Margaret Keane stepped out for a screening of Big Eyes on Tuesday night at the Ace Hotel in downtown L.A., making what was announced as her only official appearance at a showing of the Tim Burton film that chronicles her life. The artist-turned-film-subject also sat down for a post-screening Q&A with star Amy Adams and writer-producers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.
The Weinstein Co. release follows the true story of Margaret’s life and work. Her paintings of waifs with big eyes struck a chord in the art world and beyond in spite of her husband, Walter (played by Christoph Waltz), who exploited her and took credit for the work. Keane worked closely with Alexander and Karaszewski to develop the story based on the real-life events, including Walter’s self-cross-examination in the courtroom during a trial over ownership of her paintings.
“I was just totally blown away when I saw the way [Waltz] looked like him, acted exactly like him — it was like watching Walter,” Keane stated. “It was a very emotional, traumatic experience when I first saw the movie. I just couldn’t believe it. I was really in shock for about two days.”
Although Margaret admitted to not being familiar with the actress who portrayed her when she received the news of the casting — “I didn’t know who Amy Adams was.” — she noted the accuracy in her performance. “The way Amy portrayed exactly how I was feeling,” she said, “I don’t know how she did it.”
Moderator Scott Mantz recommended that Keane see the Adams-starrer American Hustle to get familiar with the actress; however, Adams interjected and suggested Keane begin with Enchanted as a “gateway drug.”
Adams then offered insight into her process. “Margaret was so gentle and so inclusive,” she said. “I felt a huge responsibility to play her with a lot of dignity and respect because I think she is a woman who has a lot of dignity and a lot of respect, not only for herself, but for others.”
Keane was more familiar with Burton. She said she was excited to be a part of a unique film in his career, one he made with limited resources, including a $16 million budget and 39 shooting days. “I was very happy and excited because I really liked (Burton), and he had been collecting my paintings for a long time. I knew he’d do a wonderful job,” she added, before joking: “Actually, you know. I really directed it, and he’s taking all the credit!”
On a more serious note, Keane called audience members to leave the film with a sense of courage. “Stand up for your rights and be brave, and don’t be intimidated,” she said to the full theater. “Read your Bible. That’s really given me strength, and it will give you strength. Pray, and use God’s name, Jehovah. And never tell a lie, ever.”
Big Eyes hits theaters on Dec. 25.