As one of the stars of the new “Robocop” reboot, Michael Keaton understands all too well what costar Joel Kinnaman went through in order to play a character who’s confined to a complicated and uncomfortable suit for most of the movie. Back in 1989, when he starred in Tim Burton’s “Batman,” Keaton struggled to get acclimated to the stiff, unforgiving rubber of a suit whose design, at that time, was largely unprecedented. At a Los Angeles press conference for “Robocop,” Keaton offered an anecdote about his earliest days as the Caped Crusader as a show of solidarity for the challenged Kinnaman faced.
“[Joel] probably won’t get credit for the degree of difficulty that was required [to play Robocop],” Keaton said admiringly. “A long time ago, when they were asking me when I did the first ‘Batman,’ I made a joke, but I was actually serious, you know. I just worked the suit, man. I let that suit go to work for me — and that’s kind of what you have to do.”
Keaton said that his own personal anxieties actually helped him get a grasp on how best to play the character — and wear the cowl. “I’m very claustrophobic, and we didn’t even know that the suit was going to work at all until literally, like, I think hours before we were about to start shooting the suit,” he recalled. “We had shot a lot of the Bruce Wayne stuff — which was the key, by the way, it was. I never worried about the Batman thing — the way in was Bruce Wayne, that was it for me. That was it.
“So when we got in [the suit], I went, ‘Oh, I’m in trouble,'” he continued. “Because you couldn’t get out of it; the second one, you could kind of get out of, but this thing was wrapped [around me] and it didn’t totally work.” Keaton explained that ultimately, the limitations of the suit provided him with an interesting subtext for the role, and in a more practical sense, a way to perform the character. “This whole thing [where I moved my whole body like a statue] came out of — I mean, I’ll take some credit for it, but really, it was practical!
“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big fucking hole over here,” he said with a laugh. “So I go, well, I’ve got to get around that, because we’ve got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, ‘You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!'”
“I’m feeling really scared, and then it hit me — I thought, ‘Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.’ I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that’s really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”
Ultimately, Keaton said, this is an example of how actors can often do their best work — whether or not they have to wear 50 pounds of leather and rubber. “You just take all of that stuff, that suit, all of that stuff that suit was giving me, and I said, ‘Oh, I got it — I know how to do this, now,'” he said. “It’s odd how those things happen to actors — that thing you think, ‘I have no idea how to do this,’ [and] something will happen in your life, or something, that comes up and you just kind of get it.
“I don’t know how you get it, but actors are kind of pretty extraordinary in that regard,” he observed, with a laugh. “I think it’s fear.”