The Birdman actors discuss the ballooning gap between blockbusters and micro budgets
When the lead drops out of his Broadway play, fading actor turned director Riggan (Michael Keaton) scrambles to find a replacement. "Find me an actor. A good actor. Philip Seymour Hoffman..." he asks of his producer/agent Jake (Zach Galifianakis). "He’s doing the third Hunger Games." "Michael Fassbender?" "Doing the prequel to the X-Men prequel." With its bristly jabs and meta jokes, Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman pokes fun at Hollywood and its franchise obsession. While Tinseltown continues to churn out sequel upon sequel, edging out room for the once-popular mid-budget, the gap continues to widen between the blockbuster and micro budget blips. In a stroke of genius, Iñárritu cast actors that have also appeared in comic book fare, from Michael Keaton (Batman), Edward Norton (Hulk) and Emma Stone (Spider-Man). Here, the latter two discuss the studios fixation with franchises and what independent cinema means to them.
The film actually appears to critique the way the big franchises are starting to dominate. Do you have any feelings about that?
Edward Norton: One of the things I love about the movie is that the film itself is a rebuttal to a lot of the things it critiques. Also, look, Paul Thomas Anderson's got a new movie (Inherent Vice), Bennett Miller's got a phenomenal movie (Foxcatcher), Richard Linklater's got a great movie (Boyhood), Wes Anderson made another great movie (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Alejandro's done this movie, and that's just in the United States. You can't tell me a lot of good movies aren't being made.
Emma Stone: I think he makes very interesting decisions. I was lucky to get to be a part of this, Spider-Man or not. But me aside, I thought it was pretty brilliantly cast. I just can't imagine anybody but Michael (Keaton) playing that role. It's one of the greatest things I have ever seen.
Edward Norton: Part of the fun of the movie is that it is pretty meta on a whole lot of levels. It doesn't spare anybody and yet there is a lot of compassion in it for everybody. I think it was a very knowing satirical take on Alejandro's part that me, Michael and Emma had done variations on those.
There is a line saying Hollywood is committing cultural genocide. Switching between Birdman and Spider-Man, what is your opinion of that?
Emma Stone: It's really interesting. The only movies that can get financed through a studio now are movies that are under a million dollars or over $200 million. There is no in between. I guess it mirrors our economic system in America: the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. It's a strange place right now.
“The only movies that can get financed are movies that are under a million dollars or over $200 million. I guess it mirrors our economic system in America: the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer” – Emma Stone
Is it getting harder for independent films like the ones you mentioned to find space in cinemas?
Edward Norton: Well those are things that are outside my control. But what I'll say is that when I was a kid, graphic novels were a huge part of my imaginative landscape and they were mythic to me. Do they become the best movies? I don't think so. But some of them have been good. I think it's even more exciting, in some ways, when the Wachowskis just make up The Matrix from whole cloth. The ones that aren't good don't necessarily invalidate the notion that these types of films could really be something, and hold a place in people's heads that's meaningful.
Emma Stone: Independent financing is creating great movies like Birdman, and movies that are in between, that aren't tiny or enormous. I have been part of two Spider-Man movies and it's a different animal. But the process feels the same as an actor. The sets are much bigger and obviously there's a green screen and the things that you're wrestling with are different, physically. But emotionally, it's a similar process. It's just the aftermath that feels so stark. The press tour feels totally different.
Is there a positive in the sense that you can use your fame to get smaller films made?
Emma Stone: I don't know how much my involvement helped or hurt Birdman. I don't want to know. I'm just happy I got to be in it. And got to learn and work with somebody like Alejandro, and people like Michael and Edward, the whole cast. So I don't really keep that forward in my consciousness. I feel lucky that I was part of something if it can help in any way. But it's also mildly upsetting. You hope that your involvement isn't just to do with that.
What is important to you when you take a role and whether you do a studio or an independent film?
Emma Stone: My first movie was with Sony and it just happened that after three years of auditioning, my first movie was a studio movie, which was Superbad. I've done a lot of movies at that studio and just recently have been involved in more independent things. On big movies, people are there for many different reasons, whether it's to tell a story that they're really interested in telling, to make a certain amount of money to sustain their family lives, to showcase something in themselves, whereas when you're working on a smaller movie you're there for one common goal, which is to tell the story of that director or that writer.
Was it a conscious decision to move into independent films?
Emma Stone: I think as you grow your dreams grow, or things rise as you are given more opportunities in life. I finally understood how great it is to be scared and how rewarding it is to dive into your fear and to really just not feel super happy all of the time. I thought that being happy meant you were doing something right. But I think being honest means you are doing something right. But that is, I guess, may be just growing up. You realise that the highest premium shouldn't just be on feeling joy all the time. You should be feeling authentic.
Birdman is out in cinemas January 1