Michael Keaton Worked Intimately With His Real-Life ‘Spotlight’ Character To Hone His Performance

Michael Keaton plays a pivotal role in the movie Spotlight, which has been nominated for six Academy Awards this year, including the coveted Best Picture award, reports People.

The film is loosely based on real-life events that occurred 13 years ago, revolving around a team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe who work together to expose a mass cover-up perpetuated by the Catholic Church of pedophilia and other child sex offences by more than 70 priests in the local area.

KEYT reports that Michael Keyes appeared alongside Spotlight co-star Rachel McAdams at the Santa Barbara film Festival on Friday, February 5, where fans numbering in the hundreds gathered outside the Arlington theatre to catch a glimpse of the film’s stars. Mark Ruffalo, another of Michael Keaton’s co-stars in the film, was scheduled to appear but had to cancel on short notice, citing a family emergency.

Michael Keaton plays the role of Walter “Robbie” Robinson, a journalist working for the Boston Globe at the time that the scandal broke. The Hindu reports that Michael Keaton spoke candidly in an interview about the particular challenges faced when performing a role based on a real person and real events.

Mentioning his role as Ray Kroc, who calls himself the founder of McDonald’s in the film The Founder, as well as his role of James Angleton, chief of the CIA’s counterintelligence staff for 21 years from 1954, in The Company, Michael Keaton likened those roles to his most recent role as Walter “Robbie” Robinson in Spotlight.

“You are… limited by what is and what isn’t. Robbie does play golf, he does have a sister… You have all the information. But you have to be accurate, especially in this case. The facts are the facts, which I think makes the job easier. There is a kind of freedom in that.”

Perhaps one aspect of playing the role of Robbie, compared to his other roles that were also based on real events, that gave Michael Keaton that sense of freedom is that he had access to the real-life person he was betraying at all times throughout his preparation and while filming.

In fact, Walter Robinson was even in attendance and also being interviewed while Michael Keaton made these statements. Speaking about the level of involvement that the real-life journalist had in Keaton’s performance, Michael Keaton went so far as to admit that he preferred to have Walter Robinson on set to help with his pronunciation.

“It was really nice to have him on set. Sometimes I would tell him to say a particular word for me so that I could pronounce it correctly and that would remind me of a whole bunch of other things. It wouldn’t be just that one word, but all these other things that would fall into place.”

Apparently, just having the real-life man on the set crucial to helping Michael Key to get into character.

“I would remember how he typed and how he wore his glasses, how things looked… We kind of became reporters. I know it sounds pretentious. But you kind of are a reporter anyway if you are an actor. You need to be curious, you need to find and gather information and present it to people.”

Interestingly, and as People reports, Michael Keaton and his Spotlight co-stars regularly consulted with the real-life people involved in the original story from 13 years ago. In particular, Josh Singer, the screenwriter for Spotlight, met with Phil Saviano, who was raped by a priest as a child and who brought the whole scandal to light when he discovered that the same priest had later been arrested for inappropriately dealing with two other young boys, this time in New Mexico. After Michael Keaton and his co-stars suggested that Josh Singer meet with Saviano, the pair sat down for a three-hour dinner in Boston, during which Saviano shared his story. Following the dinner, Singer supplied Saviano with a copy of the script and asked him to provide his feedback. Saviano replied with three pages of notes, amendments, and suggestions, many of which made it into the final Spotlight script.

Spotlight is one of the front-runners for the Best Picture award at this years Oscars, and it will be interesting to see whether Michael Keaton’s performance has helped the film to cross the line and take home the coveted award.

[Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images]