Santa Barbara Fest: Danny DeVito and Other Friends Pay Tribute to Michael Keaton

The 63-year-old best actor Oscar nominee, who already has Golden Globe and Critics' Choice honors under his belt, was feted as a Modern Master, SBIFF's highest honor.
Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
Michael Keaton at the Santa Barbara Film Fest.

"Wow, I think I'm gonna pass out," Birdman star Michael Keaton said as he took the stage at Santa Barbara's historic Arlington Theatre on Saturday night as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's two-hour tribute to him. A montage celebrating the highlights of his 30-plus year screen career had just unspooled, after which the audience erupted in a thunderous ovation. "This is overwhelming," the best actor Oscar nominee managed to say before taking a seat opposite film critic Leonard Maltin, who has moderated SBIFF's Modern Master tributes for 25 years — and for whom the award that Keaton was there to receive was renamed before the end of the evening.

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A number of his friends and colleagues helped SBIFF celebrate the 63-year-old veteran — some in-person, others via video. His Multiplicity co-star Andie MacDowell, who was in the house, called him "an inspiration and a friend" and emphasized, "Michael Keaton has balls." His Montana neighbor Jeff Bridges, who appeared on video, excitedly proclaimed, while swiveling in a chair, what a fan he is of "Birdmaaaaaaaaan." Keaton's Beetlejuice co-star Winona Ryder, speaking from Sundance, said, "I cannot tell you how many times I've heard people not being able to decide what their favorite Michael Keaton movie is because there are so many great ones." Robert Duvall, his co-star in 2000's A Shot at Glory, added via video, "You deserve all of the accolades you've been getting for this wonderful part in Birdman — it's an interesting journey you've had from Batman to Birdman." Birdman director, Alejandro G. Inarritu, weighed in remotely, "You got naked — physically, spiritually and emotionally … and you did everything in long, long, long takes … and made us laugh and cry." And his Batman co-star Danny DeVito made a surprise appearance, telling Keaton, "You've done everything. … It's just amazing, your career. And in Birdman, which was a knockout performance, you played one of the most difficult roles for an actor to play: an actor."

Keaton, meanwhile, described Birdman — in which he plays an aging movie star whose life and career are rapidly spiraling out of control, and who tries to rectify the situation by mounting a Broadway production in which he will also star — as "so cinematic and visual on so many levels," adding, to laughter, "When I saw it, I didn't quite know what I saw, and I'm in the film!" He reflected, "I kinda don't know how we did it. I don't know how it got done in 29 days for not a lot of money."

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The actor also discussed picking a professional last name at random after his real name was already taken by Michael Douglas, saying, "It's really handy 'cause I only use it professionally — I only use it for a gig or a job, so honestly it really kept things clear: That's my job, and this is my life." He also talked of performing stand-up in New York alongside Larry David before either were famous; his memorable entrance into the 1982 film Night Shift, which made him a star; his first real dramatic part, in 1988's Clean and Sober; amping up his energy level in Beetlejuice "to see if I could maintain it"; the uproar over his casting as Batman and putting on the costume ("We didn't even know if the suit was gonna work. It kind of didn't the first couple of days. … I'm claustrophobic"); and how Inarritu asked him to model the Birdman character's voice over the voice that he used as Batman.

By the end of the night — which culminated with personal remarks from SBIFF festival director Roger Durling, who used to serve Keaton coffee at a cafe he owned, followed by DeVito's remarks — Keaton was even more moved than he was when he first took the stage. "Thank you for a wonderful night," he told the hosts and the crowd.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg