Michael Keaton‘s portrayal of Batman and Bruce Wayne is a favorite among fans of The Caped Crusader, especially since the 1989 film from Tim Burton is the one that really paved the way for the future success of serious comic book movies (even if the movie is more than a little goofy when you look back on it now). However, before the Gung Ho and Mr. Mom star was brought in to reunite with his Beetlejuice director, the studio was looking for more of a bonafide action star, and one of their considerations might surprise you.
Screenwriter Sam Hamm recently discussed the Batman movie from 1989 in honor of the film’s 30th anniversary this past weekend, and he revealed that one of the names suggested by the studio to play the Dark Knight was then-rising action star Steven Seagal.
Speaking with SyFy Wire, Sam Hamm recalls how Warner Bros. Pictures approached the casting of the lead role for Batman. Instead of focusing on the heart of the character, which comes from Bruce Wayne, they were looking at the role much differently:
“There were a lot of people at Warner Brother who wanted to cast it with an action star. They wanted to cast the part as Batman, as opposed to casting it as Bruce Wayne. You have to make Bruce Wayne work, because Batman is, for the most part, going to be a stunt guy, or it’s going to be somebody running around in a costume in long shot. You don’t need the martial arts expertise of, say, Steven Seagal or somebody like that because you can fake all of that kind of stuff. Seagal was one of the people that was suggested to us.”
It’s hard to remember since Steven Seagal is now mostly a punchline with his own Cops-esque reality show on A&E. But during the time of development of Batman, the actor was on the rise as an action star, and he was legitimately skilled in martial arts. Hamm recalled:
“Believe it or not, he had just kind of appeared on the scene, people thought holy cow, this guy’s badass. He could be Batman. I don’t think it ever got to the point where he read for it. He was just one of the names that was floated.”
But like Hamm says, Batman isn’t just about the action. You need an actor who can make you believe in Batman when he’s outside of the suit. You need someone who makes you care about Bruce Wayne. And that’s what Michael Keaton did. Plus, he was also very charismatic and brought some levity to the tragic backstory of this comic book character.
Of course, in the end, the action that Batman delivered was rather disappointing because of the limitations of the superhero suit itself. Even Steven Seagal wouldn’t have been able to make that work. Instead, it was quick cutting and editing tricks that made Batman look like a skilled fighter, and plenty of fans could see that. In the end, Keaton made Batman work better because of his portrayal of Bruce Wayne instead of Batman. There are those who may still think otherwise, but for an entire generation, Michael Keaton will always be their Batman.