Michael: Well, now it's become a thing. At first I joked about it years ago, like he'd ask, "Can I come out there with you and your brothers?" And I said, "No." And he laughed, but of course, I would've loved it if he would come, he would be so fun to have. But after a while, you just gave up on him. I've invited him to my house, to parties and stuff, but I don't even bother anymore. But now I understand he kind of goes out. But it got to be a joke, it's a joke not to invite him.
Daniel: I don't know, it seems like he might be interested in that, with McGuane and Brokaw and you, that might actually bring him out, I would think.
Michael: Well, we might give him a trial period. He said to me, "You know, I used to fly over places like Montana, and I would think to myself, Who in the world would ever want to live there? and now, when I fly over, I think to myself, Who would not want to live there?" He's very happy out there, which is nice.
Daniel: Is that how you knew Letterman originally, when you were both starting, doing stand-up? Or did you meet on that Mary Tyler Moore variety show?
Michael: The first time I saw him was at The Comedy Store [in Los Angeles], you know, it was clear — like Larry David — that this guy's really funny. Kind of that great combination of witty and kind of silly-slash-dumb-slash-smart, like Steve Martin. We got to know each other because I always thought he was good, and I guess he must have thought I was good, then we were both living in the valley, so occasionally we would go out and shoot basketball or play tennis, hang out a little bit.
Daniel: So when you guys were on that Mary Tyler Moore show together, was that just a coincidence?6
Michael: Yeah, that was a coincidence.
Daniel: In my memory you guys both seemed pretty flirty with Mary on the show.
Michael: [laughs] I know that he definitely was. I'm sure I was. Yeah.
Daniel: Let's talk a little sports. Being a Pittsburgh guy: Steelers, Penguins, Pirates … how many games a year do you watch?
Michael: I'll probably watch more Pirates games now — they're actually having a pretty decent season — than I did even 10 years ago, because you can access all these games now.
Daniel: But it's not like you have to watch every day.
Michael: No, not at all. But I definitely check the box score every day. And the Penguins, I see as many as I can — because you can see them now, too. If you're a dope like me, you get every sports channel you can get. I'm watching, you know, Netherlands soccer.
Daniel: I guess that could be transfixing, too, in its own little meditative way. I mean, really, if you think about it, all sports can be …
Michael: But how sad is it that at some point, you say, "Hey man, Netherlands look good this year," and — what? How do I even know that? When did this happen? Actually, this is my favorite Jack Nicholson story. He's a very big sports fan, and obviously a legitimately knowledgeable basketball fan …
Michael: So here's the best Nicholson sports story. So you know we're in London — we were doing Batman — it wasn't like it is now. There just wasn't a lot to watch. But they did televise darts.
Daniel: Oh, yeah, I actually know that.
Michael: So one morning Nicholson comes in, sits in the makeup chair. In his contract, he says, "I don't show up for makeup until at least 9." And you know, you're normally showing up at 6, 6:30, 7, just to get the day started. But he, very wisely, very professionally, said, "I'm just going to tell you. I'll work later, but I'm not a morning guy."
Daniel: OK … shocker.
Michael: [laughing] He'd show up in the morning, and you would have no idea what he'd look like that day — I actually would get excited and wait for him — I so looked forward to what he'd look like when he came in. But then he'd come in, sit in his makeup chair, and then just go to sleep. Because for the Joker, it's a lot of work. And I swear to God, he's such a sports fan, one morning he comes in and I say "Good morning, Jack" — and he calls me Keats — he goes, [doing a killer Nicholson] "Good morning, Keats," and sits down like this [lifting both eyebrows] and says, "Pretty damn good darts tournament last night." And then falls dead asleep.
Daniel: You still see him ever?
Michael: I still see him now and then. I'm talking to him about a project right now, but I don't really hang out with him. We don't really lead similar lifestyles …
Daniel: Do you think the project will come together?
Michael: Actually, I don't. I'm directing this movie, and I shouldn't say this, but I'm actually being very realistic, I think he's being very, very, very particular about what he wants to do now. He's not 29 years old anymore, and he just passed on a Nancy Meyers project. She's a very successful director, and he just said no to her. This is even a smaller budget project, and my guess is he's going to say, "I love ya, but I'm not really doing that right now." Now I could be wrong, but —
Daniel: You know, I wasn't even going to bring up the Batman stuff, but since you brought it up, I'm going to ask you a question.
Daniel: First of all, I think what people don't realize is that when you were chosen as Batman, people were outraged, right?
Michael: [laughing] I know.
Daniel: Were you aware of that at the time?
