Michael Keaton walked away from Batman Forever, but the actor wasn't walking away from Batman forever. In an interview on SiriusXM's The Jess Cagle Podcast With Julia Cunningham, Keaton explains why he walked away from the Batman franchise of the '90s after starring in director Tim Burton's 1989 blockbuster and its 1992 sequel Batman Returns. After the darkness of Burton's Batman — and the especially Burtonesque sequel that sparked outrage among parents and advertisers — studio Warner Bros. and new director Joel Schumacher wanted to lighten up Batman. Val Kilmer donned the cape and cowl in 1995's Batman Forever, which spawned the campier 1997 sequel Batman & Robin with George Clooney.
"[Batman] was a job. And then the next one was a job, and I enjoyed it. But then over time — and then the third one, I just couldn't do," Keaton said on The Jess Cagle Podcast With Julia Cunningham. "I just thought, 'Well, this is not good. This is not good. I just can't do it. I'll blow my brains out. Just can't live with myself.' And so I walked away."
As the comic book genre exploded again in later years in the worlds of DC and Marvel, Keaton said, "I was really out of it, to be honest. At some point, you're a jerk if you don't go, 'Well, this is a legitimate world. You're no better or worse than this.'"
Because much has changed in the 30 years since Keaton played the Dark Knight in Batman Returns, he grew curious about revisiting the role in a modern superhero setting. When there was an opportunity for Keaton's Batman to return opposite Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) in The Flash, Keaton knew it was time to come back to the role he once walked away from — seemingly forever.
"When it came around again, I was getting curious about it. I thought, 'Boy, what would that be like?' And then, coincidentally, there were murmurs, I got a call from Warner Bros. They wanted to talk to me about something, and there were hints of Batman," he said. "I think it was about some other thing regarding Batman ... I got a call later saying, 'We want you to read something.' I just thought, 'Of course you have to do this.'"
For him to reprise Batman in Flash, Keaton said, "It has to be good. There's no reason to do it if it's not good. It's not gonna really change anything. And I just jumped in and had fun. And why would you not? You know, I mean, director Andy Muschietti is fantastic, and it's really creative. I don't know. It's fun."
In October, Muschietti said Keaton "was honored to come to do this character again."
On convincing him to play Batman a third time, the director revealed at DC FanDome China, "We sent him a great script, and that is probably the thing that got him interested. It's more complex than this...we gave him a great script and I promised him great direction. And that was about it."
Michael Keaton's Batman returns in The Flash, out November 4 in theaters, and Batgirl, premiering later this year on HBO Max.