Naomi Watts Reveals Nightmares and More from ‘Birdman’ NYFF Premiere
Naomi Watts Reveals Nightmares and More from 'Birdman' NYFF Premiere
Few modern filmmakers have inspired as fervid and polarized responses from moviegoers as Alejandro González Iñárritu. The Mexican filmmaker’s films, including “21 Grams,” “Babel,” and “Biutiful,” have garnered myriad Academy Award nominations, including Best Director for Iñárritu (“Babel”) and Best Actor for Javier Bardem (“Biutiful”), but they’ve also drawn a certain strain of ire from critics who don’t enjoy the pessimistic themes that pervade all of Iñárritu’s films.
His latest, “Birdman,” has been almost ubiquitously heralded as a radical departure for the filmmaker. He’s jettisoned his established somber style and instead crafted a magical realist comedy, captured with his unflinching cryptic gaze. It stars Michael Keaton as a washed-up actor famous for playing the titular super hero and features prominent turns from Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone. The film was shot to look like one long continuous take by “Gravity” cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who received a rapturous round of applause during the press screening.
After the screening, Iñárritu and all of the aforementioned cast spoke with the press and industry. Here are some of our observations.
The idea for “Birdman” came from Iñárritu’s struggle with turning 50.
“When you hit 50,” he said, “you have to make revisions of the priorities of your life.” The filmmaker talked about the personal battle with aging that everyone must face and how the aging process affects your ego. “The movie is a look at how ego can work,” he went on. “Ego Is a tyrant in my work. It’s rude and misleading…I can go from thinking I’m a genius to feeling like a dead jelly fish, thinking, ‘You stupid asshole, this is shit.’ ”
“Birdman” is a “Semi-serious movie made by unserious people.”
Edward Norton claimed that “Birdman” was “a semi-serious movie made by unserious people.” Most of the questions were fielded with some sort of humor or self-deprecating wit (or, in Zach Galifianakis’ case, self-aggrandizing wit). When asked if he kept a Birdman costume for himself, Keaton proverbially face-palmed himself, saying, “Ugh, how stupid am I? Now I need to go find one.” He also called himself “a dope” and “an idiot.” Iñárritu talked about how his ego fluctuates, going from swollen to desiccated, Keaton said, “I do that too. Except I always end up realizing, ‘No, Michael, you’re better than that.’ My ego actually grows.”
It’s a technically complicated, meticulously crafted movie.
The camera, it was noted, acts almost like another character in the film, always floating around, following Keaton or the other actors, but, according to Keaton, everything was done for a reason. “There are no shots that just look good. They all move the story forward in some way…I don’t throw the word ‘artist’ around, but Alejandro is an artist.” While the movie has a loose feel, there was almost no improvisation — a shot could be ruined if a table wasn’t moved properly, or if a boom mic showed on screen, or if an actor didn’t get his or her legs out of the way quick enough, Iñárritu said. But, as Amy Ryan put it, certain “magical” discoveries occurred during filming. Keaton at one point had to lie on a table because they couldn’t figure put any other way to fit the performers and the equipment in the room. And once he was on the table, Ryan said, it was clear that he had to be on the table — that was the only place, metaphorically, that Keaton could be for that shot. (They used 17mm wide lenses for shooting, which take up more space.)
Edward Norton on critics and his love for Iñárritu.
Michael Keaton admitted that he thinks critics have treated him pretty fairly over time. He said he used to think it would be be courageous to read all his the reviews of his performances, but then he realized it was miserable. Andrea Riseborough said she finds reviews debilitating, comparing the thick layer of fog that shrouds Los Angeles to the thick layer of fear she feels regarding acting. When addressing the pompous theater critic in the film (Lindsay Duncan), Norton cryptically invoked the name of well-respected New York Times critic Manohla Dargis. He later quoted from a review of another Iñárritu film that labeled the director’s work as “pretentious.” (He didn’t say who wrote the review.) Norton also expressed deep respect and admiration for the director, whom he claims was really the inspiration for his performance. “I wore his scarf, his coat…my performance constituted me dropping the Mexican accent, that’s it,” said Norton. Iñárritu added that he would direct Norton who would in turn redirect him–“I was like the mirror in the mirror in the mirror.” Zach Galifianakis, on the other hand, says he has never gotten a bad review.
Naomi Watts has nightmares of being on stage.
“I have the typical nightmares of being on stage: forgetting my lines, being naked,” Watts said. “The high level of intensity in the film is emblematic of what’s it like to be on stage.” Norton said that he was in the theater very early in his career — as an usher at the Second Stage Theater. “I also have dreams of Naomi being naked on stage,” Galifianakis said. “Believe me, it’s not a nightmare.”
John Houston’s “The Dead” is not a horror movie.
“I went to go see John Houston’s movie of the James Joyce story ‘The Dead,’ ” Keaton said, “and there were these guys there who thought it was a horror movie. They kept calling it ‘The Fucking Dead,’ and I was watching them and waiting, they kept waiting for the gore, I guess, and after 20 minutes they left.”
“Birdman” is not a super hero movie
“Michael and I went to Comic-Con yesterday,” Norton said, “And it was like the biggest bait-and-switch in the history of Comic-Con. Can you imagine people who thought ‘Birdman’ was a super hero movie?” Iñárritu also said that he dislikes how most modern super hero movies feign profundity: “Just being a kick-ass action movie is okay, sometimes,” he said. “But this fake being profound is awful.” Keaton said he loved the scene near the end when the CGI kicks in and the giant bird monster starts tearing apart the city and Birdman takes flight. “I dig it…it’s a great megaplex action movie super hero dose.” When asked why his newest film is his first real comedy, the director said, “I think it’s the same kind of film with a different approach. The irony and cynicism that has overwhelmed out pop-culture is horrible. After so much spicy food I wanted some dessert.” The filmmaker said he chose Raymond Carver to use for the play-within-the-film because “Carver has the capacity to go to the human heart. His characters are pathetic and complex and likable and human, and they’re longing for love. It’s all about longing for love.”