Michael: I wasn't at the beginning, then I was made aware. Why would anyone get this excited about that?
Daniel: Well, comic book geeks are, you know, a different breed of animal.
Michael: I don't get the importance. I was doing an interview, and the guy was going on and on about it, and finally I said, "Did you read the paper this morning?" And I wasn't being a smart ass, I was just being real. And he goes, he just said yes or no, I don't know. I said, "Do you know there are bodies literally, literally like a logjam floating down rivers in Rwanda right now from being hacked up and killed — right now?" and he goes, "Oh, that's terrible … " And I'm like, "Who gives a fuck who's going to be Batman?"
Michael: I was just shocked — not shocked like "I'm above it, what's the matter with you people?" ... I literally don't get —
Daniel: Yeah, well, does that affect you, what people say? Because then you went on to become the quintessential Batman, and everyone loved it. Or do you go, "Fuck them?"
Michael: It affects me for about 25 minutes then I go "Fuck them" for about the rest of my life.
Daniel: Tim Burton had this sort of interesting response to this whole thing. He said you were "the only person he could think of that had the darkly obsessive personality necessary … " which seemed to me like the most backhanded compliment ever, no?
Michael: It's beyond backhanded.
Daniel: I mean, I guess Burton probably felt like he knew you from Beetlejuice.
Michael: Beetlejuice was a romp, man. Beetlejuice was fun. I've never had so much fun in my life. He and I used to laugh a lot, when we were on the tour. I think that maybe when I laugh, or I make jokes about things, it's smart ass or funny or twisted.
Daniel: Well, I guess then I could see "flip," but "darkly obsessive?"
Michael: Well, he and I also came from really, really different backgrounds, and so —
Daniel: Actually, he seems more the darkly obsessive one.
Michael: Yes, he is darkly obsessive.
Daniel: Definitely more than you. Will you do a movie with him again ever?
Michael: I hope so. He's a really talented dude. He's totally original.
Daniel: Well, I definitely feel like I've taken up enough of your time … but if it's OK, I like to close every interview by asking 10 Random Questions. Sort of a Proustian type of thing. All right?
Daniel: OK. (1) Besides "Jackson," did you ever have a nickname?
Michael: Well, for a while, somebody called me Dougie, because of my last name, Douglas — and where I grew up, I was always known as Doug. We all were. All of my brothers, because my dad's name was George Douglas, but my mom called me Dougie. My sister-in-law still calls my oldest brother Dougie, and George was called Doug, and my other brother was called Doug, and I was called Doug.
Daniel: Like the George Foreman family, where everyone was named George.
Michael: [laughs] Yeah, that's right. It was very similar. Our panini machines never took off, though.
Daniel: [laughs] Right. (2) How about the most memorable telephone call of your life?
Michael: Wow. That's a really good one. Well, there's one that's not good, I won't talk about that one. Most memorable phone call wow, that is really good. I have to come back to that one because I'm thinking, I'm remembering a lot now. Uh, you can't say the birth of your kid because I was literally there. Nobody had to call me.
Daniel: Any one life-changing phone call?
Michael: Well, yeah, one, unfortunately, I was informed of somebody really, really close to me, you know, was extremely sick.
Daniel: That's sort of the bad part of that question, I guess.
Michael: Yeah, because that's the truth, though. I guess I'll just answer you honestly instead of trying to be funny. Unfortunately that didn't happen all that long ago. That was a life-changer, that was literally a life-changer. That was huge. But there were happy ones — a lot of happy ones.
Michael: Boy, was that a great question, though. Have you asked that question before?
Michael: Boy, you can hang your hat on that one. You ought to ask that one a lot, because that really makes you think. I've never been asked that. That's rare, that there's a question I've never been asked.
Daniel: Well, I'm flattered.
Michael: Hang on to that one.
Daniel: I have a lot of dumb ones coming up soon, so hold on.
Michael: Well, I'm not saying it's not dumb. Don't get confused. I said it was a good one.
Daniel: All right. (3) You ever meet a president?
Michael: Clinton and Obama and uh didn't meet Carter. Clinton and Obama.
Michael: Yeah, first words out of Obama's mouth — and again, I was just meeting the man who was about to become the leader of the free world. He's walking down the hallway, arms outstretched like this to greet me — and his first sentence to me was, "Why don't you make more movies?"
Michael: And you have to backpedal a bit, like, whoa man, I thought we were going to talk about a whole bunch of other stuff.
Daniel: He probably wants to talk about movies; you want to talk about politics.
