Michael Keaton on Spotlight, Living Among Grizzly Bears, and Why He Doesn’t Think About Being Cool

Hollywood’s long-lasting leading man succeeded by being himself.

It’s been a good year for Michael Keaton, and it’s about to get better. It started with his Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination for Birdman—his most high-profile and critically acclaimed movie role in more than a decade. And now he’s back with yet another cinematic gem, Spotlight, about the Boston Globe reporters who exposed widespread child sex abuse in the Catholic church. The movie is already getting Oscar buzz. We called Keaton in L.A. to see what he’s planning next.

When Pope Francis visited the U.S. in September and spoke publicly about sexual abuse in the church, was there a part of you that hoped he’d throw out a plug for Spotlight?

I was holding out for it. I tried to get some Spotlight T-shirts to him. I had a box of crew hats sent to the Vatican, but I guess they didn’t get there in time.

You were raised Catholic. Are you a Pope Francis fan?

I’m a big fan, actually, because I feel like he’s moving a giant boulder up a hill, and he’s moving it more than anyone I’ve ever seen. I wish he’d do more. I wish he’d say that priests should be allowed to marry, and women should be allowed to become priests, and we’re going to hunt down and prosecute all the guilty parties involved in the sexual abuse of children in the church. That would be awesome. But for right now, I’ll take what I can get.

You grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. But now you live on a 1,000-acre ranch in Montana. How’d that happen?

From the time I was a kid, I was crazy about anything having to do with the West. I’d look at all of these photos of Montana, and they all seemed so magical and majestic. I just wanted to go west, and I finally did it when I was barely 21. I went off to volunteer at a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Then I hitchhiked to California, and I hitchhiked to Reno, and from there…this sounds weird, but I can’t remember how I got back to Pittsburgh. I have no idea how I managed to find my way home.

The best adventures have occasional blackouts.

Do they? I don’t know about that. But that trip was all it took for me. I just fell in love with the West. I was sold. It was over.

What’s the most badass Wild West experience you’ve had in Montana?

Like what?

Have you ever wrestled a grizzly?

No, but I’ve been within a hundred yards of one. That was terrifying.

How so?

When you’re out hiking, in the middle of nowhere—I was on Hellroaring Creek trail in Yellowstone—and you see one of these animals, you feel very vulnerable. A hundred yards seems like a very short distance. Luckily, the wind was in our favor.

I remember watching Night Shift on HBO when I was a kid, and you were the epitome of cool.

Oh, come on!

I’m being completely serious. Did you not think of yourself as cool?

I didn’t think of myself as anything. I was just an actor.

You’re delusional if you think you weren’t cool.

OK, well, thanks. I guess, to answer your question, if you’re thinking about trying to be cool, you’re pretty much fucked. Hopefully you manage to figure out what a silly thing that is to worry about.

Is Beetlejuice 2 really happening?

It’s not up to me to decide. If Tim Burton wants to do it, obviously I’ll be in. Wouldn’t be a question. If there’s one thing I’d want to do twice, it would probably be that movie.

How do you play Betelgeuse circa 2016? Has he mellowed with age?

He’s probably the same guy, in terms of temperament. But he’s had a lot of work done.

Plastic surgery?

Yeah. And he skimped on it. So it didn’t do much for him. It actually makes him look worse.

Is retirement in your future, or are you going to keep acting into your twilight years?

A few years back, maybe more than that, the answer to that was a pretty definitive no. I had no intention of doing it forever. But now, I don’t know…

You’re on the fence?

It’s not like I’m going back and forth in my head. The only truthful answer I can give you is, that’s a really good question, and I have no fucking idea.

Photos by Serge Leblon