ByErik Arndt, writer at
writer, critic, and fan of stories and all the ways they're told / @proven_fiction
Erik Arndt

It's been about a year since we first saw the latest live-action portrayal of the Joker, and while we're not likely to see anyone but Jared Leto in that role for quite a while, it's still fun to make our own casting for one of the most complicated villains in modern fiction. My top pick? Michael Keaton. Even if Warner Bros was looking for another actor, I doubt the studio would even consider Keaton, since they'd prefer someone younger. Still, I think that Keaton has a lot that he could bring to the role.

5. Keaton Was Batman

First of all, I would love the irony of an actor who famously portrayed the Caped Crusader going on to play his arch-nemesis: the Clown Prince of Crime. Both are iconic characters in their own right, but playing two characters opposite each other in the same franchise would just be fun.

Michael Keaton as Batman in the 1989 film. 'Batman'  [Credit: Warner Bros.]
Michael Keaton as Batman in the 1989 film. 'Batman' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

It's not only a fun idea — someone who understands Batman on a deeper level is more likely to understand the Joker (at least as much as anyone can understand him) better than the average person. If you know what one character fights for and what his weaknesses are, you probably know better than most how to take him down.

If the Joker is the antithesis of Batman, then he fights for what Batman fights against; he expresses himself in all the ways Batman does not. It's a far cry from truly grasping the Joker, but Keaton would at least have a better reference from which to start than most other actors.

4. Keaton Is No Stranger To Villainy

Keaton is no stranger to villain roles. He was the best part of Pacific Heights, crafting a character who's unsettling from the start, then is revealed to be quite devious. He later stared in Desperate Measures as a sociopathic convict. More recently, he played a villain in RoboCop and (as a minor role) in Minions. One could even argue that Ray Kroc was a bad guy in The Founder, despite being the protagonist.

It's a testament to Keaton's versatility that each of those roles is different from the others — sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. In just a couple months, we'll get to see him as the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

3. He's Done Some Nuanced Performances Of Troubled Characters

Even if you don't consider Ray Kroc to be the villain of The Founder, you'd have to admit that he's a troubled character, at the very least. As uncomfortable or frustrating he was for audiences, Keaton's performance was such a pleasure to watch. Kroc was both complex and dynamic, and although he often came on a bit strong, he was never over-the-top or clichéd.

Certainly, one of Michael Keaton's most outstanding roles is that of Riggan Thomson in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), for which Keaton received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. To say that Riggan is unstable would be an understatement. The audience gets to witness a range of emotions through several of Riggan's outbursts, and in the calmer times between, Keaton expertly conveys pain, regret, fear, frustration and despair boiling under the surface.

While the Joker is notably outrageous, there's always something hidden deep within himself that no one can quite put their finger on. Tapping into that is crucial for a good Joker performance.

2. Keaton Can Do Crazy

Some of Michael Keaton's characters have a warped sense of right and wrong, and some of his portrayals are clever and poignant. Then there are his outright crazy roles. Dogberry from Much Ado About Nothing might not exactly be insane, but he was delightfully over-the-top and quirky. In Multiplicity, Number Four was a copy of a copy and thus was far from the brightest lightbulb in the chandelier.

These characters are written to be ridiculous, but it's the physicality that Keaton brings to those roles that makes them so hilarious. He has always brought that to his roles. Even looking back at his first starring role in Night Shift, the mannerisms he uses in certain scenes are reminiscent of Heath Ledger's Joker.

And of course, we can't forget Beetlejuice.

1. Beetlejuice Isn't A Far Step From The Joker

If you've at all seen Beetlejuice, you know this doesn't need much explanation.

One of the great things about the Joker is that there are multiple ways to portray him, meaning that even radically different versions can equally do the character justice. While deciding which aspects of the Joker to highlight can be challenging for a filmmaker, Michael Keaton has the acting chops, depth, versatility and physicality to pull off the character in a number of different ways.

What's your favorite of Michael Keaton's performances? Let us know in the comments.


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