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The Advice Jack Nicholson Gave Michael Keaton After Playing Batman That Wouldn’t Fly Today

We hear a lot about Hollywood being a cutthroat place and people struggling to make it out there. But every once in a while we’ll hear stories about big stars passing on their knowledge and taking another actor under their wing. Denzel Washington is one major actor who has spread his knowledge along the way, helping stars like the iconic Tom Hanks. Comparably, apparently, Michael Keaton got some solid advice from Jack Nicholson when they worked together on Batman back in the ‘80s, but it wouldn’t fly these days.

Something pretty special happens when you get a bunch of acting icons together to have a conversation, and The Hollywood Reporter did just that when they put Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Brian Cox, and three other popular actors in a room for their Drama Actor Emmy Roundtable. The stars chatted about a number of things, but when the topic of fatherhood and taking a break from acting to be a present father came up, the conversation shifted to some advice that Keaton received from Jack Nicholson back in the day that doesn’t quite translate to the film industry these days.

Apparently Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton were both under the impression that Batman was a risky movie to make. Their Batman was pretty much the first huge Batman film made, and no one really knew how it would play out. Nicholson apparently told Keaton that if it was a hit, Keaton wouldn’t have to worry about his future in acting if other projects flopped. Since he would have this huge film under his bat suit belt, the flops would pale in comparison. Here’s the story in Keaton’s own words:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, we’re in the car and he’s talking about the movie. And we all knew it was a huge risk, and if it goes down, [I’d be] going down in flames and that’s going to be a big, hard recovery. But I also knew if it worked, it could change my landscape. So Jack says, ‘Keats, if this thing’s a hit, you can go out and do four or five flops and not even worry about it.’ And maybe it wasn’t four or five, but it used to be you got away with three and it didn’t matter. Not now, man. You’ve got one miss, which is fucked up.

Of course, Batman was a huge success and pretty much every Batman film to happen since has its own place (yes, even Batman & Robin, the film everyone loves to hate) in the history of the DC superhero. While Jack Nicolson’s advice was sound when he gave it, he is also an actor who had been in a number of iconic roles at that point (The Shining, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, I could go on for a while). His great heavily outweighs his not-so-bad. 

These days, though, the public is very involved in the career and success of an actor. If you look at beloved stars like Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds, they don’t miss often, and haven’t really had a less than epic film in years. They are also active with their fans, and have branded themselves as someone that people adore. 

Being a heavy hitter is a tough reputation to uphold, though. If either Dwayne Johnson or Ryan Reynolds, for example, came out with a less than awesome film that they poured their heart into and placed their mark of approval on, the public could potentially start to turn on them. They would no longer be stars who don’t miss, but stars that were on a downslide. It’s tough out there, and arguably unfairly so. Maybe that’s why Reynolds is taking a not-so-little acting break, after all. 

Michael Keaton has had his fair share of awesome roles as well, though his performance as Batman remains a huge fan favorite, and some of the greatest Batman moments in history belong to him. Keaton has taken back up his role as Batman in the upcoming Flash film and you can catch him back in the bat suit in the upcoming 2022 new release film Batgirl as well. What a time to be an OG Batman fan.

While Jack Nicholson’s advice might not be as sound these days as it was in the late ‘80s, I don’t believe that Michael Keaton doesn’t have much to worry about in the way of a flop ruining him. It’s almost like he’s entering a second prime, and I’m all about it. 

Carlie Hoke
Carlie Hoke

Constantly thinking about books, coffee, and the existential dread I feel from Bo Burnham’s Inside.  While writing I’m also raising a chaotic toddler, who may or may not have picked up personality traits from watching one too many episodes of Trailer Park Boys.