Michael Keaton Had the Very Best Experience Making ‘Beetlejuice’

Michael Keaton is often referred to as one of the best big-screen Batman actors of all time. And for good reason because his version helped establish the character’s future success in movies. But of course, 1989’s Batman wasn’t the first film Keaton made with director Tim Burton. That honor goes to Beetlejuice, a film that hit theaters just a year earlier. Based on how much fun Keaton had making that supernatural comedy, we can’t blame him for wanting to work with Burton again.

Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice in a wax museum | Peter Bischoff
Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice in a wax museum | Peter Bischoff

Michael Keaton wasn’t Tim Burton’s first choice for ‘Beetlejuice’

Looking back, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Keaton playing the title character in Beetlejuice. He brings such manic energy and comic timing to the role. And it’s apparent that Keaton is in full-on comedian mode in many of his scenes. Reportedly, the actor even ad-libbed quite a bit of his dialogue, having worked in the theater before.

However, Burton’s original choice for Betelgeuse — as the movie spells it — was the late Sammy Davis Jr. While the director hasn’t elaborated on how the character would have been different in Davis’ hands, it’s easy to see how his charisma and onstage poise could translate to Beetlejuice.

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The actor considers the movie one of his favorite ones to make

Luckily for Keaton, the actor landed a meeting with Burton. But rather than jump at the role, Keaton was initially hesitant to sign on. In fact, he refused the role a few times before seriously considering it. To get a feel for the character’s vibe, Keaton took some initiative in creating his character’s look, he told Entertainment Weekly.

“It was off to the races. I called the wardrobe department and I said, ‘Send over racks to my house, clothes all time periods.’ I went to the makeup artist, Ve Neill, and said, ‘I want mold on my face. My hair has to look like I stuck my finger in an electric socket.’ She came up with the eyes, Tim had the idea of the striped suit, and I said, ‘These are his teeth. This is his skin.’ Beetlejuice is the ultimate ‘Yes and…’ movie, really, because Tim never went, ‘Wait, no, you can’t do that.’ He went, ‘Oh, you’re going to do that? Cool. Then watch this. Then go over there and do this.’ [My character] isn’t even in the movie very much! But it’s 100 percent just an original piece of art.”

Many Burton fans would agree with that sentiment, as it creates a wildly distinctive take on the afterlife. And Keaton‘s spirited — pun intended — performance only elevates the material. Although he’s on-screen for less than 15 minutes of the movie’s 92-minute runtime, Keaton makes ample use of every single second.

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Michael Keaton reunited with Tim Burton in 2019

After Beetlejuice and Batman, Keaton reunited once more on 1992’s Batman Returns. Then the duo went their separate ways for decades. It wasn’t until 2019’s Dumbo when Keaton appeared in another movie directed by Burton. In the preceding few years, Keaton’s career resurged with acclaimed roles in Birdman, Spotlight, and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

In 2022, Keaton is again dipping back into the past. He’ll reprise his role as Spider-Man villain The Vulture in Morbius opposite Jared Leto. And he’s slipping on the Batsuit to reprise his role as Bruce Wayne in The Flash. With any luck, this role will be the start of a longer run amid the DC Extended Universe. Or so fans hope.