One of Hollywood’s most undervalued stars has got to be Michael Keaton.
Currently enjoying strong reviews for his pivotal role as Spider-Man’s nemesis in Spider-Man: Homecoming, he shares the distinction with Russell Crowe of having starred in two back-to-back Academy Award winners, Birdman (2014) and Spotlight (2015).
And still he gets little respect.
The one word I use to describe him is integrity. He turned down a huge salary rather than do Batman 3 (1995) without Tim Burton who had directed him in the first two.
He pretty much sat on the sidelines when the type of movie he wanted to make wasn’t offered him.
So at his press conferences for his latest film American Assassin, when I shared these sentiments with him, he doesn’t disown them.
The actor admitted there was pressure from his handlers for him to accept some projects for the money.
“But they know me. So there’s no point in trying to twist my arm,” the 65-year-old offered.
Of course we know Keaton from his iconic roles in Batman (1989), Beetlejuice (1988), Night Shift (1982) and even Mr Mom (1983).
But the one thing we know little about is his son, one of the amazing success stories of show business.
When Keaton won his Golden Globe for Birdman, he acknowledged his best friend.
But who knew it was his son, Sean, he was referring to. Sean Keaton has written award-winning songs for everyone from Madonna (Ghosttown) to Demi Lovato (Heart Attack) and had won numerous music awards.
So can you talk about that special relationship? How close are the two of you?
Truthfully, my entire family is close; my brothers and sisters, everybody is close. I always thought of myself as a father first. I really liked being a father so it was no problem for me.
I can remember when I was in England doing Batman and the Concorde was still around, I would literally jump on that plane, not every weekend of course, but I think I made three trips all the way to Los Angeles so that I could be home for a-day-and-a-half. But it was worth it to keep that relationship.
We have always been tight, and the thing about Sean is that he has always been his own person. Always.
I remember the first day we walked into his 1st grade class after kindergarten, I asked him if he wanted me to walk with him, and he was resolute in wanting to walk in on his own so that people wouldn’t connect him with Michael Keaton, movie star.
So, all things considered, he had a real normal upbringing, and today he is just a normal guy no matter how hot he is right now.
Was there ever a time you didn’t get along?
No. It was ridiculous. That was never an issue. You were a dad and a child, so at some point you are going to say, “Why are you not doing your homework?” or “You got in too late.” But it was easy, I was blessed and fortunate.
Was that also true with you and your own father?
I had a different type of dad. My mum and dad had nine kids, seven that survived, which back then that was not uncommon.
My dad had to work two jobs most of the time, sometimes he would have three jobs, so he was a different dad because of circumstances.
If I looked back then there were certain things my dad did because he had to; it wasn’t because he was this amazing father, it was because somebody had to do it. My mum would be at church or something, and some of us would be at home, somebody had to feed these kids. And he would be pretty good at it.
Look, I had a big advantage of being around most of the time. But it’s hard for everybody and even harder now. My son, he is grown and married and everything, but I’m still involved, and they are involved with me. It’s family.
After you walked away from Batman, what was your frame of mind?
Well, Batman was fortuitous, I mean, I’m grateful because it afforded me the luxury of not having to take things that I wouldn’t necessarily have to take, although it wasn’t always the greatest thing being out of work or turning things down.
I am not bragging about it, but I had a young son and a lot of the times I was helping to raise him because I wasn’t together with his mum, but I wanted to be around.
I would turn down movies but I’m not stupid; I had to make a living. But yes Batman really opened up a lot more opportunities for me and afforded me certain luxuries, and once things go big it was a blessing.
There’s never really a curse with it. And I was also lucky because right after, I did a bunch of other things that I’m proud of.
You live on a ranch. Do you like that lifestyle?
When I was a kid, I was always fascinated with the West from watching movies. I was in love with anything having to do with the West, and being from Pennsylvania, I always wanted to go there.
So, when I was 20, I went and worked on an Indian reservation in Arizona. And even then it was my dream to have a farm or a ranch there.
I have so many friends there, there’s a community of us, writers and painters and photographers, everyone who lives there are local ranchers. Frankly I can’t imagine not having that lifestyle.
Can you recall the time when you first started, was that easy for you?
Quite the opposite. I came out here (to Los Angeles), and I didn’t think I would stay. I was about to move back to New York, but how could I afford to live in New York. I had no car, nothing.
So, I crashed with friends, and I slept on the floor the first couple of nights. I moved around and kind of faked my way into an apartment and slept there and lived in that for a week without anybody knowing I was there. I did what I had to do. I worked several jobs, probably had too many jobs.
So what was the turning point?
Performing standup at the Comedy Store where I was noticed by an agent, after that I did a lot of TV but I had to wait seven years to really get noticed (in Night Shift).