Batman’s Michael Keaton Reveals Big Mistake He Made While Playing The Dark Knight, And How Jack Nicholson Helped Him Realize

 Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Batman.
Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Batman.

Although Michael Keaton wasn’t the first actor to play Batman in live-action, he certainly helped boost the character’s profile among the general public and helped kick off the run of theatrical Batman movies that continues to this day. Keaton first portrayed the DC Comics superhero in 1989’s Batman, with the Tim Burton-helmed flick seeing this version of Bruce Wayne’s going up against Jack Nicholson’s Joker. But while the Dark Knight and Clown Prince of Crime are arch-enemies, in real life, Nicholson helped Keaton realized be was making a big mistake while playing Batman.

Keaton stopped by GQ to break down his most iconic characters, with Batman being the first one. Given that Bruce Wayne has to be in peak physical condition to fight Gotham City’s criminals, the actor understandably wanted to get in shape for the role, but that changed after a strange encounter with Nicholson on set:

I was training to be really fit. One day, Jack Nicholson walked by me. We were just starting to shoot and I was working on this bag, and I had been training to get fit. He walked by me and he goes, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'You know, just working out.' He goes, 'What are you doing that for?' I didn't have an answer for him. He just walked off and went to this other trailer.

First off, I like how Jack Nicholson just walked off providing no context for his opinion. That sounds about right for this member of the Batman cast, and certainly there was no need for him to work out to be menacing as The Joker. But as far as Michael Keaton goes, his costar’s comment was enough to make him reevaluate how to tackle the role:

I approached it totally wrong. It's better to be really small and little and thin inside the thing. You can move, you can breathe, there's room inside. I don't know what I was thinking, but I was like, 'I'm an actor, I'm going to do all this stuff.' I mean, it helped in terms of carrying the whole thing around all the time.

The funny thing is that nowadays with superhero movies, it’s practically mandatory for any actor playing a superhero or supervillain to go on a strict exercise and diet regimen to accompany the training they go through for doing action sequences. But following Michael Keaton’s encounter with Jack Nicholson, the former felt that was better for him to keep his normal physique so he’d feel more comfortable in the Batsuit. Of course, this particular costume was pretty stiff compared to the Batman movie costumes that would come later on, so had Keaton bulked up significantly, it surely would have been even awkward wearing that thing than it already was.

This was one of three times that Keaton would play Batman, the second being in 1992’s Batman Returns (which has some interesting behind-the-scenes facts), the third being decades later in 2023’s The Flash, and the fourth being in the unreleased Batgirl. Originally the plan was for Keaton to stick around as the DCEU’s Bruce Wayne, those plans were scrapped, and now the new DC Universe will introduce its own Batman in The Brave and the Bold. Still, Keaton sounds like he’s willing to entertain playing Batman again depending on the opportunity, and he recently went full Bruce Wayne at the Oscars.

Break out your Max subscription if you’d like to view any of Michael Keaton’s released Batman outings or any of the DC movies in order, and continue stopping by CinemaBlend for the biggest updates on the upcoming DC movies.