MICHAEL KEATON SHARES THE STORY BEHIND MCDONALD’S IN THE FOUNDER
After storming back into the spotlight with Birdman in late 2014 and coming within a sparrow’s beak of winning an Oscar the following February, Michael Keaton didn’t change anything about the way he approaches the movie business.
“Nope, just doing what I’ve always done,” says the 65-yearold. “Birdman just happened to come along when it came along, but I’m still doing what I do. My approach is essentially always the same.”
That approach has led him into the Oscar race once more with the true story drama, The Founder, in which he plays Ray Kroc, a travelling salesman who in the 1950s stumbled on the fast-food idea that would become the global giant, McDonald’s.
Upon first hearing he was being asked to play Kroc and that a script was on its way, Keaton’s reaction was: “OK, but I’m not sure why anyone wants to make a movie about this.” After reading the script, he spun 180 degrees: “I’m surprised no one’s made a movie about this!”
While Keaton and most other Americans would credit Kroc as being “the McDonald’s guy”, The Founder reveals how the ambitious entrepreneur pulled the company out from beneath brothers Dick and Mac McDonald, who were running a small burger joint in Southern California.
“It’s an entire part of the story I didn’t even know existed, frankly,” says Keaton. “I didn’t know there were McDonald brothers.”
While viewers may find themselves initially cheering Kroc’s persistence, the mood turns as it becomes clear he’s willing to crush anyone who stands in his way. Before agreeing to take the role, Keaton told director John Lee Hancock ( The Blind Side) that Kroc’s more unlikeable traits should not be played down.
“One of the first things I said to John is, ‘I’ll do the job, but I’m not going to back off of his darker side – if you want to do that, you should hire someone else’.”
Robert Siegel, who scripted the film, describes Keaton as a “charming” guy who can be “oily” when he needs to be. In order to pinpoint where that well of oil lives, Keaton laughs: “I would have to be lying on a couch and paying you a thousand dollars an hour.”
Though filmed well over a year ago, The Founder’s release now – into Trump’s America – gives its themes of simpler times, small business ingenuity and chasing the “American dream” extra layers.
“In terms of what’s going on in America, what’s been brought to the fore (during the presidential election campaign), it’s very timely,” says Keaton.
“The movie is really the story of American capitalism and the free enterprise system.
“If you really think about it, Kroc, without knowing it, was the first person to brand a name – McDonald’s.”
Some of the current rancour in US society, Keaton adds, may come down to the fact that the “American dream” seems out of reach for many.
“The corporate structure of the entire world has changed – it’s a global economy, it’s not chopped up into individual economies any more. If you have to go work for a giant corporation, you probably think that it feels like the American dream is impossible, because you’re really working for a giant corporation which is owned by another corporation which is owned by another corporation. People have to accept that that’s the way it is.”
At one point in The Founder, Laura Dern, as Kroc’s wife, Ethel, asks her husband: “When is enough going to be enough for you?”
Kroc’s response comes: “Honestly, probably never.”
Keaton’s response to the same question about his acting career is “not never ... but not for a while”. He laughs: “I’ll let you know.”
He’s still liable to take another “big break”, he adds.
“Big breaks in my business can be quite risky, but I’m willing to take the risk.”
It seems a longshot this year, but The Founder has been positioned by its US distributor as an Oscar contender — no surprise, given Keaton-starring films Spotlight and Birdman have been crowned best picture at the past two Academy Awards.
Keaton is currently in the UK filming American Assassin, a project he went straight on to after wrapping Sony/Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.
“The Marvel people run a giant, really tight ship. That’s a well-oiled machine.”
The Founder is in cinemas now
Michael Keaton doesn’t back off from his character’s less palatable qualities in The Founder