is this?!"  The beautiful thing about it is there's no agenda.  There's no kind of psychic who you have to pay.  You go home and just try it yourself.

KEATON: Alright.  What are we talking about?

MARK: Well I guess let's start with what was your attraction to this particular role?  Coming from a comedic background where you got started, do you enjoy doing more dark films like this?  Is it more of a chance to challenge you as an actor?

KEATON: Well always that.  That certainly is the driving force.  I'm actually dying to do a comedy.  I can't seem to find anything that I find funny.  That script was offered to me, and I get offered a lot of things.  Some get close, but... so I wasn't like going "Oh I don't want to do a comedy, I wanna do something serious, and I wanna be dark."  No, I don't really think much like that.  Except that I am in the mood to do a comedy, and I always am in the mood to do that.  It's just that for whatever reason...  it's whatever comes along at the time that makes me feel like I want to do it, and most of the time that's nothing.  This was a genre in which I'd never been involved.   Never end a sentence with a preposition.

MARK: I'll allow it this time.

KEATON: And don't reach in front of your brother to get some butter.

MARK: What?

KEATON: Nah, I used to say that.  Unless your brother is blind and he can't see, then reach in front of him anyway.

MARK: Heh.

KEATON: So this was just really intriguing in that I've never done this genre, and also I've been involved in... and there I go.  I'm gonna do it, you know I'm gonna end another sentence with a preposition before the day is over.  So anyway, I also just thought it was really well written and really interesting.  And then a really interesting thing happened.  Well, it never happened to me.  You say "This is really interesting material if you get the right director" and that's very rarely often the case.  And then they'll say "Well here's a really good script, and here's a really good director" and then you do it, and then the movie is not good.  And you don't understand it.  What Paul and I were saying is just because he's really good, it's gotta be the right guy.  It's gotta match up and make sense.  Then a lot of times they'll say "Well that's a good director, but he doesn't want to do it."  And I was ready for them to say we gotta find the right guy to do it, and that knows how to do this thing, and that's gonna take a long time, and it may never come together.  And then he said "I got the guy" and I thought this won't work, because it's the first guy.  But he did this version of OTHELLO for the BBC.

MARK: Right.

KEATON: And it was really good.  Not only was he good and talented, but he was the right guy to do this kind of material, we all thought.  Because in this OTHELLO, there's constant tension in it.  In his version of it, when this cop starts to go down, he's spiraling down... you're really tense and uncomfortable, but also it's really tense and emotional.  He managed to make you think, you think you know what your life is, but a couple wrong turns... something goes wrong, and you run into the wrong person at the wrong time, all of a sudden you're saying "I'm not that guy."  But all of sudden you are that guy.  I never realized how really great that play is.  Actually, to be honest, that's the only version of that play I've really seen.  And you really feel that, and it's spooky and creepy.  Cause he made you get into his shoes.  That's what had to happen in WHITE NOISE.  I believe in a lot of films, that's what has to happen, and that's what I try to do.  I think actors, once you sign on, you say "Okay, here's my job, I'm taking the burden, I want the burden."  Otherwise it's wimpy.  Cause he's the guy at risk, the actor has the biggest risk.  You say "Let's go, drop it on my shoulders.  I'm going down."

PAUL BROOKS: The other thing that's interesting about his version of OTHELLO and WHITE NOISE is that there is kind of a Kafka-esque aspect to both of them, in what happens to the main character.

KEATON: He's talking about Larry Kafka by the way.  Excellent sausage maker.  Almost no fat in it.  No, the other thing is, we set it up right, and then you go "Oh man, what if?"  What if that happened to me, or what if this really is true.  Now you're in the guy's shoes.  Now hopefully, if it works, you go down the road with him.  That's what you try to do, I think in all movies.  But certainly in this, that's what we wanted to do, and that's what I wanted to do.  It's set up pretty well I think.  People keep mentioning things in this, probably more so than in other film I've done, everybody keeps noticing something differently.  Dr. Phil McGraw kept saying "This is really thought-provoking."  Cause you know in two hours you've got to tell the story and you also have to have the scare points and all the things that are practical, and then you've got to edit it.  So all the things we talk about, you hope they stay in there, or that people get it on some kind of subconscious level.  It's really hard to have all these levels be really apparent. But apparently it's getting through to some people.  This one journalist said "You know women are your aids in this movie."  I remember thinking during filming, the girl that shows up as his ex-wife, she tried to help him... actually a lot of that got cut down, but she was trying to be sympathetic and really help him.  There was a really nice scene where she comes to help him and was really worried about him.  He goes to a woman psychic.  The Deborah Kara Unger character is kind of his guide.  Women are really taking him through this experience, which is kind of interesting.  There's a lot of that stuff in here.  I don't know how much of it comes up, but people are mentioning it.

