When we met Michael Keaton to talk about his work in the RoboCop reboot, the conversation naturally turned to another role he had where he was constricted by a suit. Keaton famously played Batman in Tim Burton’s reboot of that franchise and was supremely impressed with how RoboCop star Joel Kinnaman handled the constriction that was having to act with little ability to emote.
“Joel’s job is particularly difficult. People don’t know how hard that is, to do what you need to do because your natural instinct -- or unnatural instinct might be to use your full body,” Keaton said.
“So your inclination or desperation might make you want to ‘go out’ with your performance, and what he didn’t do was that. What he did do was kind of suck back and go inside -- and he makes these unbelievable transitions. He’s human. Then he’s robot, but then he’s robot and human. That’s really hard to do when you’re wearing a big, black suit. I was really knocked out by it. I was really knocked out by the movie.”
When Keaton embodied Batman in 1989, he was all too ready to play Bruce Wayne -- but, when he got on the Batsuit -- that was another story. After struggling with it the way he says Kinnaman triumphs with it, he learned to eventually embrace the uncomfortableness and make it your own.
“When I did the first Batman, I made a joke -- but I was actually serious -- I just worked the suit, man. I let that suit go to work for me and that’s kind of what you have to do. I’m very claustrophobic, and we didn’t even know that the suit was going to work at all until literally like I think hours before we were about to start shooting the suit,” Keaton recalled.
“We had shot a lot of the Bruce Wayne stuff -- which was the key, by the way. The Batman thing, I didn’t know what I was going to do with that, so when we got in it, I went, ‘Oh, I’m in trouble. I’ve got to really face this thing.’ Because you couldn’t get out of it! This thing was wrapped around me and it didn't totally work.”
Keaton jokingly, as he is known to do (but we think he’s serious), says that Kinnaman owes a lot to him and his Batman portrayal. “This whole thing where I moved my whole body like a statue came out of something really practical. It really came out of the first time I had to react to something and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning my head] and the whole thing goes, ‘rip!,"’ Keaton said and laughed.
“There was a big (expletive) hole! So I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to get around that because we’ve got to shoot this son of a bitch. So I said, ‘You know what, Tim [Burton]? Batman moves like this [like a statue]!’ I’m very, very claustrophobic and I’m in this thing. And inside, honestly, I started having panic attacks.”
He was scared, and thought he wasn’t going to be able to do it. But, then… lightning struck, and he says it was the same thing for Kinnaman in RoboCop.
“Then it hit me, ‘This is perfect.’ I mean, this is like designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that’s really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it. You just take all of that stuff -- that suit -- all of that stuff that suit was giving me, and I said, ‘Oh, I got it. I know how to do this now,'" Keaton said.
“So it’s odd how those things happen to actors. That thing you think -- I have no idea how to do this -- something will happen in your life, or something comes up, and you just kind of get it. I don’t know how you get it, but actors are kind of pretty extraordinary in that regard. I think it’s fear.”
Keaton wants Kinnaman to get a load of props for what he accomplished inside that RoboCop suit. “It’s really extraordinary what he did,” Keaton said. “He probably won’t get credit for the degree of difficulty that was required.”
Keaton gave us one of Batman's greatest quotes when he uttered, "I am Batman," while sporting that uncomfortable suit.
Click through and see what other iconic Batman quotes have stood the test of time!