Michael: Exactly, exactly. He's a huge Beetlejuice fan, a huge fan actually. "Man, you've got to keep making movies, how come you're not doing it?" I had to talk about that for a minute and then say, "Hey I want to talk to you about this environmental thing, [laughs] but by that time, he's thinking, Oh man, that's a drag, I want to talk about movies.
Daniel: All right, (4) Have you ever dated a famous singer?
Michael: I dated a singer, a really nice woman named Rosie Flores, who's a country, kind of country pop girl, she's well-known in certain circles but no, I'm thinking, no. But then I say these things sometimes, and a lot of people will go, "What are you talking about?" then they'll remind me of someone —
Daniel: Like, didn't you and Linda Ronstadt ?
Michael: Right, yeah, yeah. You and Madonna lived together. Oh, yeah, that's right, I forgot.
Daniel: (5) You ever cold-call somebody for a date? You know, somebody you saw on TV or a movie or something?
Michael: Oh wow — no, I would be way too shy to do that.
Daniel: Or have somebody call on your behalf to someone you were taken with?
Michael: I don't think ever. And I always wonder why I never did that.
Daniel: You hear about Nicholson doing that, watching the news and calling up the local news anchor, and —
Daniel: Yeah! Well, not sure if that's true, but I remember hearing that
Michael: Well, good for him! I should live more like that, you know. I don't know why I don't.
Daniel: Do you date, are you dating now?
Michael: Not right now. I was. Somebody for about three or four years. But not right now.
Daniel: You sort of famously went out with Courteney Cox. She's single now, too. And I read a while back she said, "I will always love that guy, he's the love of my life." Do you think you'll —
Michael: I have no idea. I don't think about those things.
Daniel: All right. Sorry, I don't mean to get tabloidy.
Michael: No, no, the people, there were a lot — I was always fascinated why that relationship took precedence in people's minds. I also went out with Michelle Pfeiffer, Padma Lakshmi, lots of other well-known people, so I don't know why that one always comes up.
Daniel: A friend of mine told me he knew you back in the day and said you were quite impressive.
Michael: Well, that's good.
Daniel: But I don't think anyone knew you went out with those two. I certainly didn't see it in my research. Have you talked about them before?
Michael: No, probably not. They're both really kind of private, actually — well, not Padma. Padma's not afraid of attention. I've been out with a lot of women, who are very, very pretty, very, very beautiful — but I would say to everybody that in terms of intelligence, Padma Lakshmi was off the charts. She is so bright.
Daniel: Yeah, she seems it. You could get that vibe from her.
Michael: Yeah, whoof, crazy smart. Crazy smart. I'll tell you something really, really funny. Not about her, but about me, in that relationship because at the time, she was also very good friends, and then years later, ended up going out with and marrying Salman Rushdie, and —
Daniel: So you dated her before Salman Rushdie?
Michael: Yes, and she would tell me, she would say, "You know there's a fatwa against Salman " And so at the time I remember thinking, Whoa, (laughing) I hope no one mistakes me for Salman!
Daniel: Oh my god can you imagine a funnier way to go? Michael Keaton mistaken for Salman Rushdie — killed in mistaken-identity fatwa!
Michael: I mean, I look nothing like the man.
Daniel: OK, and I'm guessing there's no way you'll answer this, but I'll ask anyway: (6) Rate the Batmans in order of your favorites — best to worst.
Michael: You're not going to believe me. I've only seen the first one. The one I did. And, well, most of the second one, because you see it while you're looping. But I've never seen any of the other ones.
Daniel: You've never seen any of the other ones?
Michael: No, I don't see many movies. I don't even see my own movies.
Michael: I've seen bits and pieces of them. Honestly, I'm not just saying this I really kind of want to see the Chris Nolan one, because he's so crazy talented, so I'll keep saying, "I gotta go see that, I gotta go see that," and then like everything I still want to see, fuck, I just forget. There must be a hundred movies out there. I'll say, "I gotta go see that." And then I never get around to seeing them. Or maybe I'll see it later on television. I'm really bad at that. But I will tell you this: Every time I see clips of his movies, they look awesome. This trailer that's out now? Fuck, it looks unbelievable. He's so talented.
Daniel: Yeah, Christopher Nolan.
Michael: And, I will take credit for this, though: The third Batman didn't happen because I said this is not good, this is just not good.
Daniel: You were right.
Michael: And I said, "So let's make it good," and I run up against this resistance, and I said, "OK, I ain't doing it, man, I just won't do it." And they didn't believe me, but I said, "No, I'm really not doing it "
Daniel: I know — I heard they backed the truck up. I read the whole story. Fifteen million bucks they offer you, and you just said screw it, no.
