Interview: Director Alejandro González Iñárritu Unmasks the ‘Birdman’

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Preston Barta // Critic

hr_Birdman_1Following the story of a washed-up actor (a terrific Michael Keaton) who at one time acted as an iconic superhero (Birdman) must sweep over his ego and family issues as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to recover his past fame.

Fresh Fiction had the chance to speak with Alejandro González Iñárritu about directing his latest feature, casting Keaton in the role, and what the film says about our society.

Our review of the film (click here).

Hello, Alejandro. How are you doing today?

Alejandro González Iñárritu: “Very good, thank you very much.”

Great! So, this film is really hyperactive and full of energy. Whenever someone is on screen, like the level of zest they put into the words and the manner of speech is at 110%. How do you communicate to your cast that complex pace, tone and feel that you’ve envisioned in your head?

Iñárritu: “What I try always is to be very specific and try to help them to clarify and simplify things like have a very clear objective. I think every scene has an objective and every character has something that they want to achieve in each scene; and then there’s ways to I will say get that done, the ways to get what they wish that can be different every time. But when you have clear your objective and to try one or two possible ways to get that objective done through an action verse, I will say, I think that simplify and clarify the work not only for me, but for everybody and obviously the cast, so I think that’s the most important thing. It sounds easy, but really to define the action verse of the characters sometimes can be difficult because it can be confusing, but I think when you have cleared that, then you really advance a lot and help them a lot.

For me, obviously, another thing was the faster the better your comedy and to be really playing as if that was a life or death decision, you know what I mean, or somebody really playing honest and full. The stakes are really high, so I think that helped that everybody was really in the wire.”

I wanted to ask you about Michael Keaton’s casting, because in the movie he’s an actor who is overshadowed by a superhero role he played earlier in his career. In real life Keaton is overshadowed by his late 80’s and early 90’s portrayal in Tim Burton’s BATMAN. Was that an intentional casting decision that you made and, if so, why?

Iñárritu: “Well, Keaton, obviously he adds a lot of reality to the film, and that was great, but at the same time he had a lot of authority. He is one of the few persons that has worn that cape and is a pioneer of that superhero thing, but at the same time he has the craft and the range to play in drama and comedy and where very few actors in the world can do that. He played a prick in this film and I need somebody who was adorable, somebody who really you can like and he has that likeness and that lightness to that it was required, so all these things make him the perfect choice for it and obviously the fact that he has been that. He’d add a lot of fun and greatness. I think he was very bold accepting and trusting me in this role.”

Screen shot 2014-10-17 at 2.11.22 PM

Michael Keaton as Riggan in BIRDMAN.

He’s so great in the film. I agree. Was there any cultural critique about our cinematic tendency to, as a society, categorize our idols and our superheroes on the screen, whether it be a superhero or a celebrity, and to think of them in that one role and then to not be able to perceive them in any other way. Is that a critique of how quickly we categorize without thinking of the consequence?

Iñárritu: “I think it’s ambition. We do more to the state of the industry that we are in now, everything is in a way that might shine a light with the cultural genocide. There are a bunch of films that don’t mean nothing; they are not about nothing, but they are just full of explosions and special effects and the superhero in a way is an illusion that doesn’t exist; and they are really tied to that and corporations and hedge funds wants to make money and squeeze money by those things that are in a way poisoning the cinema as a possibility to human expression.

So yes, there’s a view of that with the sense of humor and the celebrity kind of disease that our society now has with the social media. The need of validation and all those things were explored deliberately and, again, approaching it with humor and laugh about it, because they are tragic, but at the same time they can be real fun.”

At what point did Emmanuel Lubezki come on for cinematographer and was he your first choice and can you talk about your relationship with him?

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Michael Keaton and Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu on the set of BIRDMAN.

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Michael Keaton and Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu on the set of BIRDMAN.

Iñárritu: “I have been a friend of [Lubezki] for almost 20 years now. We did some commercials back then in Mexico City and then we did a short film for the Cannes Film Festival like six years ago. And then we shot a couple of Nike commercials together, so I had met him, but never have been working with him in a feature. This is our first collaboration together in a feature and it was amazing. It was great to work with him; he’s a great artist.”

Very cool. I loved the way Lubezki shot it. It’s one long take, and it made me think of Alfred Hitchcock’s ROPE. Can you talk about that visual choice?

Iñárritu: I wanted the long take to make the people really feel the experience of this guy. I think it’s important for every director and every film to choose the point of view, and in this case I wanted a radical point of view and the people wear the shoes of the character and experience his emotions. I thought that was the most effective way to do it.

BIRDMAN opens in theaters on Friday, Oct. 24.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.