Buzzine sat down with Michael Keaton to talk about voicing legendary characters such as Batman and Barbie's Ken, the toys he played with as a child, and why he took a long hiatus from movies...
Emmanuel Itier: How do you go from Batman to Ken?
Michael Keaton: That’s probably not the leap you think it is. [Laughs] You start from something. You ask the same basic questions you ask yourself for any role and then work from there. These guys were great because — while it sounds kind of silly because you are playing this doll, essentially — you still have to do the work. You still have to ask yourself some basic questions — at least I do — to get started. You’ve got to start from something and then you have the advantage of saying, “This person out there already exists,” so you go, “Okay, he looks like that, he’s in love with her; we all know her, she’s iconic…” and then you just listen to what they tell you to do and have a lot of laughs.
MK: No. [Laughs] I don’t think so. Does he sound like that? [Laughs] No, no…
EI: Were you surprised they came up with you because it’s Ken?
MK: Nothing shocks me. [Laughs] I will tell you this though: when they called, I remember… It’s odd — you remember where you were when certain things happened. I remember exactly where I was standing. They said, “Hey, we’re thinking of asking you to do something.” I just really enjoyed working. I’m not just saying this — you can ask anybody, I tell everybody this — I really love working for Pixar, and I thought, “Great, I’ll go do something again.” And when they said Ken, the phone literally fell out of my hand [laughs] and I started to laugh. I don’t know why — I just thought this is really funny.
EI: Can you talk about the outfits? The one that really matters — the hot pants? I heard you consulted somebody who was an expert who really knows Ken and all the outfits he wore…
MK: They came and asked me, and I showed them all my hot pants… [Laughs]
EI: You have seven brothers right?
MK: Yeah, none of us wore hot pants…
EI: Did you play with Ken? Confess.
MK: [Laughs] Would you just say “confess” again? ‘Cause trust me, I would just tell you anything [laughs] with that accent. No, where I come from, unfortunately — and I don’t think this is a great thing, by the way — that would have meant being beaten severely, which is kind of stupid. But no, there was seven, but we played with whatever we could find and make up. I did have a collection of soldiers and cowboys and Indians — all kinds of figures which I loved, but if they weren’t realistic enough to me or they looked like they’d really been through a real war, I would melt them and burn them and paint them with blood on their faces, so it’s a little different approach than Ken.
EI: Knowing back then what you know now, would you play today with action figures of Batman or Ken?
MK: Good question. No. I would probably lean toward the Batman thing, not to make a judgment here, but yeah, I would probably go that way. But I was never a big superhero guy either. Superman and that stuff never appealed to me because I had a hard time believing things. When I was a kid, most scary movies never scared me ’cause I never really believed in certain things. So I would fall on the Batman side of things. I still put the suit on every once in awhile, but I don’t play with dolls anymore. You are actually taking that very seriously. You actually believe that I’m going home and putting on the suit. [Laughs]
EI: What was your favorite toy growing up?
MK: I used to get lost in books. I did, obviously, have toys, but there were seven of us, so sometimes you would find things that had been laying around the house for years and they kind of belong to everybody. We weren’t poor by any stretch of the imagination, but seven kids…we didn’t have a lot of dough — let’s put it that way. My kid is like this and he grew up in a totally different generation — he never really cared about having a lot of toys. It just wasn’t that big a deal. It’s not that he didn’t want certain things. But I never remembered a time when I thought, like on Christmas, where it wasn’t just magic beyond my wildest dreams. No matter what it was, it was extraordinary. I remember once I got a fort, like in pioneer days. I also got into trucks and stuff, Lincoln Logs, and I remember this thing that got with all these little figures…it’s like you couldn’t believe your eyes. It wasn’t a question of being appreciative. There was no choice really. [Laughs]
EI: Do you remember the last toy you played with?
MK: [Laughs] I do, but I had a bottle of tequila before that [laughs], so I don’t think that counts.
EI: Didn’t you have a lot of hand-me-downs, though? You were the youngest…
MK: Yeah, I did. I wore a lot of clothes, and you kind of improvised the hand-me-downs, and fortunately I didn’t have to wear any of my sister’s hand-me-downs. But I’m kind of a toy person ’cause I have a motorcycle and I have little RV types on my ranch, and actually, for awhile, I had a really beautiful old truck that I bought from Carmen, so I had those kinds of toys, and I play a lot of sports. So guys never really get over their toys, boats…
EI: This is a way to get back into movies, but why is it that we haven’t seen you anymore as we used to?
MK: There are a few answers for that. One reason is I got…”bored” sounds too superior, so it’s not bored. I get bored quickly, frankly, which is my own problem, but I don’t mean bored — I just thought I was kind of repeating myself and really wasn’t having a lot of fun where I used to have fun, so I was always kind of selective to a fault. Literally to a fault, like I probably should have done some things that I didn’t do maybe, and I was raising a son full-time…but I share the responsibility with his mom, but it wasn’t like I showed up now and then. He lived with me half the time, so I just chose not to go away and make certain movies. I had to be very picky about how to do them, and frankly, I didn’t think I was very good for awhile. I just watched what I was doing and I wasn’t impressed by what I was doing, and then I quit watching what I was doing, which I’ll bet all of us do now. I hardly ever watch anything I do, so that’s some of the reasons. We could talk a lot, but I always want to do something that’s good, and I was late to the animated world. I had seen the success of some of the early Pixar movies, and I never saw them. I thought they are probably good, but I have no real interest in that kind of thing, to be honest with you. Then all of a sudden, you watch this and you watch The Incredibles, and I would see them after they had been out and I thought, Jesus [laughs], this is extraordinary. This is unbelievable. These are some of the best-made films I’ve seen. So when I got the offer to do something like this, I wanted to do it. I work on all kind of levels. I just do things that I think I should do, and sometimes that’s right and sometimes it’s wrong. Alan Arkin told me one time, “I always preferred to have a big life and a good career as opposed to a big career and an okay life.”
EI: What are you working on next?
MK: There are two — one of them doesn’t have a title yet, and frankly, we don’t know when. We are talking about meeting in the fall. We are not sure when that is going to happen.
Walt Disney Pictures' 'Toy Story 3' was released on June 18, 2010 and is now available on DVD & Blu-ray via Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.