On playing an everyman type of character

KEATON: He's an architect, so it's a specific career.  But not like if you worked for the county or township, where you work an administration job and there's a certain kind of line to it.  When things are just a little more specific, it starts to remove a little more from the "everyman".  I wanted to make him approachable, but it was already in the script actually.  Because you want to relate.  This is the point in his life where he's really happy, he kind of found it.  He's got the marriage he wants, he's deeply in love with his wife, he deeply loves his son.  Now he's going to have another child.  His business is going.  It's great.  He's like "I got it, it's all set."  And then it gets totally taken away from him.  So that's a really nice setup.  I think that shot at the beginning is a really nice shot.  You don't know exactly why you're uncomfortable, but at the beginning, it's kind of perfect, but there's something just a little weird about it.  It's not so on the head, like nobody is a caricature.  He's really smart, this director of photography, and this director.  They set it up so you didn't quite know why, but it looked just a little odd.  Like there's something under it, and you don't know what it is.  And it's gonna come.  It does, and it takes his life away.  Then you spiral down with him, or spiral up, whatever your point of view is.  He becomes obsessed.  In the beginning he starts out doing something essentially for him, to make him feel better, and then kind of ends up taking the high road and doing something for somebody else.  Becomes like a mystery really.

MARK: Almost seems like he becomes kind of a supernatural hero.

KEATON: Yeah, somebody else mentioned that before.  That's exactly what it was.  I don't know if at the time I really thought that.  But that's the second time that's been mentioned.

Has this movie affected his views about E.V.P.?

KEATON: Nope.  Sometimes people don't understand or agree with me.  They think it's one or the other.  I think there's very, very, very, very few things in life that are one way or the other.  I'm a total defender of people's faith.  I mean if you're Baptist, or you're Buddhist, or you're a Jew or a Catholic, I'm envious actually of deep faith.  And I'm a total defender of organized Religion in that regard.  Churches should have respect paid.  I was in a nightclub one time in New York years ago, that was known for it's decadence, and it was in a former church.  And it totally pissed me off.  I just thought it was disrespectful.  And I'm not a churchgoing guy, I just didn't like the fact that someone thought it was hip to take a place that was designed for faith and worship, and then say "Hey let's go do a bunch of blow in the bathroom", and act like we're cool, and you know practice trisexuality.

MARK: Uh-oh!

KEATON: You know, it's a uh, joke.  But you know, like "We're hip and decadent."  You know fuck that, it's bullshit.  A church is designed for something specific.  On the other hand, there's no logic to organized Religion to me.  None.  Zero.  Once you become a member of one organized Religion, you say all other Religions are wrong.  It's absolutely 100% impossible.  It's illogical on every level.  But if someone said "Man, this is my faith", I'd be right there to say you have a right to do that.  So for me to say "Ah bullshit, this can't happen", I don't even know enough about E.V.P. to say it, so I'm not qualified to say whether it's bullshit or not.  There apparently is tons of evidence, just like I don't think you could argue that certain people have certain psychic abilities.  Now, in the world, they help police solve cases... there just is.  There's a kind a logic to it, to me though, truthfully.  I saw this movie WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW!?, and it's a really interesting movie.  And when you see it, there's a part of it that's just so out there that I'm just not bright enough to be even close to understanding it.  But some of it is just logical to me.  It's not even that far out there, it's just logical the way things work... or don't work.  Or why you could never understand how things work.  You know what I mean?  How the mystery is larger than all of us.  So I'm wide open to stuff, so if people say that this stuff works and we have proof, to them it does and that stuff's real, and that's their reality.  And we've all decided to take a stand and not even try it, cause you don't want to be in a situation where you did it and it doesn't work, and then say "Ah, it's a bunch of bullshit." or "Yes it works, and this is my experience."  I don't want to know, and as the character I didn't want to know.  We were halfway through the movie, and someone mentioned the website, and I was like "What website?"  I just thought the guy made it up.  We were talking to a woman today, and she was very quiet during the interview.  After it was over she came up and said "I loved this movie.  I've been into this for about 20 years."

