Director David O. Russell hosted an industry screening of “Birdman” Thursday night at CAA, then moderated a Q&A with writer-director Alejandro G. Inarritu and star Michael Keaton. The film, which has already scored multiple nominations from the SAG, Golden Globes and Critic’s Choice Awards, is considered a surefire best picture Oscar nominee.
Keaton, who was in good spirits despite recovering from a cold, shared the stage with the two filmmakers. “This is unbelievable that I’m sitting in this company. You pick two guys whose movies I watch and think I have to be in business with these guys, these are two of a few,” he noted. “They are not afraid of saying things and not being coy about it. They show humanity, how you feel when you’re afraid, when you’re bold. It’s refreshing to be around people who don’t just want to play the cute of it.”
Known primarily for stark dramas like “21 Grams” and “Babel,” Inarritu chose to make “Birdman” his first true comedy. He revealed that when he started work on the film, he consulted with other directors – including Russell – who advised him that even though the film was a comedy, he should play the stakes as if he was making “21 Grams.” He also spoke to the late Mike Nichols, who warned him against shooting the film in long, unbroken takes. To which Keaton added, “I find it fascinating that Mike Nichols says don’t do this. Mike Nichols. And he did it anyway. That, to me, is who Alejandro is.”
Inarritu added that Nichols did give him some invaluable advice: “He told me, ‘In comedy there is one rule – once you have a great take, always do a very fast one. That will be the one that will be in the can, in the movie.’ He was right. For some reason, the fast one is when it has all the electricity.”
Both filmmakers pointed out how deep Keaton was able to go. “I want to thank you for baring your soul,” said Russell. “You go through every single emotion imaginable during the course of this film, and it’s beautiful.” Agreed Inarritu, “I think this is a Michael Keaton film. We can do marvels technically, we can do a great story, but if somebody doesn’t embody that, who cares about it? Without Michael, it could have been a failure.”
Keaton said he’s been a fan of Inarritu’s since the director’s first film, the Oscar-nominated “Amores Perros.” He noted, “I said to a friend of mine, ‘I would have done this movie based on “Amores Perros” alone.’ My friend said, ‘I would have done the movie based on the car accident in “Amores Perros!”’ So I was kind of in all the way.”
Keaton closed out by saying, “The depressing part of this is that it’s unlikely that I’ll have this experience again. That’s probably the sad truth. This movie grabs you around the throat, drags you out of your house and takes you on this f-cking trip and makes you respond.”