Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS ©2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved(NEW YORK) -- Twenty-five years ago, Tim Burton's Batman, starring a then 37-year-old Michael Keaton, kickstarted the cinematic superhero era.
"I've done a lot of things, you know, besides wearing a big, rubber suit," Keaton told ABC News' Nightline.
For much of the last 20 years, Keaton's had a low profile in Hollywood, but that is about to change thanks to his performance in the film Birdman.
The movie is the story of a down-on-his-luck actor Riggan Thompson, played by Keaton. Keaton's character is famous for his work in a series of films as a costumed avenger, Birdman, and is desperate to redeem himself years later artistically by directing and starring in a Broadway drama. (While there are obvious parallels between Riggan's and Keaton's stints as superheroes, Keaton is quick to dispel any additional connection between his real-life self and his character in Birdman.)
Keaton is joined by the film's all-star cast, gathered at Lincoln Center before Birdman's debut at the New York Film Festival exclusively for ABC News, including Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, and Andrea Riseborough. The actors play characters in this film that are poised to present a personal or professional crisis for Keaton’s character.
"Just when you think he's this kind of weak, desperate, insecure dude--he is that--but he's also this other thing," Keaton said.
Now 63, Keaton said he made a conscious decision to get back in the acting game.
"Specifically, in the last couple of years, [I] started saying, 'I've got to start focusing more on not being so lazy and going after the things.' I mean, I always turned a ton of things down, but it's not like I turned really great things down necessarily," Keaton said. "You wait for that great script to come along, or you hope it's attached with a great director. And that's what happened."
The film is shot almost entirely in and around a Broadway theater. Birdman gets its adrenaline from director Alejandro Inarritu and his decision to shoot it without visible cuts.
"We were attempting two things that are very difficult to do: a comedy and a single shot," Inarritu told Nightline. "It was extremely difficult to coordinate."
With the able assistance of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, said Edward Norton, "I think he pulled off something that's as technically audacious and astonishing and virtuoso as [the film] Gravity,"
The film was challenging for its crew and actors, who were required to be perfect for seven-minute seamless takes.
"We used to get to the twelfth hour in the day, and he felt that he had nothing in the can yet," Naomi Watts told Nightline.
"One word, delivered a little later or earlier, or one door open wrong, even if it's in the right time, but it's not perfectly executed, suddenly it's like the music, the sound," Inarritu said. "There's something that doesn't match, and that was a scary but, I will say, beautiful part of doing this film."
"And the feeling that came over you when it worked was the most satisfaction I've ever felt," Emma Stone told Nightline.
For Keaton, who'd been careful about his roles for years, Birdman, and the character of Riggan Thompson, was a completely original change of pace.
"I was pulling out some of my old tricks or looking for new tricks, and I was getting lazy, so I had no real interest in watching myself for a while," he said. "[Birdman] is different in that … there's nothing like it. There's no other movie that I've seen that's like it, let alone been a part of."
Now earning rapturous reviews, Birdman and Keaton's performance seem likely to be part of the conversation through the awards season. Its themes reach beyond the rise or fall of an actor's reputation.
"I think every character in the movie, except maybe Amy's, whose is grounded, is fighting to get back to a version of themselves that they can respect," Norton said. "Making the film was like a fantastic antidote to those sensations."
"I'm unbelievably blessed. This is 100 percent original. You don't get more original than what Tim [Burton] did with Beetlejuice and arguably what he did with the first Batman too," Keaton said.
"And then you get this, which is like a whole other thing. I mean, come on. Somebody's looking out for me in a large way."
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