PAUL BROOKS: What will really be fascinating is a year from now to see what the cultural impact of E.V.P. is.  I think it's possible we could see something extraordinary.  BBC just did a huge and deeply researched documentary, and one of the most respected journalists in the country, whose name eludes me, has just written an extraordinary piece in The Guardian about how she contacted a dead relative through E.V.P., and this is not like some wacko living in a tee-pee in outer Mongolia... not that there's something wrong with having a tee-pee.

KEATON: I wasn't going to say anything.

PAUL BROOKS: We had an extraordinary occurrence in some of the pre-marketing of this where in a room full of journalists the E.V.P. folks asked if anyone wanted to try an experiment.  And a producer on this TV show, really a kind of cynical journalist said sure.  They put the tape in, and geared up the radio recorder to the white noise, and she asked to speak to Uncle Paul.  The played it back and a voice came through and said "Beck, it's Paul."  The whole room freaked out, and she's like "You have to be kidding me."

KEATON: He's the only guy who called her Beck.  That was his name for her.

PAUL BROOKS: What's interesting about this is there's no agenda.  It's not like somebody trying to make money out of it.  You plug it in, you turn it on, and the voice comes back or it doesn't.

KEATON: Well there is the radio that I am selling.  It's kind of like a version the George Foreman grill.

Keaton talks about White Noise

PAUL BROOKS: There's these E.V.P. groups all over the world.  There's an extraordinary group in Brazil led by this woman.  The real beneficiaries of this have been mothers whose children have passed away, and how they have really achieved real comfort by connecting with their dead.  What's fascinating about this in this kind of radio wave led world we live in is what if there is something to this?  It's just possible there may be.  You know there's 280 billion people in America.  If 10% of them tried it, and 10% of them find something, that's pretty radical.

KEATON: Here's the other thing when you think about it... the world has advanced technologically, I don't know, 1000 times faster than we have emotionally or psychologically... or maybe a million.  I don't know.  It's kind of the basis of what we tell in this movie, when people get in the discussion of possibility or potential, and also what the human can comprehend and can't comprehend.  When people get into parallel universes and all that, there's theories that there's way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way more out there than we could ever comprehend or we can see or know.  And it's right there in front of you, but your perception is only our perception.  So when you start thinking about it like that it's wide open, now it's wide open, you know what I mean?  Look what's around me, all these satellites.  I was working on this movie, talking to Katie Holmes' bodyguard or security guy, and he started talking about advances in how you track people and GPS and stuff like that.  He had a case of some strange guy, not with her but with another person.  And he started telling me things.  He said "Start paying attention to how many places have cameras and satellites, and cel phones", cause what you can do is track people, that's how a lot of celebrities get followed, they scan you or something.  And you have to get a thing on your mobile phone that de-scans it so they can't pick it up.  And then you start to think about all of this... Jesus.  I just barely understand what computers do, barely, so I'm probably perfect for these guys, they're just gonna come and get me.  In fact I'm too stupid!  They just look at me like I'm Bill and Ted.  "If we capture him and take him to out planet, he's too stupid to give us anything!"

MARK: They're gonna break into your house and program your VCR.

KEATON: Yeah!  Exactly.

MARK: Exactly.

His first impression after seeing the completed movie.