Michael: Yeah, that was it. Anyway, so I just said no.
Daniel: Did you talk about Batman with (George) Clooney when you were in Out of Sight?
Michael: No, I don't. But he does. He brings it up all the time. And I really like George, by the way, he's a really underappreciated light comedian, I think.
Daniel: But he likes to talk about it?
Michael: No, I've only hung out with him twice, I think, in my life. And he occasionally did say things, and I just had no idea what he was talking about. He'd say, "Hey, it's for the brotherhood," and I'd go, "Yeah!" and I'd go, [whispering] "What brotherhood?" And he's done it for years. My hand to God this is true, he'd go, "Boy, that was really something," and I'd go, "Sure was," and I'd go, [whispering] "What?" And honest to God, years later, I'd hear him mention it again, and I'd go, "Oh! That's what he meant." I didn't even know he did it. I forgot he did it. But what's his name, uh, Christian
Daniel: Christian Bale?
Michael: who's awesome. From there on, Val Kilmer I haven't seen him do it, but just looking at clips, or I'll see something on television really quick, or I'll catch a scene — and what's interesting is, this is one of those interesting characters on the screen, in terms of pop movies. And I remember saying, we have to go back — forget the direction you're going, I don't want to do that. Let's go back — and even though we kind of knew how he got there, how did we get here, and let's ramp it back up. We have the chance to make this guy even better. Because the first one — when you consider all the obstacles — was really well done, that Tim (Burton) did. And then now, let's go, like, up from there. Like the second one was pretty good, OK, and this third one was, like, undoable for me. And that's exactly what Chris Nolan did. He did exactly what I said we should do —
Daniel: Joel Schumacher went silly on it.
Michael: Man, it's just so intrinsic, it's so inherently interesting, actually. And I'm not even like a comic book guy, and I never was as a kid even, but I found potentially that it was really interesting. And the thing I saw, I didn't see this either, but I saw a couple of scenes, but the thing Heath Ledger did? Dude. Forget about it. That was unbelievable. That's genius. My mouth hung open.
Daniel: Yeah, he definitely seemed touched in those scenes almost.
Michael: Man, it was awesome, and I didn't even see all of that.
Daniel: It's interesting that you're not even curious.
Michael: I swear to God, I'm not that curious. And sometimes I go, come on, man, what are you doing, you gotta see this. And I'll say, yeah, I'll get around to it. And then like I never get around to it.
Daniel: Yeah, but I guess because you're so immersed in it that you probably want to break from it almost. (7) What are your favorite movies?
Michael: The kinds of movies that I'm intrigued by now are — movies I love — have you ever seen this movie called A Prophet?
Daniel: Oh, yeah. That's a great movie.
Michael: Brilliant. Or City of God, or —
Daniel: City of God is one of my top five, definitely. That was a life-changing movie, for sure.
Michael: For sure. Or Gomorrah? Have you seen Gomorrah?
Daniel: I have not.
Michael: Dude, rent Gomorrah. It's awesome. So those kinds of movies where I see people I've never seen before, and I get caught up in the story — they're just like raw and real — that kind of — those Belgian brothers who directed L'Enfant.
Daniel: Which movie?
Michael: That movie called L'Enfant — "The Child" — it's a really interesting way they do that. The way they direct. That kind of stuff, the way it draws you into worlds — that's what I find the most exciting kind of cinema to me.
Daniel: (8) When was the last time you caught one of your own movies on TV — and did you watch it?
Michael: Almost never, and unfortunately, last night I came home, and I was really tired, and I was clicking around looking for something specific — I'm a big Veep fan.
Daniel: Yeah, great show. Smart, funny
Michael: Isn't it great? Yeah, I love that show. And I thought I might catch a rerun on HBO, and I didn't, so I was clicking around, I can never seem to catch it. But then I saw The Other Guys was on, and I thought, Oh, man — I really had fun working on that movie, even though I just did a little thing. But I was too tired. I thought, I don't want to start watching this; I've got to go bed.
Daniel: Well, you were saying you were trying to catch Veep, do you know how to work a DVR? Or no, not really?
Michael: No. [Both laugh.] I don't.
Daniel: Because that would make your life a lot easier, probably.
Michael: I know, my kid says, "Turn on your DVR," and I go walking around going, "God, I'm embarrassed to ask him how to do it." He has to come over and show me how to do it.
Daniel: I mean, no offense, but they pretty much create these things for idiots, honestly. You just press the button, and it just goes. But maybe that's part of the embarrassment of not knowing how to do it, I guess.
Michael: Yeah, I just want a deal with Fisher-Price where they do everything for me. Fisher-Price DVR, Fisher-Price cars.
