Michael Keaton and Reese Witherspoon on the Journeys of ‘Birdman’ and ‘Wild’

After a long absence from leading roles, Michael Keaton returned with a bang in “Birdman,” playing a former screen superhero who tries to reinvent himself as a serious stage actor. Reese Witherspoon starred in Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild” as a woman who tries to end a cycle of self-abuse and grief by hiking the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail on her own. Keaton, who lives primarily in Montana, was taken not only by the existential beauty of the surroundings, but also by the internal struggle of the lead character of “Wild” — something he related to in “Birdman.”

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Keaton: You could argue that every movie is a journey, but these are really, clearly, journeys. Yours is a straight-ahead “we’re walking” journey, and mine is another kind of journey. And I was looking at this thinking, first of all, I’ve never seen you like this. I’ve never seen you look like this and just be. And that’s the best thing, just being, you know?

Witherspoon: Well, I think the same way (of) “Birdman.” The two characters are similar in that they’re both warring against themselves. It’s sort of self-ego vs. self, self-esteem vs. self, self-harm vs. healthy.

Keaton: And a little bit of self-loathing going on.

Witherspoon: Self-loathing, hate, embarrassment. When I saw “Birdman,” I saw it with another actor, and we were both like, “Ooh, that is so true.” It’s so much of that desire to be adored. And that conflict about what’s more important — to be adored or to be truly loved in your life — is so confusing, I think, for people who do what we do. Because things that led me to drop out of college and become an actor are totally different than the reason I want to make movies now.

Keaton: Really?

Witherspoon: I mean years of therapy have helped. They help me sort of figure it out.

Keaton: I saw “Wild,” and I thought, “Wow, this is a lot of things, but one of the things is it’s a therapist’s dream and a climate-change denier’s nightmare.” I don’t know how to not be outside since I was a little kid. I can remember distinct moments in my life where nature moved me in such a way, and I just literally don’t know how to be around it and not get filled up (by) it.

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