KEATON: I liked it, I thought it was all... I'm the worst person to ask about all this, because I'll sit here and go "Well you know I wish we could've gone back and get that thing, and do that."  You know if it were up to me I'd remake almost every movie I was in... and I would probably take myself out of a few of them.  You know, get another guy, this is a big mistake!  That's not true, some things I go "Hey you know what, that's it, it's fine, I'm cool with it."  But I'm a little perfectionistic, and it's not necessarily a good thing, I don't think.

Was there anything he expected to be different than it actually turned out?

KEATON: I thought I was taller.

PAUL BROOKS: This is an interview based on a serious movie.

MARK: I think he wanted to make it a comedy!

KEATON: No, no... no.  If you look at the first BATMAN though, this is an interesting thing to look at... there's a shot, and even then, to show you how far we've come technologically, even then we looked at and went "Aw man" but he had to do it.  It's a shot where, I can't remember, I look down over a building, and you see somebody has to get out of a car or building or something like that, it's so bad it's unbelievable.  That movie was so gorgeous, especially at the time, and visually different than anything... and then all of sudden there's a picture of this bogus little like cartoon guy.  Just weird.  Tim hated that, it drove him crazy.  But once again, couldn't fix it.  No time, no more money, gotta go with what you gotta go with.  And that was a big budget.

His thoughts on the next Batman movie.

KEATON: My prediction, I don't know anything about it, but I feel this way about it.  It's gonna be good, because he's a really good actor, and that's a really good director.  And they've had years and years and years, and hundreds of millions of dollars, or at least tens of millions of dollars to figure it out.  I say it's gonna be good.  I picture it's gonna be good.  And also, I swear to God it's not an "I told you so", it's maybe an interesting thing, that when I didn't like the third script... I just said "I really don't like this, and I don't want to do it" cause what I wanted to do, is what I'm told and I don't know if this is true yet so don't hold me to this until I see it, but I'm told it's more a prequel.  And that was what I thought would've been a hip way to go the third time.  This guy is so endlessly fascinating potentially, why not go and see how he got there.

His best Batman story.

KEATON: This is a two-fold story, it's a Jack Nicholson story and a Batman story.  He the greatest, and he's my friend.  He's unbelievably professional.  Part of his deal I think either on that movie or maybe on all movies, and don't hold me to this, but I think he just doesn't work until a certain time.  It's not like 3 in the afternoon, but it's not like 6 (am).  I think part of his deal was like 9 or something like that, you know reasonable, but don't expect him to show up before 9.  But he's unbelievable when he gets to work, and he's the best, and smart... hard worker, on his lines, everything, just a consummate pro.  But he'd come in and we'd be in the make-up room.  And he's such a sports fan, such a knowledgeable sports fan, and that was back when there wasn't as much good TV in London.

PAUL BROOKS: (sarcastically touchy) You ready?

KEATON: Touchy those Brits!  There wasn't, but there was just like endless stuff, like so much billiards!

PAUL BROOKS: (laughs hysterically)

Michael Keaton as Batman KEATON: And we're like basketball fans, and football fans, and baseball fans, and we're starved.  We'd get the tapes to watch Laker games, and nobody could tell us what happened.  So we'd watch the tapes of the Laker games, but we were a day or two behind.  So we'd do that, but there's nothing else, and we'd talk about what we did the night before or what we watched.  Something like that.  And this is true... I love this story.  He comes in, and this is the way he comes to work every morning.  I'd be sitting there in the make-up chair.  (gets up, walks in like Jack, acts out sitting down in the make-up chair)  "Mornin' Keats."  He'd sit down, "Ahhhh" and he'd just sit there and they'd just put make-up on him.  Sometimes he'd fall asleep while they did it.  On these mornings we talked, I would be like "Hey Jack, what did you do last night?  Where did ya eat?  Sorry I couldn't make dinner" stuff like that.  "Did you see that soccer game?" cause we'd watch anything.  Then you get to know like the billiards player, and you're like "Oh this guy is awesome!"  So this is how is goes:

(as Jack) "Mornin' Keats."

"Hey Jack, how ya doin?"

(as Jack) "Ahhh.  Damn good darts tournament last night."

I almost fell out of my chair, and I thought he was kidding!  Then he starts snoring.  I fell in love with him.

Michael Keaton as Beetle Juice MARK: (after we all stop laughing)  You think you might work with Tim Burton again?

