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Michael Keaton Turned Down ‘Batman Forever’ After Creative Clash with Joel Schumacher

For Schumacher, Keaton's idea of Bruce Wayne was too dark.

BATMAN RETURNS, Michael Keaton, 1992. ©Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection

“Batman Returns”

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

It’s widely known the campy, flamboyant direction filmmaker Joel Schumacher took the Batman franchise with 1995’s “Batman Forever,” which co-stars Jim Carrey in a green onesie as a manic Riddler. The prior two films, “Batman” and “Batman Returns,” from director Tim Burton, portrayed a Gotham steeped in a noir sensibility, with Michael Keaton plumbing the depths of Bruce Wayne’s tortured past to locate it within his present.

As revealed on the Backstage podcast (via The Playlist), Keaton ultimately walked away from the role on “Batman Forever” that went to Val Kilmer because he and Schumacher disagreed about where the character was headed — far from haunted vigilante and more toward the character’s comic-book origins.

“It was always Bruce Wayne. It was never Batman,” Keaton said about how he understood his character. “To me, I know the name of the movie is Batman, and it’s hugely iconic and very cool and cultural iconic and because of Tim Burton, artistically iconic, [but] I knew from the get-go it was Bruce Wayne,” said the actor. “That was the secret. I never talked about it. [Everyone would say] Batman, Batman, Batman does this, and I kept thinking to myself, ‘Y’all are thinking wrong here.’ [It’s all about] Bruce Wayne. What kind of person does that?… Who becomes that?”

When Keaton was approached by Schumacher, it was clear the two had a different vision of where Bruce Wayne would head in the next chapter.

“And then when the director who directed the third one, I said, ‘I just can’t do it,’” revealed Keaton. “And one of the reasons I couldn’t do it was — and you know, he’s a nice enough man, he’s passed away, so I wouldn’t speak ill of him even if he were alive — he, at one point, after more than a couple of meetings where I kept trying to rationalize doing it and hopefully talking him into saying, ‘I think we don’t want to go in this direction, I think we should go in this direction.’ And he wasn’t going to budge.”

He continued, “But I remember one of the things that I walked away going, ‘Oh boy, I can’t do this.’ He asked me, ‘I don’t understand why everything has to be so dark and everything so sad,’ and I went, ‘Wait a minute, do you know how this guy got to be Batman? Have you read… I mean, it’s pretty simple.’”

Next up, Michael Keaton will reprise his Batman role in the upcoming “Flash” movie, set for theaters on November 4

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