Over at Grantland, there’s an incredibly long and pretty fantastic interview with Michael Keaton. Through it all, he manages to seem like a pretty normal guy who just happened to have made a lot of fantastic films that I’ve loved and continue to love.
But then Keaton starts talking about Batman and about the controversy that arose when he was cast as Bruce Wayne:
Daniel: First of all, I think what people don’t realize is that when you were chosen as Batman, people were outraged, right?
Michael: [laughing] I know.
Daniel: Were you aware of that at the time?
Michael: I wasn’t at the beginning, then I was made aware. Why would anyone get this excited about that?
Daniel: Well, comic book geeks are, you know, a different breed of animal.
Michael: I don’t get the importance. I was doing an interview, and the guy was going on and on about it, and finally I said, “Did you read the paper this morning?” And I wasn’t being a smart ass, I was just being real. And he goes, he just said yes or no, I don’t know. I said, “Do you know there are bodies literally, literally like a logjam floating down rivers in Rwanda right now from being hacked up and killed — right now?” and he goes, “Oh, that’s terrible … ” And I’m like, “Who gives a fuck who’s going to be Batman?”
Michael: I was just shocked — not shocked like “I’m above it, what’s the matter with you people?” … I literally don’t get —
Keaton’s point is a good one. There are a lot more important things in the world about which we should get worked up. The Rwandan genocide is most certainly one of those things.
Compared to the fact that Rwandans were being brutally murdered in numbers that we can hardly comprehend, Keaton’s casting as Batman is ridiculous.
Now Keaton tells this story to demonstrate, once again, that he’s grounded, that he doesn’t get all wrapped up in Hollywood nonsense.
But it’s not true. At least not in this particular case. There’s no chance that Michael Keaton said these particular words to an interviewer in an attempt to highlight that people care about the wrong things.
How do I know this?
Because Michael Keaton’s Batman was released in 1989 and the Rwandan genocide occurred in 1994. There were no bodies floating down rivers in 1988 or 1989, when the interview that Keaton discusses here almost certainly took place; indeed, the civil war that preceded the genocide didn’t officially begin until 1990.
I really like Keaton and I liked this interview. But this part of it was incredibly jarring because it demonstrated precisely the opposite of what Keaton was saying: He does care about people’s impression of him.
In the late 1980s Keaton might very well have told an interviewer that he thought the uproar about his casting was silly. But either he now incorrectly remembers juxtaposing it with the Rwandan genocide or he wants readers now to think of him as someone whose priorities are in the right place and who pays attention to important things.
In short, Keaton would like us to think of him as one of those pretty rare people who spotted the magnitude of the Rwandan genocide as it was occurring (because his priorities are in the right place and he pays attention to the right things). But the problem is that he demonstrates with this example that he wasn’t one of those rare people and that he might not even be one of them today, given that he doesn’t remember when the Rwandan genocide actually occurred.