[WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the ending of Birdman.]
Alejandro González Iñárritu's Best Picture frontrunner Birdman received a lot of attention for its narrative, which featured Michael Keaton as a washed up actor famous for playing a superhero trying to reclaim his former glory by putting together a stage play. Film buffs could easily draw parallels between Keaton's Riggan Thomson character and his career (he was a former Batman actor), which gave Birdman a meta-comedical angle that many viewers responded to.
Birdman's themes of true artistry vs. commercial popularity are hit home by the script's skewering of the modern Hollywood industry, with Riggan spending a majority of the running time combating his Birdman persona by weighing the pros and cons of grabbing the easy paycheck for Birdman 4 at the height of the superhero craze. Many would agree that the movie made its intentions quite clear through Riggan, but if Iñárittu had his way, the film's conclusion would have solidified its point through a major A-list star.
While on Jeff Goldsmith's Q&A Podcast, Birdman co-writer Alex Dinelaris was on hand to talk about the original ending they had in mind for the film. As opposed to the official finale (which was somewhat ambiguous when it came to Riggan's fate), the one initially discussed would have provided audiences with a clearer picture of what happened. After shooting himself on-stage, Riggan would be shown getting interviewed on a Charlie Rose-type show about the positive reception to his play. Then, things take a satirical turn thanks to Johnny Depp.
"Then the camera prowled like it did the whole film, went back stage through the halls we’ve seen the whole time and we’d get to the dressing room where literally Johnny Depp would be sitting looking in the mirror and putting on his Riggan Thomson wig and then the poster of 'Pirates of the Caribbean 5' would be in the back. In Jack Sparrow’s voice [it would say], ‘What the f*** are we doing here, mate?’ It was going to be the satire of the endless loop of that.”
As for why this ending wasn't used, Dinelaris revealed that the production team could neither get Depp nor the mock Pirates 5 poster, which led them to change things up.
As amusing as this scene might have been, it's understandable why Depp would be reluctant to do it. He's actually in the process of making a real Pirates of the Caribbean 5, and he might not have felt comfortable openly mocking his film choices at this point in his career. This bit could have been perceived as biting the hand that feeds, whereas Keaton's Batman days are far behind him.
Still, it is interesting that Iñárittu even considered using this in his dark comedy. Many viewers would agree that Depp's filmography over the past decade is exactly the kind of thing Birdman bemoans, as he has taken one eccentric role after another following his Best Actor nomination for the first Pirates film in 2003. Those who are familiar with works like Donnie Brasco and Finding Neverland know that he possesses a wide range and would very much like to see him return to character-driven parts instead of his more wacky creations.
And that section of moviegoers may get their wish in due time, since Depp is starring as gangster Whitey Bulger in the biopic Black Mass, which hits theaters this September. With director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) calling the shots and a supporting cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller, and Joel Edgerton, that project is shaping up to be more prestigious than what we've grown accustomed to seeing from Depp.
Time will tell of course, but maybe Black Mass will be Depp's way of proving that he can still be a respectable talent.
Birdman will be on Blu-ray February 17. It is currently available to own on digital.
Source: Jeff Goldsmith