It's been many years since Michael Keaton had to do press for a film during production, and even more years since he's suited up in a blockbuster superhero film. In the back half of our day on the Atlanta set of Spider-Man: Homecoming last August we visited the workshop of Keaton's antagonist character Adrian Toomes a.k.a. Vulture.
The best way to describe this warehouse set is the Batcave meets Stark lab but with more guns, Sony-branded TVs, and less of a budget.
We saw Keaton shooting a scene in an adjacent room with Tom Holland who at the time was wearing his homemade Spider-Man suit instead of his high-tech costume made by Tony Stark. This scene is their first confrontation and after a few takes we got to speak to Keaton who didn't miss a beat.
Tell us about the Vulture.
Michael Keaton: Can't tell you. I'm not allowed.
Okay, tell us about Adrian Toomes then.
Michael Keaton: I can only tell you--you know this is a little bit learning as I go along. Yeah, you're going to probably go away a little bit angry but they're very secretive...
As Keaton says this he turns to onset unit publicist John Pisani - who works on most Marvel Studios projects - and asks "is 'secretive" the word?" to which Pisani replies "Yes. Top secret."
Michael Keaton: Top secret about it. And also, I don't want to give away too much because the approach that Jon has chosen - the director Jon [Watts] - is a really interesting one, and kind of risky. Which was appealing because - this will kind of give you something - he (Adrian Toomes) is somewhat of a victim. He takes things in that he feels like a victim, and some of it is justified actually. He believes that there's an upper echelon of society of people who are getting away with a lot and have everything. And there's a whole lot of folks who are working hard, and don't have much. Does that sound familiar? To anybody, given the political climate? Which I think is an interesting way to go about this.
Well, they gave us the rundown. We know that he's a salvage guy. We know that he gets the job snaked from him by Department of Damage Control, and that he resents the DDC and Stark.
Michael Keaton: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's pretty much it. He runs salvage. He's a working guy. He's built this business, this company. He works hard. And they took it from him.
We were in his hideout over there, and there's kid's drawings on the fridge.
Michael Keaton: Mmhm.
I feel like this is the first Marvel villain that's a dad, and has kids. I was curious if that makes him one of the more sympathetic villains.
Michael Keaton: I don't know if it makes him sympathetic because you got to see him in the full picture. In fact, I have to see in perspective. These movies are difficult to act in, in a sense that you're kind of imagining where you are in this big giant machine of a movie. But I'm assuming you've talked to Jon about that, about him being what he just said?
Michael Keaton: Yeah. Um, which when Jon talked about it was really interesting to me. Let me put it this way, his approach - I'm not being coy. I'm just trying to be respectful for what these guys are all making. I'm just here to do the gig, you know? But when I talked to Jon, and he started talking about the character, I found that--I found it an interesting way to go, and kind of a gutsy way to do it, instead of probably going down a path that other directors and villains have gone down before.
It was initially reported that you were reluctant to take on another superhero role.
Keaton dramatically shakes his head to deny what producer Amy Pascal had told us previously in the day before making a joke about it.
[Laughs] Tom was just here, and he said that from when he first read the script your character has changed the most. I was wondering if you were influential in molding that character, or how you affected the changes.
Michael Keaton: Honestly, I don't know. I'm kind of sorry to hear that. It does change a lot. I think a lot of the changing is as he (Watts) sees it, because these kind of things are so big, it's must be difficult - and then I'll tell you why it's a little bit difficult as an actor - to see the big thing and know what you have to accomplish and how you have to honor the lore of all this stuff, stay respectful and stay accurate, and then tell the story the way he wants to tell, and place things right, and hope the tone's right. So, I kind of had to find it with him after we talked a lot. Well, we talked a little about it, enough about it. And I thought I had the general world, you know? And then when I got here, he started seeing - I think what it is is a combination of him watching me, and going, "Oh, that's kind of interesting." But also - and this is more the case - him saying to me, "I really want to do more of this with him." So I go, "Oh, okay." I adjusted to him a little more than him adjusted to me. I think a lot of it gets adjusted in the writing. I didn't know that I was being adjusted more than anybody else! (Laughs.)