Daniel: (9) Do you have an irrational pet peeve?
Michael: Blue cheese.
Daniel: That freaks you out?
Michael: Blue should never be associated with cheese. The color blue doesn't go. The color green could be on it, orange, sure, but blue is weird to me. Also I hate the expression — well, a couple of expressions drive me crazy. One is "no worries" — everyone likes saying "no worries," which is an old Australian expression that Americans have grabbed onto — "No worries" — and it drives me fucking crazy. It's like this cute little slang thing, but what I hate worse is, "Thanks so much." People love to say, "Thanks so much," "Thanks for everything," or "Thank you so much." Because it's really not them saying "I'm grateful." It's them saying, "Look how fabulous I am that I'm so grateful." "Thanks so much." "Can I borrow your pen? Thanks so much. Thank you so much." It's not a loan. I'm not giving you a loan. I'm giving you a fucking number two pencil. Drives me crazy.
Daniel: OK, the final thing I'll ask you, and originally, you know, this was going to be a dinner, so I feel I should ask you a food question: (10) What would you have as your last meal?
Michael: [pauses] My friend Harry Colomby would say, "If I was on death row, and they served me my last meal, I would eat consommé with a fork."
Daniel: You did tweet about food a lot.
Michael: Yeah, I cook a lot. I love to cook. You know what I'd make? Pheasant cacciatore. Like chicken cacciatore, [but] I'd make it with pheasant.
Daniel: Wow. OK.
Michael: That's probably what it'd be. Or cioppino. And some homemade bread.
Daniel: Great. Perfect. Thanks so much for doing this.
Michael: No, thanks. I enjoyed it. So do you still write stuff?
Daniel: Yeah. But something like this I just do because it's just fun. Talking with interesting people.
Michael: Well, you're good at it.
Daniel: Thanks, that's nice of you to say. It's not a natural thing. I just like the idea of having a real conversation. I said in the first one, I loved Tom Snyder and the rambling conversations he used to have.
Michael: There's nobody doing that now. Charlie Rose is awfully good, but it's Charlie Rose. It's kind of in that, eh, PBS kind of thing. Which is not terrible, but in that article, they were also talking about how Alec, his isn't a blog, his is a podcast —
Michael: So yeah, I'm going to go on Alec's podcast, I've heard it's entertaining.
Daniel: But you know him pretty well, though, no?
Michael: Yeah, well no, I actually don't. I mean, we did Beetlejuice —
Daniel: And you just did 30 Rock with him.
Michael: Yeah, he makes me laugh. He makes me laugh.
Daniel: He's blustery — but in that good way, you know.
Michael: He's extremely charismatic, and really bright, and he's just a lot. I mean, I don't know him well, but he's a lot, and you gotta take everything with a personality. There's a lot with that personality, you know, and there's a lot of good stuff, too. People get the bad stuff. But I laughed the other day when he punched the photographer. That made me laugh.
Daniel: Yeah, I love a guy who will do that. And it's funny, we both read the Times in the morning, but I read the [New York] Post also —
Michael: Excuse me, say what you want about the Post, but it's my guilty pleasure. At a newsstand, I'll seldom buy it, but I'll hang and read it. They have some headlines that kill me. I think they're — sometimes their headlines are stupid, and sometimes I go, "Perfect." Plus, their sports are pretty good.
Daniel: Oh yeah. I love the old guys like Phil Mushnick, who's all cranky and blustery too. It's good. But there's a picture of Alec Baldwin, yesterday, I think in the Post, walking around the city with a bedsheet over his head. He's just walking around — and he runs into Bill Clinton, and there's a picture of him and Bill Clinton and it just gives you an idea of what a day in the life of Alec Baldwin is like. That's what you don't see in the Times: You don't see someone famous in a bedsheet walking the streets. I guess after he punched the photographer, he doesn't want anyone to take the pictures of him, so he's walking around in a bedsheet like a fucking ghost.
Michael: He's gone nuts.
Daniel: I love the guy. He's hilarious.
Michael Keaton's book, Astream: American Writers on Fly Fishing, is available on Amazon.com.
Daniel Kellison (@Danielkellison) is a TV producer/writer and co-founder of Jackhole Industries with partners Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla. Among their many shows, he co-created Crank Yankers and The Man Show, and was the original executive producer of Jimmy Kimmel Live. Before that, he spent eight years as a producer for Late Night with David Letterman and The Late Show with David Letterman. Most recently he has been serving on President Obama's Entertainment Advisory Council — and will soon be announcing a new Comedy channel for Google/YouTube.