Michael Keaton Admits His One Surprising Regret With Batman

And it’s hilarious.

Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman
Warner Bros. Pictures

Back when he was gearing up to play the Caped Crusader, Robert Pattinson caught a bit of flack from the comic book community for absconding his training for The Batman. Pattinson joked to GQ about ignoring his personal trainer — and made plain his distaste for gym culture.

“Literally, I’m just barely doing anything,” the actor told GQ. “I think if you’re working out all the time, you’re part of the problem ... You set a precedent. No one was doing this in the ’70s. Even James Dean — he wasn’t exactly ripped.”

Pattinson’s grungy Bruce Wayne didn’t turn out all that ripped either, which does set him apart from every Batman that’s come before. Still, it’s not like he wasn’t bulking up at all. “You’re playing Batman. You have to work out,” he’d later tell MovieMaker. Actors have to strike a tricky balance in order to reach the ideal physicality — a lesson that Michael Keaton learned the hard way.

Jack Nicholson couldn’t understand why Keaton would bulk up so much for Batman, and in hindsight, Keaton knows he was right.

Murray Close/Moviepix/Getty Images

Keaton transformed into the Bat in the late ‘80s, an era of braggadocios weight training and impossibly-swole physiques. A lot of actors were chasing the impossible standards trademarked by Schwarzenegger and Stallone — and for Tim Burton’s Batman, Keaton was doing the same.

“I was training to be really fit,” the actor told GQ in a career retrospective. “One day, Jack Nicholson walked by me — we were just starting to shoot, and I was working on this bag ... And he walks by me and goes, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘You know, just working out.’”

Nicholson, who’d played opposite Keaton as the Joker, couldn’t understand why Keaton was training so hard for the role. Turns out his instincts were correct.

“I approached it totally wrong,” Keaton admitted. By the time he’d bulked up, his costume was too tight for his new physique: “It’s better to be really small and little and thin inside the thing. You can move. You can breathe. There’s room inside.”

Keaton worked hard to get the physicality of Batman right — but he relished in building out his alter ego.

Warner Bros. Pictures

In hindsight, Keaton might have underestimated the power of the suit on its own. “It took me a long time to realize, when I just did The Flash, just how stupid I could be,” Keaton said. “That [suit] will get you three-quarters of the way there.” (It does, after all, come with muscles built in.) “Work the suit, baby. Just work the suit.”

Becoming Batman was a difficult, “physical” process for the actor; he might have had a bit more fun fleshing out Bruce Wayne as a character. “What I never talked about really, which was easy, was [exploring] Bruce Wayne. Who’s Bruce Wayne?” He and Burton drew heavily on Frank Miller’s interpretation of the character, but the duo also wanted to find the comedy in an otherwise tragic character.

“He was so not cool,” Keaton says of his take on Bruce. That was part of what set his version apart, and a large reason why fans still regard his Batman as one of the best. He might have made a crucial mistake in working out a bit too hard, but he definitely made up for any discomfort whenever he stepped out of the suit.

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