Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu and his “Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” cast were all over New York this long weekend, closing out the New York Film Festival, making TV appearances and taking part in a two-day press junket. On Monday, they ended their whirlwind tour by schmoozing with Academy voters at a special lunch hosted by distributor Fox Searchlight and The Peggy Siegal Company.
As its showings at the Telluride, Venice and New York film festivals confirmed, “Birdman” is all but a lock for a slew of Oscar nominations come early next year. The Academy voters I spoke with yesterday were all over the moon with the film, particularly Michael Keaton’s fiery lead performance as a washed up action star trying to mount a Broadway production to resurrect his career.
After sitting down to dine, Keaton was joined by Iñarritu, as well as co-stars Naomi Watts, Edward Norton and Emma Stone, to chat about the film in a brief discussion moderated by The Hollywood Reporter’s awards editor Scott Feinberg. Below are the top highlights. “Birdman” opens in select theaters Friday, October 17.
Iñarritu went through a dark period before making “Birdman.”
“I was a little tired by doing film that left audiences with tears in their eyes,” the filmmaker said. “I was going through a difficult period of my life when I shot ‘Biutiful,’ I saw a lot of dark things. I was not having a good time as a creator. I was a bit bored about the things I was doing. I was feeling comfortable. It wasn’t exciting anymore… In the end the film deals, at least for me, with the torturous process of an artist trying to confront their own limitations.”
Keaton and Iñarritu never addressed the “Batman” factor.
“I was working on a movie in Toronto and I got a call saying Alejandro wanted to meet,” Keaton said when asked how his casting came to be. “I had seen, I think, everything he had done and thought, ‘Man, these are the kind of guys you want to be in business with.’ I called back the next day and figured out a way to make it work. We had dinner together, had a fair amount of wine. The script would have had to be horrible for me to say no.
“There was that moment when I was like, ‘Is there going to be an issue in terms of having played Batman?’ Maybe Alejandro remembers it differently, but there was no time to discuss this. There was so much work to do. I always say about this movie: If we finished and people said ‘It was pretty good,’ I would have been fine with that. Turns out it’s my most favorite venture not only in movies, but in life that I’ve gone through.”
Keaton and Norton on their big fight.
“About the fighting scene with Edward,” Keaton said, “about four weeks later, I went — wait a minute, he was in ‘Fight Club’! He could have kicked my ass!”
“Pretending to not fight well was my finest achievement,” Norton joked.
Norton felt invigorated by Iñarritu’s choice to shoot the film in long, fluid takes.
“When you work in any form a lot over the years, the form becomes familiar and the forms with the form become sometimes rote. When someone comes along and says, ‘We’re gonna throw a lot of that out the window and try to have an experience where the whole form is gonna challenge all of those conventions’ — you’re excited. You know you’re heading into something vital. I think everybody was excited about the idea. In the actuality of it, I came away thinking, I don’t know why we don’t do this more.”
Watts, meanwhile, was terrified.
“We had three weeks in LA but it was all on a soundstage,” Watts added. “Things were marked out for how the stage would look. As helpful as it was, it was not that authentic. It was a good chance to block and practice lines, but once you got to the real stage, there were a lot more limitations. There were so many things that could upset a take. The great feeling of winning was monumental, but it was painstaking to get there. Sometimes a full 12 hours would go by with Alejandro sweating and pulling out his hair. I feel like it just wasn’t about being correct. At the end of each take… I don’t know if I can speak for everyone, but I certainly saw Zach [Galifianakis] looking quite pale behind a closed door. Myself included! I was just shaking to get the lines out. If you were the one to drop a line, or if you were the one that made another actor miss their cue, you let the team down.”
Stone loves the ending.
“I don’t know that we ever discussed the ending,” Stone said when asked about the ambiguous final shot. “The ending was written half way through shooting, and we didn’t really need to talk about it. It’s meant to be ambiguous, but I think it’s honestly one of the most beautiful endings of all time. It’s such an incredible idea.”