Venice: Why 'Birdman' Could Not Have Been Made Without Michael Keaton

Alison Rosa

Director Alejandro G. Inarritu speaks on the "Batman" actor's triumphant return in Venice's opening-night film

Birdman played for the press today in Venice, with almost unanimous praise from international critics. The film marks an incredible kickoff to the festival, already spawning enough Oscar talk to rival last year’s Gravity opener.

The film follows a retired action hero star, played by Michael Keaton, who's trying to make his comeback with a theater revival. Keaton is making somewhat of a comeback of his own with the role, a character he mirrors in real life after starring in Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman.

It was a necessity to the role, said director Alejandro G. Inarritu. "I thought that few people in the world had the authority to talk about that, being that Michael was a pioneer of those global superhero roles," he said at the fest's panel with the actors. "And having some time and perspective about it, I thought his knowledge and experience would give something very powerful to the film."

He continued: "I knew that the tone of the film would be extraordinary difficult to get. I needed an actor who had the very rare ability to navigate between drama and comedy. Without him, I don’t think this film could have been made. … It’s not a choice. There was no option. He was the one that I needed, and I was very lucky to encounter his trust. He made possible this film."

Keaton admits that his Batman portrayal gave him the strength to drive the role and create an accurate character. "The obstacle is always the same: Who is this person, and am I telling the truth every time?" he said, also praising the Batman director for bringing him into the realm of superheroes: "Tim Burton was truly the pioneer. Tim Burton changed everything in that world."

The Birdman role comes a long way from Batman 25 years later. "I love that this movie is so bold and courageous and everybody gets it. He’s an equal opportunity offender,” said Keaton. "My character is wonderfully pathetic, and at the same time, noble. Every one of these actors and their characters are exposed. Everybody here is exposed."

The actor also joked about the film marking his comeback. "I keep hearing people say things like '50 is the new 40. 60 is the new 50.' You know what you never want to hear? 'Hey, 80 is the new 76.' Big f—ing deal. There is a point where that doesn’t work anymore."

"I think Keaton proved that 60 is the new 59," quipped co-star Edward Norton.

Twitter: @Aristonla