Morelia 2014: Iñárritu Talks BIRDMAN
Alejandro González Iñárritu took some days off from the filming of The Revenant - which is happening in Calgary, Canada - to present Birdman in Morelia. Unfortunately, none of the actors could make the trip due to several compromises, including the film's October 17 release in New York and Los Angeles.
After the screening of Birdman - which for my money is Iñárritu's best since 21 Grams - the Mexican director offered a 50-minute press conference. He discussed several subjects, including casting Michael Keaton, his opinions towards Hollywood's blockbusters, and even Mexico's current state of violence after the student massacre in Iguala (he said violence is consequence of the much profound inequality problem). Read on for the highlights of the Birdman press conference at Morelia.
The theme of BIRDMAN.
In Birdman, Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an actor who was huge in the early nineties due to his performance as the superhero Birdman in three films. After refusing to do the fourth entry, Riggan's career began to decay. His personal life didn't get much better either, as he divorced his wife and his daughter (Emma Stone) eventually went into rehab. Planning a comeback as a Broadway director/actor, with desires of achieving the critical acclaim that being a movie star couldn't bring to him, Riggan is risking all while the Birdman ghost stills haunts him.
"It is a film that explores the nature of identity. The identity is a very complex topic in a time with so many social networks and a big necessity for validation. The whole society is infected by the popularity decease. The character of Michael Keaton carries this identity crisis and he needs the validation of a critic and the applause of the audience. The ego is what makes us vulnerable", said Iñárritu.
The casting of Michael Keaton.
Riggan is certainly a character that resembles a whole lot to Keaton himself. If Keaton paved the way for the likes of Iron Man's Robert Downey Jr., then in the film it was Riggan who did it. It's great fun and for Iñárritu, laughing at themselves was a helpful experience.
"When we were writing the script I always thought in Michael Keaton as an option, but he was not the only one. When we finished it, I realized he was the best option.
"It's undeniable that for me the meta reality thing that Keaton adds was important. Edward Norton too as he - like his character - is a difficult actor and has done theater in New York. I liked those coincidences as part of the dumb side of the film, the popular lecture. But I would not have made a film only to comment on that.
"Keaton was one of the few persons that could handle the mixture of drama and comedy. He has a brutal capacity and a big self-esteem. If you are insecure and can't laugh at yourself, you just can't do a film like this one. We all laughed at ourselves. It was therapy for us."
The influence of Raymond Carver.
Birdman opens with a poem by Raymond Carver, plus the play that Riggan is directing is actually an adaptation of Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Iñárritu commented on that:
"The Raymond Carver poem that I put at the beginning of the film is the last one he wrote when he was 50, two months before dying. It's a beautiful poem that says, did you find in life what you needed? Yes, the only thing I needed was to feel beloved.
"Nowadays is very easy to confuse real, profound love with the admiration, the popularity, the validation."
Meeting Mike Nichols before shooting the film.
Just like Riggan's theater adaptation of Carver, the filming of Birdman was an extremely ambitious project that could have gone wrong at any time. Iñárritu said he was very excited for the film's concept, but he had also many doubts and fears. And talking with The Graduate director Mike Nichols prior the shooting of Birdman brought to Iñárritu both fear and confidence.
"I went to eat with director Mike Nichols in New York and talked with him about the concept of Birdman. He stopped eating and said, Alejandro, stop now, you're heading towards disaster with a comedy done in a single take, it's stupid, you need to work with theater people.
"I came out shaken and thought, maybe he is right. And maybe he was right, because he is savvy. All of those things makes you being alert and therefore you are more creative."
Iñárritu vs. the corporations that control Hollywood.
New York's top theater critic in Birdman dismisses Riggan's movie star past. The inside voice of Riggan himself has not many compliments for the current popcorn movies either, while Norton's character says there's a cultural genocide nowadays. Is that what Iñárritu really thinks?
"Many of today's pop culture is operated by the big corporations that are only interested in making money. That's why I say it is a cultural genocide. I do think that. There's nothing wrong in watching two guys in disguise beating the shit out of each other (referring to superhero or action movies). I have no problem with that and it's fun, but when everything is about that, occupying a massive space, and the cynicism of their creators, that's really dangerous", said the director.