PARK CITY, Utah — Eager-to-please rookie filmmakers are a dime a dozen at Sundance, but only one can lay claim to a resume that includes an acting stint as the Caped Crusader. This week Michael Keaton came to Sundance with a pet project in tow: “The Merry Gentleman,” his feature-film directing debut. The film, about a suicidal hitman (Keaton) and the unlikely relationship he forms with a woman (Kelly Macdonald) who inadvertently saves his life, features another member of the Keaton clan in an offscreen role. His son, Sean, collaborated on the music with composer Jonathan Sadoff.
Keaton happily chatted with MTV about his new film, what he thinks of the newest Batman, and how he almost starred in “Lost.” All of that, and he’s game for a “Beetlejuice” sequel. Say his name three times if you want it to happen.
MTV: Your film had its world premiere last night. I’d imagine there were some butterflies?
Michael Keaton: I was nervous. I’m usually pretty good in front of a live audience. I usually like that. I was really nervous last night. When you’re the director you’re out there, you’re saying, “This is what I think is good.” Thank God it played. It was a little nerve-wracking. The surprising thing is the response from people in their 20s.They’re digging it, and I don’t really know why.
MTV: You are the merry gentleman of the title. But Frank doesn’t seem very merry to me.
Keaton: Right. [Laughs.] Not by my standards.
MTV: But he is a gentleman.
Keaton: Yes, very much so. He’s actually quite noble.
MTV: And yet, he’s also a killer.
Keaton: Yeah, the merry gentleman … who kills you! [Laughs.] You can’t kill Frank Logan. You can only hope to contain him.
MTV: You worked with your son on this. How did Sean come to work on the soundtrack?
Keaton: Money was being taken away more and more as we were shooting it. When it came to choosing a composer, there was no money. And Sean had introduced me to his friend Jon [Sadoff], who had produced his CD. I said, “Do you guys want to do this?” And they kept getting better and better, coming up with more ideas. They were really cool to work with. Never whining. They were fun to work with.
MTV: It must be especially surreal to have him here with you during this process.
Keaton: It’s been fun having him with me. [I] go, “Where are you going?” And he’s like, “I’m going to do an interview.” “What the f— interview are you doing? [Laughs.] Who are you?”
MTV: I want to take you back to “Batman” for a second. I got a chance to talk to Jack Nicholson recently.
Keaton: That’s fun if you can hang with that stream of consciousness. It’s like reading [Bob] Dylan’s book “Tarantula.” I bought it, and by page 15 I go, “Did I just eat mescaline? This is unbelievable.”
MTV: He told me he’s furious that they didn’t asked him to play the Joker again .
Keaton: No! Is he serious? I’ve got to call him up on that, give him a hard time.
MTV: What’s your take on the latest Batman?
Keaton: I’ve only seen a little piece [of the sequels] here and there since I finished mine, not for any reason except that I didn’t have any real interest. The reason they weren’t interesting was the reason I didn’t want to do them anymore. I read the script [for “Batman Forever”]. I wasn’t into it. But how I wanted to do the third one is what they did in [“Batman Begins”]. I read an article about how they were going about it and I said, “That’s exactly what I thought should be done.” [Christopher Nolan] is so good and [Christian Bale] is so good. I really would like to see [“Batman Begins”]. I’m sure it’s good and I’m sure [“The Dark Knight”] is going to be better.
MTV: Has a superhero film ever come calling with a villain role for you?
Keaton: No, but it would be fun. I don’t think I’d take Jack’s stance on it. I think it’d be fun because those are the roles where you get to chew it up. I’ll always stand by the first [Batman]. Even for its imperfections, people will never know how hard that movie was to do. A lot of that still holds up.
MTV: I skipped school at 13-years-old to see it on opening day.
Keaton: [Shakes hands.] Here’s to truancy!
MTV: Have you talked to Tim Burton lately?
Keaton: I saw him about a year and a half or two years ago. That guy is crazy talented.
MTV: Every once in a while there are rumblings about a “Beetlejuice 2.”
Keaton: A long time ago I said, “Let’s do one more.” And [Burton] kind of wanted to, but the script showed up and it wasn’t really great. So we said, “Let’s not do that,” and then time went by. I always thought that would be fun to do [a sequel].
MTV: Was that the rumored “Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian” script?
Keaton: Yes. I think that’s what it was. I don’t remember. I don’t know if the idea was to just put him in Hawaii with a language with a lot of vowels. Maybe he’s tan.
MTV: There was also talk that you were the initial choice to play Jack on “Lost.” True?
Keaton: Yeah. J.J. [Abrams] called me and he said, “I know you don’t want to do a television show but just hear me out.” Here’s what the idea was: He created this huge setup in the pilot episode with this guy who looks to be the lead or the hero. He has all those earmarks. And then all of a sudden he dies in the middle. I had to go think about it. And what happened was he went to [ABC] and said, “Here’s how it works.” And they said, “Nah.” I think they read it and thought, “No, you’ve got to keep that guy alive.” And then I was out of that.
MTV: They haven’t come calling for a guest spot since?
Keaton: No! I didn’t think about that! What’s not to love [about me] now!
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