Michael Keaton is a big deal. I mean, the guy is Batman. He helped originate the modern superhero movie with his unique take on Bruce Wayne. But he’s shined in a variety of roles throughout his career, from Mr. Mom to Beetlejuice to Spotlight, and through them all his humanity is always evident. So when news broke that Keaton would be returning to the superhero realm decades after Batman, and in Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: Homecoming no less, I was ecstatic. He’s a tremendously unique talent, and seeing him bring that humanity to a villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a terrific prospect.
Last summer, I visited the set of Spider-Man: Homecoming along with a small group of reporters, and we got to take part in an interview with Keaton during a break in filming a stand-offish scene between his villainous Adrian Toomes (a.k.a. Vulture) and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. During the course of the lively interview, Keaton talked about everything from how the Vulture character changed once he signed on, to the socio-political relevance he sees in the character. Keep in mind this interview was conducted in August 2016, so that should provide some context. Check out the full interview below.
MICHEAL KEATON: Can’t tell you. I’m not allowed.
Okay, tell us about Toomes then.
KEATON: You know this is a little bit learning as I go along. Yeah, you’re going to probably go away a little bit angry but they’re very secretive about it. And also, I don’t want to give away too much because the approach that Jon [Watts] has chosen a really interesting one, and kind of risky. Which was appealing because he’s somewhat of a victim. He takes things in that he feels like a victim, and some of it is justified actually. He believes that there’s an upper echelon of society of people who are getting away with a lot and have everything. And there’s a whole lot of folks who are working hard, and don’t have much. Does that sound familiar to anybody, given the political climate? Which I think is an interesting way to go about this.
Well, they gave us the rundown. We know that he’s a salvage guy. We know that he gets the job snaked from him by DDC, and that he resents the DDC and Stark.
KEATON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s pretty much it. He runs salvage. He’s a working guy. He’s built this business, this company. He works hard. And they took it from him.
We were in his hideout over there, and there’s kid’s drawings on the fridge. I feel like this is the first Marvel villain that’s a dad, and has kids. I was curious if that makes him one of the more sympathetic villains.
KEATON: I don’t know if it makes him sympathetic because you got to see him in the full picture. In fact, I have to see in perspective. These movies are difficult to act in, in a sense that you’re kind of imagining where you are in this big giant machine of a movie. But I’m assuming you’ve talked to Jon about that, about him being what he just said?
KEATON: Yeah. Um, which when Jon talked about it was really interesting to me. Let me put it this way, his approach—I’m not being coy, I’m just trying to be respectful for what these guys are all making. I’m just here to do the gig, you know? But when I talked to Jon, and he started talking about the character, I found it an interesting way to go, and kind of a gutsy way to do it, instead of probably going down a path that other directors and villains have gone down before.
Tom was just here, and he said that from when he first read the script your character has changed the most. I was wondering if you were influential in molding that character, or how you affected the changes.
KEATON: Honestly, I don’t know. I’m kind of sorry to hear that. It does change a lot. I think a lot of the changing is as [Jon] sees it, because these kind of things are so big, it must be difficult. And then I’ll tell you why it’s a little bit difficult as an actor, to see the big thing and know what you have to accomplish and how you have to honor the lore of all this stuff, stay respectful and stay accurate, and then tell the story the way he wants to tell, and place things right, and hope the tone’s right. So, I kind of had to find it with him after we talked a lot. Well, we talked a little about it, enough about it. And I thought I had the general world, you know? And then when I got here, he started seeing—I think what it is a combination of him watching me, and going, “Oh, that’s kind of interesting.” But also—and this is more the case—him saying to me, “I really want to do more of this with him.” So I go, “Oh, okay.” I adjusted to him a little more than he adjusted to me. I think a lot of it gets adjusted in the writing. I didn’t know that I was being adjusted more than anybody else! (Laughs.) And the thing about me not doing superhero movies, that’s not true at all. Movies are movies. You just go. Honestly, it wasn’t working out at the time schedule-wise, because I did The Founder. And there will probably be a little promotion for that. And I’m starting to work on American Assassin. And we thought The Founder was coming out now, and then Harvey wanted to move it more toward awards season, December. I guess that’s what that means. So, no. If something’s good and it works in my life schedule or work schedule, I’m open to it. It just wasn’t working that way when it was originally set you know?
The Vulture is more of a blue-collar villain than the MCU has seen before. I’m wondering if because of your Pittsburgh roots, did that connect to you in a certain way?
KEATON: Probably, yeah. I would say probably. I’m sympathetic and empathetic and curious about what’s going on in the world, and more so right now in the country. This is an evident situation that’s existed for a long time, without making too big a deal out of it. I think it’s a really interesting approach. So since we know there’s a clear gap in fairness. There just is in equity. In a lot of ways, economically, racially, blah, blah, blah. It just is. Not blaming anybody, it just is. So then you say, that can be interpreted and misinterpreted and used by a lot of different people. Some people run for office; some people try to gain influence. I generally believe all that’s true. It’s just, which one is the person who is accurately turning that dial and which one is using it as bullshit and lies? So, this is a tricky area to step into. I’m sure it will get mentioned, given when the movie comes out and given what’s going on, what people are talking about. And I’m willing to be representative. I’m just an actor. I’m just playing a role, so even if it is a person I do not like, I would do that. But I hope this isn’t interpreted by people who misrepresent this stuff. You know what I mean? If it sounds like I’m dancing around too much with this stuff, I’m only being protective of these guys. Not me.
It’s interesting that the Vulture’s plan is so rooted in the fallout of the other Marvel movies. So, were you aware of those other movies? Had you seen them?
KEATON: I barely know who the Joker is (laughter). I’ll tell you my source though. There’s two little girls of a gal who used to work for me. I check in with them. One’s eight and the other one is 11 or 12. So when I have to ask a question about all that stuff, I text ’em. They fill me in on who’s who. That’s my research (laughs).
That’s the best way to do it, listen to the kids.
KEATON: Yeah, totally.
Can you tell us about the scene you’re shooting today? Tom mentioned it’s Spider-Man’s first meeting with Vulture?
KEATON: Yeah. Without giving too much away: this is the first time Tom comes into my area. Yes, it’s the first time where he sees—not what I’m about, but he’s going to get a sense of what I’m about. Not Tom, Peter/Spider-Man. And this kid is fantastic. I just love him, as a kid, as a guy. He’s a good kid, and a talented actor. Really good. Really smart. Has a sense of being funny. Just great. And fit, the kid is really fit.
It seems like Toomes has a loyal crew, friends and co-workers–
KEATON: Yeah, that’s his crew.
Some of them even get powered up with their own suits and stuff. Can you talk about your loyal compatriots?
KEATON: Well, I think it’s an assembly of people he’s needed, just hired ’em on, and others that have loyalty. They’re his boys, and they are like-minded. They are just his boys, you know? I really like the relationship with the Tinkerer, with Michael [Chernus]’s character—it’s great. He’s real funny, so we goof around a lot and make up very, very funny backstories. They’re funny but then you think, “Well, that’s probably their relationship. They probably get on each other’s nerves sometimes.” I have a lot of the ideas and then I just say, “Go make that. Go make that for me. I want to have a thing that does all this stuff. Just go make that stuff for me.” And he’s great. I’m having a lot of fun in that relationship.