While on set in London for the 1989 Tim Burton-helmed comic book film, Nicholson imparted words of wisdom to take every success as a greenlight for a little leeway.
“In the old days, I remember I was in London with Jack Nicholson, we were doing ‘Batman,’ and he was going somewhere, and he said, ‘Come along with me,’ which is an experience in and of itself,” Keaton explained during The Hollywood Reporter Drama Actor Emmy Roundtable alongside Oscar Isaac, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brian Cox, and Quincy Isaiah.
“So, we’re in the car and he’s talking about the movie. And we all knew it was a huge risk, and if it goes down, [I’d be] going down in flames and that’s going to be a big, hard recovery. But I also knew if it worked, it could change my landscape,” Keaton continued. “So Jack says, ‘Keats, if this thing’s a hit, you can go out and do four or five flops and not even worry about it.’ And maybe it wasn’t four or five, but it used to be you got away with three and it didn’t matter.”
However, Keaton warned that such advice will no longer work today: “Not now, man,” the “Dopesick” star said. “You’ve got one miss, which is fucked up.”
During the conversation with fellow actors, Keaton said it’s “impossible” nowadays to say “I’m going to cruise on this one” when it comes to even the smallest of projects and deny that actor instinct to perform to the best of your ability.
“You get there and the work’s the same, man. Even if you’re going to do a 15-second ad for Vaseline, you say, ‘OK, man, I’m all in,'” Keaton added. “Because for that minute, I don’t know how to not be all in, not because I’m so fucking groovy, because I probably have a fear of lying down, of going, ‘Well, don’t be a dick. Do the work.’ You know what I mean? Every time I think I’m going to cruise on this one, I can’t. You can fight it all you want, but it’s in you somewhere.”
And Nicholson’s advice has been passed along to the next generation of actors as well, including “Barry” creator and “Saturday Night Live” alum Bill Hader. Keaton revealed he opted for a career pause and “laid low” when he became a father, and told Hader to do the same.
“I thought, ‘Man, if I lose money, I’m good with it,'” Keaton said of turning down projects. “I was having this conversation with Bill Hader the other day, he was going through something and I said, ‘Dude, trust me. Hang out with your kids as much as you can for as long as you can. You will never regret it. You’re going to lose some jobs. It’s OK. In the long run, that’s the thing [that matters].'”