MOVIE NEWS – Michael Keaton’s Dark Knight is now iconic; as it turns out, Tim Burton had a specific reason for casting him in 1989’s Batman, despite fan outcry.
Despite the adverse reaction, Tim Burton had a specific reason for casting Mickael Keaton in 1989’s Batman. Before its release, comic book movies were seen as light, kid-oriented entertainment. That all changed with Burton’s iconic Dark Knight, but Batman 1989 was not without its significant controversy, specifically over the inclusion of Keaton.
Tim Burton brought his trademark gothic visuals and creepy humour to the world of Batman, depicting a horrific vision of Gotham City in which Batman battles the Joker (Jack Nicholson).
Batman was a defining moment in the superhero genre, but it was hard to convince everyone of Burton’s plan. Michael Keaton’s haunting portrayal of Batman is now beloved, and many are looking forward to his return in the upcoming The Flash and Batgirl, but his casting was initially met with scepticism.
In the 1980s, Keaton was best known for comedies, so the casting of Batman came as a shock, resulting in one of the earliest examples of fan reaction to a casting. As he recalled in a recent podcast interview, even producer Michael Uslan had to be convinced. Uslan described how Tim Burton was forced to cast Michael Keaton as Batman because he “didn’t know how” to use a “serious” actor in the role. He insisted that Keaton could harness the humanity and obsession inherent in Bruce Wayne and that the physicality that characterises Batman should not have mattered.
Uslan recalled, “I thought he was kidding, and it took 20 minutes before they convinced me this was a real thing.”
It took more than seven years to develop the project, but Tim Burton insisted that if they wanted to make the first dark, mature superhero movie, they had to go in a new direction. Uslan recalled Burton telling him, “I do not know how to take a ‘serious’ actor and show them getting into a bat costume without getting unintentional laughs from the audience.”
Names like Harrison Ford, Kevin Costner and James Caan were also mentioned, so Uslan’s confusion at Keaton’s suggestion was understandable. Still, Tim Burton knew that focusing on Bruce Wayne was key to the success of Batman 1989. He’s not an action director, and reviving Batman in Burton’s gothic image might have been a shock if he’d chosen a muscular action hero.
Burton insisted that Keaton could portray Bruce Wayne’s obsession “to the point of being psychotic” so that audiences would find the character believable. For Burton, that was the most important thing. For anyone to take Batman seriously, they first had to understand the man behind the mask. Burton’s speciality is the misunderstood outcast, so it makes sense that Keaton would identify with a more ordinary, socially awkward Bruce.
After a screening of Clean and Sober, Uslan was delighted with Keaton’s dramatic talent but still worried that he looked nothing like the Batman in the comics.
Director Tim Burton replied, “A square jaw does not a Batman make.” He argued that film is a different medium than comic books, and he could easily create the illusion of height; he could “carve musculature into the costume.” An idealised physique is sometimes essential, but not as important as capturing the soul of a character. After all, much of Batman’s power comes from his costume and his intellect. Keaton’s modest nature brilliantly concealed Bruce’s seething rage perfectly.
Source: Hollywood & Levine