“Birdman” director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s decision to film the movie as if it was one continuous shot was risky – but it was the only way to do it, said star Michael Keaton at a Wrap screening on Tuesday.
“We all knew we were onto something pretty cool, and something kind of risky. And the rehearsal really started to prove that,” Keaton said at a packed screening of the Oscar frontrunner at the Landmark Theater on Tuesday night. The star and director received a standing ovation from the crowd.
“I knew that to tell a story about such an internal, intellectual concept about our own inner voice, I knew that I had to have a point of view inside the character in order to navigate his emotions,” Iñárritu told moderator Steve Pond, TheWrap’s Awards Editor. “So I think the way this was shot was a decision of the best way to tell the story.”
“I knew that it’s a film that speaks about the voice that we all have, which always contradicts what we sometimes pretend, or kind of shake, because it’s trying to judge us,” Iñárritu continued.“That is the ego that is a very internal process that challenges at every level.”
Iñárritu called the film his most challenging to date, and shared a story with the audience proving just how brave he was to make it, because even cinematic icon Mike Nichols told him it sounded like a bad idea.
“I had a lunch with him one week before I started shooting, and I just wanted his blessing. And when I told him about the project he said, ‘Alejandro, you’re running toward disaster. You have to stop this madness, you will fail,'” Iñárritu said to laughter from the audience. “Honestly, he was right. He was absolutely warning me.”
Keaton added: “This is my favorite thing, because this says everything about [Iñárritu]. Mike Nichols says, ‘No, no, no. Don’t do this!’ And what makes this movie so great is that he thought that, and he made it anyway.”
In the movie, Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a washed-up movie star whose glory days as eponymous superhero Birdman are behind him. In order to reinvigorate his career and establish himself as a thespian, not just a Hollywood has been, the 60-year-old actor mounts a Broadway production of a Raymond Carver adaptation that he wrote himself, and is directing and starring in to boot.
But Riggan can’t seem to shake the voice of his superhero alter ego that brought him fame, wealth and global admiration. And that voice is telling him his play sucks.
Keaton, who also attended the screening, described the role as “meta” for obvious reasons: He was Batman in two Tim Burton movies.
Numerous critics associations have named the film and Keaton’s erratic performance as the best of the year. After securing a Golden Globe nomination and Gotham Award, he’s expected to receive the first Academy Award nomination of his career in the Best Actor in a Leading Role category, too.
Like the character he was playing, Keaton admitted to continuously doubting the production, since he had never been shot in such a way. Although the movie is not actually one long take, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki relied heavily on choreography and camera movement to capture scenes in one take. Once Keaton saw the film, however, he immediately understood “there isn’t any other way to do this.”
“I almost hate when people focus on the long shot thing, because that’s that much of it,” Keaton said holding up a small space between his fingers. “You can’t tell the story any other way. It’s a ride, and I know that’s true because I listen to people who come up to me on the street who want to say things about the movie and a particular scene, and are so articulate about it, and so specific about things, that I don’t think they would feel those things if they didn’t go inside Riggan’s head.”