Inarritu interview: Go inside the mind of the man behind 'Birdman'

Published November 6 2014
Updated November 6 2014

Alejandro G. Inarritu is the wind beneath Birdman's wings, the mind and guiding hand behind the movie of the moment and possibly awards season.

Birdman stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up former movie superhero trying to rekindle his career on Broadway adapting a Raymond Carver short story. When asked in a telephone interview why Carver, Inarritu (pronounced ih-NYAR-ee-too) said: "Because it is a bad idea," which tells us everything about Riggan.

Inarritu's ideas are much better, a reason why he leads the Mexican New Wave with last year's Academy Awards darling Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) and fantasy prince Guillermo Del Toro. Inarritu previously earned a best director Oscar nod for Babel and is likely to be in the running again next spring.

Inarritu, 51, speaks English like he makes movies, fractured yet textured if the pieces are patiently sorted. He spoke with the Times about casting Keaton, dropping the name "Gonzalez" from his screen credit and what inspired Birdman.

You've said this movie springs from your ego. How so?

You catch what you're not aware of, how the ego works, how sometimes it misleads you … this dictator, tyrant, this subconscious voice that all of us have. … I thought it would be a good idea to have this struggle of a human being with that abstract thing in a film.

What was the voice telling you?

All my creative processes have always been judged by that guy which never is happy, that always misleads me (by making) me all unhappy with any result I have, like a Torquemada, an inquisitor. No matter what you do you will be (disappointed) all the time. So that's my creative process, always has been. It's tortuous. I'm getting better now, thankfully.

So, making Birdman was liberating?

Absolutely. Like a therapy, you know? When you have something that is bothering you, and then you articulate, take the time to really express it and see it clearly, to recognize. To acknowledge that is already a liberating energy.

When did you know Michael Keaton was right to play Riggan?

Very soon after I finished the script I knew he was the guy because of all the things he (can) bring. Not only the meta reality of it but the talent he has, the ability to go from drama to comedy, to be likable even when he plays a (jerk). A very particular kind of actor I need, and Michael was the only choice. He is to blame that the film is good.

What are the chances that Birdman is too "inside show business" for middle America?

I don't know. The film can be as complicated as you want, a lot of layers, a lot of possibilities to explore, and themes. … At the same time I feel — I hope — the film can be as slight as you want, that you can have a couple of laughs, have fun. … At the ending of the film, (it) can be interpreted as many ways as there are seats in the theater.

Why switch from "Gonzalez" to the letter G in your screen credit?

In hotels every time I make a reservation and they never find my name, they never can pronounce it, it's so long and sometimes they confuse. I thought, "Okay, let's start reducing the complications and just have one second name (like) everybody." So, I put the G just to be there. Always it's very complicated, at the border, in my passport, in the reservations; it's like a mess.

Plus, that's more letters to engrave in an Academy Award.

(Nervous laugh) Well, I … maybe my father will be unhappy but that's the way it is.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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