For Michael Keaton, playing Batman all came down to figuring out what the suit could do for him.
If you go back and watch Keaton's two turns as the Dark Knight now, you might notice a strange physicality, particularly when compared to the way Christian Bale moved in his three Batman movies. You might also notice that the design of the cowl made it so he couldn't exactly turn his head, something that wasn't really addressed in a movie Batsuit until The Dark Knight in 2008. According to Keaton, dealing with the limitations of his Batsuit was, in the end, the thing that helped him define the Batman role.
While promoting the forthcoming RoboCop reboot this week, Keaton addressed the unique difficulties that RoboCop star Joel Kinnaman faced with all that suit work, and hearkened back to his own days of suit work on Batman.
"[Joel] probably won't get credit for the degree of difficulty that was required [to play Robocop]," Keaton said. "A long time ago, when they were asking me when I did the first Batman, I made a joke, but I was actually serious, you know. I just worked the suit, man. I let that suit go to work for me -- and that's kind of what you have to do."
Keaton went on to explain that most of his early time working on the film was spent playing Bruce Wayne, and that he had very little prior knowledge of how the Batsuit was actually going to work with his body. When he finally put it on, he realized he had some kinks to work out.
"So when we got in [the suit], I went, 'Oh, I'm in trouble,'" he said. "Because you couldn't get out of it; the second one, you could kind of get out of, but this thing was wrapped [around me] and it didn't totally work. This whole thing [where I moved my whole body like a statue] came out of -- I mean, I'll take some credit for it, but really, it was practical!"
The need for a very particular kind of movement for Batman became especially clear to Keaton when, while working on an early scene in the suit, he ripped it when he tried to get it to do something it simply couldn't.
"It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f#@$%ng hole over here," he said. "So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!'"
"I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me -- I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it."
So, thanks in part to the stiff neck of his Batsuit and a ripped costume, Keaton crafted a Batman performance that's truly his own.