When Michael Keaton narrowly missed out on an Oscar for his performance in Birdman at the 2015 Academy Awards, he unknowingly produced one of the most heartbreaking moments of the entire awards season.
Fans of the veteran actor watched as he tried to surreptitiously put his pre-prepared acceptance speech back into his suit jacket after he lost out to The Theory of Everything‘s Eddie Redmayne.
Even after that disappointment, the 65-year-old is not ready to give up his Oscar chances just yet.
The past few years have marked a remarkable career resurgence for the former Batman, starting with Birdman, continuing with 2015’s Spotlight and now possibly culminating in The Founder, in cinemas on Thursday.
In the John Lee Hancock-directed flick, Keaton shows off his ability to fully embrace every character as Ray Kroc, the controversial “founder” of global fast food phenomenon McDonald’s who has startling similarities to US President-elect Donald Trump.
While he’s often credited with building the brand’s massive empire, The Founder paints Kroc as a struggling salesman who stumbled across the innovative restaurant of two Californian brothers and commandeered it as his own.
Based on pre-screenings alone, many are hailing the film as Keaton’s next big shot at an Oscar.
We chatted to him about becoming Ray Kroc, what he’d say to Donald Trump if he had the chance and which of his movies he wishes had gotten more attention.
Who is the most impressive person you’ve ever met?
I know you’ll think I’m kidding but, even though I’ve never met Mother Teresa, I’d have to say you’d have to search very far to find a human being better than her.
You and Donald Trump are stuck in an elevator – what do you say to him?
“Only one of us is getting off this elevator alive and it’s probably me.” [Laughs] No – I’m sorry, that’s too violent.
There are certain things some of [Trump’s] voters say that are not wrong.
I’d say: “If you’re a decent human being and you practice what you preach, everyone has to potential to be forgiven. Why don’t you just apologise for all the things on the list – although we’d have to be in the lift for an hour – and vow to change your point of view and we’ll call it even.”
That said, there are certain things some of [Trump’s] voters say that are not wrong. We live in a world where so few have so much and so many have so little and there’s no justice in that. From a practical standpoint that can’t last and it shouldn’t.
What do you think is the most underrated movie you’ve been in?
It took a lot of people a while to realise how good Multiplicity was and how difficult it was to make at the time – playing all the different characters without having special makeup or fat suits.
I thought The Paper was an awfully good movie, I’m proud of that. And Jackie Brown wasn’t one of Quentin [Tarantino]’s most famous movies but I think it’s one of his best.
What has been the scariest moment of your career so far?
Career-wise, I don’t find anything that scary. There are always ups and downs, I chose a job where that’s the given.
You’ll have mediocre years, you’ll have great years, you’ll have lower-than-mediocre years.
I’ve never been really frightened financially, only because I’m relatively conservative about how I spend my money and I don’t need a lot of things.
Scared to me is physical danger or you’re worried about other people who are in trouble or sick, then I get scared.
What’s the most quintessentially Hollywood thing you’ve ever done?
The whole awards season is nothing but that. There are moments that are almost otherworldly.
Even now, I’m here in Rome shooting this movie [American Assassin] in a great location and you go: ‘This is fantastic! Look at me! I’m in Rome shooting a big fun thriller – how lucky am I?’
What TV show do you watch in your spare time?
I love Veep. Oh man, I love it. But it’s gone from ‘Oh my God this is so funny’, to ‘Oh my God this is so scary’. So few people do satire well and it’s so legitimately witty and intelligent and silly and well-performed.
I also really liked HBO’s The Night Of.
Did you know Australia’s Prime Minister actually used a slogan from a Veep in one of his speeches?
Really? You mean without knowing? (Laughs) Oh, that’s eyebrows.
What book are you reading at the moment?
Oh man, I’m reading this Ann Patchett book [Commonwealth] right now. I just finished Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography and Teddy Roosevelt’s biography.
My kid [Keaton’s 33-year-old son Sean Douglas] gave me The Dog Stars [by Peter Heller] and I can’t read it, I feel too sad. It’s semi-apocalyptic and I’m an avowed environmentalist. I said ‘I don’t think I can take this right now’.
Having played him, do you think Ray Kroc is a good man?
Good is probably relative. I admire his work ethic a lot, his drive, his ambition and his vision. I hate his almost sadistic approach, his greed, his lack of ethics.
But my job is to play a character and not make excuses and beg someone to like me. I want to be a good actor, not to be popular.