NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t





In the existential comedy Birdman, Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a washed up, insecure actor looking for a second shot at fame and success. He’s entirely focused on himself. Keaton says this sort of narcissism — “that constant neediness and insecurity and whininess and me, me, me” — didn’t come easily to him. “When you’re one of originally nine children, there’s not a ton of room for that,” Keaton tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “I was raised Catholic, so speaking about yourself or talking about yourself too much [wasn’t done]. And then, on the Protestant side of my family, even more so do you not talk about yourself.”

In the movie, Riggan is having a creative and personal identity crisis. He had been famous for starring as the superhero Birdman in three films. But he gave up the franchise years ago, and has been struggling to figure out who he is as an actor and a man. He’s trying to prove his artistic worth by directing and starring on Broadway, in his own adaptation of a Raymond Carver story.

During rehearsals and previews, Riggan is constantly second-guessing himself. His insecurities and doubts, as well as his self-absorption are physically manifested in the form of Birdman, who keeps appearing to Riggan, badgering him about having given up a lucrative Hollywood career for a play in an old Broadway theater. Birdman wants to regain the fame, glory and power that comes with being a superhero. Keaton drew on his experience playing Batman — in 1989 and 1992— to portray his alter-ego character in Birdman. Keaton remembers having to overcome the claustrophobia of the Batman suit in the 1989 Tim Burton film.

When director Alejandro Iñárritu offered him the role in Birdman, Keaton accepted almost immediately. “I was pretty much in from the first phone call,” Keaton says. It was only a few weeks into filming that Keaton focused on the fact that he was actually playing four roles — Riggan, Birdman, the characters in the play, and an actor who directs other actors. Keaton says “thank god” this didn’t occur to him before he said “yes.” Keaton has been nominated for an Oscar for his starring performance in Birdman, which is nominated for eight other Academy Awards, including best picture and best director. MORE