Micheal Keaton was reluctant to play Beetlejuice in Tim Burton’s strange horror comedy, until a bout of ‘dress-up’ helped him to understand the character.

There’s a great long list of ‘could have beens’ in Hollywood legend, actors who turned down parts because they simply didn’t understand the script. Not least Will Smith turning down Neo in The Matrix or Sean Connery declining to play Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings. You could almost have added Michael Keaton’s name to that list when it comes to the role of Beetlejuice, the anarchic spirit and title character in Tim Burton’s much-loved 1988 horror comedy.

Keaton has been chatting about the process of that movie, recalling that he turned down the role a couple of times. Furthermore, that after three meetings with Burton, hestill didn’t really understand what the film, and character, were really all about.

“When you see [the movie], you understand probably why it was hard for him to explain,” Keaton said.

After the third meeting, still unconvinced, Keaton said to Burton “‘give me the night or two days’ and I called the wardrobe department at the studio and said ‘send me a bunch of wardrobes from different time periods, randomly. Just pick a rack'”.

Keaton then explained that “I thought of an idea of teeth and an idea of a walk”.

Here’s the amazing part about it: “he [Burton] never saw any of it. We discussed it. I said ‘I want hair that looks like I stuck my finger in an electrical socket.’ And I said ‘I want mould because Tim said he lives under rocks’ … So I showed up for work and I walked on the stage and said ‘this is either going to be way off the mark, or he’s going to — I don’t know what he’s going to do'”.

Burton was delighted with the look Keaton had created. “He got it immediately,” Keaton said of the moment. The rest is Hollywood history, and the duo’s creative collaboration would extend to Keaton becoming Batman in Burton’s legendary 1989 take on the Caped Crusader, a role Keaton will be returning to in next year’s Flashpoint. 

The Hollywood Reporter

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