KEATON: Man I sure hope so.  He's great.  He's just one of those guys that you just wanna be around that stuff.  It's true art.

MARK: Have you guys discussed some ideas on possible films?

KEATON: Well the thing I always wanted to remake, or the thing I always wanted to do, and still do... not remake.  I wanna do another BEETLEJUICE.  I think there's room to do it, cause there's nothing like it, and there never will be anything like it.  But you kind of don't want to mess it up, and the only way to do it is with Tim involved.  He doesn't want to direct it.  So I talked to him and said "Where do you have time in your life to produce it, and let's find a guy to direct it and write it."  I don't how he's gonna do that, or how I'm gonna do it.  I'd just make the time to do it.  But I'd like to do it.  He's original and an artist, and you really can't say that about too many people.

Favorite musical artists?

KEATON: Oh man.  Miles Davis.  Thelonious Monk.

MARK: You played a villain in PACIFIC HEIGHTS and DESPERATE MEASURES.  Have you ever had any thoughts of returning to that type of role?

KEATON: I thought you were gonna ask "Did you ever have any thoughts about killing anybody?"

MARK: Thomas Jane had actually suggested that you would great as the villain in THE PUNISHER sequel.  I don't know if you've heard anything about that, or if anyone has talked to you about that.  But have you had any aspirations to return to that sort of role?

KEATON: That guy is great in... you see that Australian movie or something like that.

MARK: Yeah, STANDER.

KEATON: He's great in that.  That's kind of a cool movie too isn't it?

MARK: Yeah it really is.  Tom actually said that he thought you would be the perfect person to play the villain in the sequel.

KEATON: I didn't know they were making a sequel to THE PUNISHER.  You know I just kind of go by what the thing is.  I wasn't thinking "I'd like to do a genre..." like whatever this movie is, I just thought it was interesting and the script was good.  Every once in a while I'll get general themes, like something I want to do, or an environment I want to be in, or a world I'm interested in.  I'm fascinated by faith actually, I just like it as a general topic, I think it's endlessly fascinating.  In it's broadest terms, cause this movie is kind of about faith.  I just did a movie called GAME 6 which is weirdly about faith.  I'll do things like that.  I'd just like to do something real funny.  There's different kinds of funny I get intrigued by.  I saw a clip of Bill Murray the other day do something in the Wes Anderson movie, which was so funny and so small and tiny, and really funny and really good.  That would be fun to experiment, you know like with a small brush.  But then other times I just want to do what I call "kick down the door, grab you by the throat, drag you down the street and just kick your ass" comedy.  You know, like almost illegal comedy.

MARK: Do you think you'll work with Quentin Tarantino anymore?

KEATON: Yeah, I hope not.  I just saw a little bit of KILL BILL Vol. 2, I saw a little clip.  Oh man!  I mean how good is that.  Even if you don't love all of it, the guy solidified himself as an original.

MARK: Yeah.

KEATON: Sometimes you'll think "Yeah, well maybe."  No doubt now.  Guys like that I think, they could be done now, but that's the real deal.  Even if everything sucks from now on, you couldn't take away from now, you know what I mean?  Like I was looking at Johnny Depp the other day, and I loved him in FINDING NEVERLAND.  I think it's the best thing he's ever done actually.  I think he's really good in that movie.  So now you can look at him and say he's not just a handsome guy.  He's gutsy.  Now you put it together and you can say "There ya go, now we're talking about a lot of stuff."  I like that about him alot.

MARK: Amazing where he came from too, starting out on a TV show.

KEATON: Handsome guy, that's it.  Handsome teenager... and not really very interesting.  Now he's really interesting.  Right?  Now you just want to watch the guy.

MARK: Yeah.

KEATON: Yeah.

WHITE NOISE opens January 7, 2005 from Universal Pictures

Visit the official website at http://www.whitenoisemovie.com

For more on EVP, visit Tom and Lisa Butler's comprehensive website http://www.aaevp.com

Michael Keaton, Mark Walters, and Paul Brooks

Michael Keaton, Mark Walters, and Paul Brooks

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