And the thing about me not doing superhero movies, that's not true at all. Movies are movies. You just go. Honestly, it wasn't working out at the time schedule-wise, because I did The Founder. And there will probably be a little promotion for that. And I'm starting to work on American Assassin. And we thought The Founder was coming out now (late August 2016). And then Harvey [Weinstein] wanted to move it more toward awards season, December. I guess that's what that means. So, no. If something's good and it works in my life schedule or work schedule, I'm open to it. It just wasn't working that way when it was originally set you know.
The Vulture is more of a blue-collar villain than the MCU has seen before.
Michael Keaton: Yeah.
I'm wondering if because of your Pittsburgh roots, did that connect to you in a certain way?
Michael Keaton: Probably, yeah. I would say probably. I'm sympathetic and empathetic and curious about what's going on in the world, and more so right now in the country. This is an evident situation that's existed for a long time, without making too big a deal out of it. I think it's a really interesting approach. I don't want to - I like it. I hope it doesn't lead into the kind of… So since we know there's a clear gap in fairness. There just is in equity. In a lot of ways, economically, racially, blah, blah, blah. It just is. Not blaming anybody, it just is. So then you say, that can be interpreted and misinterpreted and used by a lot of different people. Some people run for office; some people try to gain influence. I generally believe all that's true. It's just, which one is the person who is accurately turning that dial and which one is using it as bullshit and lies. So, this is a tricky area to step into. I'm sure it will get mentioned, given when the movie comes out and given when what's going on, what people are talking about. And I'm willing to be representative. I'm just an actor. I'm just playing a role, so even if it is a person I do not like, I would do that. But I hope this isn't interpreted by people who misrepresent this stuff. You know what I mean? If it sounds like I'm dancing around too much with this stuff, I'm only being protected of these guys. Not me.
It's interesting that the Vulture's plan is so rooted in the fallout of the other Marvel movies. So, were you aware of those other movies? Had you seen them?
Michael Keaton: I barely know who the Joker is.
Michael Keaton: I'll tell you my source though. There's two little girls of a gal who used to work for me. I check in with them. One's eight and the other one is eleven or twelve. So when I have to ask a question about all that stuff, I text 'em. They fill me in on who's who. [Laughs] That's my research.
That's the best way to do it, listen to the kids.
Michael Keaton: Yeah, totally.
Can you tell us about the scene you're shooting today? Tom mentioned it's Spider-man's first meeting with Vulture?
Michael Keaton: Yeah. Without giving too much away: this is the first time Tom comes into my area. Yes, it's the first time where he sees - not what I'm about - but he's going to get a sense with what I'm about. Not Tom, Peter/Spider-Man. And this kid is fantastic. I just love him, as a kid, as a guy. He's a good kid, and a talented actor. Really good. Really smart. Has a sense of being funny. Just great. And fit, the kid is really fit.
Can you tell us what you are throwing him in this scene?
Michael Keaton: No, I can't tell you what I'm throwing. I don't think so.
Keaton looks towards John Pisani again who smiles and says "no."
It seems like Toomes has a loyal crew, friends and co-workers--
Michael Keaton: Yeah, that's his crew.
Some of them even get powered up with their own suits and stuff. Can you talk about your loyal compatriots?
Michael Keaton: Well, I think it's an assembly of people he's needed, just hired 'em on, and others that have loyalty. They're his boys, and they are like-minded. They are just his boys, you know? I really like the relationship with the Tinkerer - with Michael (Chernus)'s character. It's great. He's real funny, so we goof around a lot and make up very, very funny backstories. But they're funny but then you think, 'Well, that's probably their relationship. They probably get on each other's nerves sometimes.' I have a lot of the ideas and then I just say, "Go make that. Go make that for me. I want to have a thing that does all this stuff. Just go make that stuff for me." And he's great. I'm having a lot of fun in that relationship.
Michael Keaton: Thanks guys!
A young Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who made his sensational debut in Captain America: Civil War, begins to navigate his newfound identity as the web-slinging super hero in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, Peter returns home, where he lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), under the watchful eye of his new mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Peter tries to fall back into his normal daily routine - distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man - but when the Vulture (Michael Keaton) emerges as a new villain, everything that Peter holds most important will be threatened. Directed by Jon Watts. Produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal. Screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley and Jon Watts & Christopher Ford and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers, Based on the Marvel Comic Book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.