Michael Keaton could have played Batman on the big screen in “Batman Forever” but the actor is now revealing why he stepped away from the Batsuit.

In a new interview with the “Backstage” podcast, Keaton says it was simply a matter of differing opinions with “Batman Forever” director Joel Schumacher on the trajectory of the character and increasingly darker themes. After portraying Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton’s “Batman” and “Batman Returns” — both dark and steeped in a noir aesthetic — Keaton was ready to continue to plumb the depths of the billionaire’s tormented past, while Schumacher wanted to embrace the more comic book elements of his story.

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Keaton explain he had several conversations with Schumacher about the role: “One of the reasons I couldn’t do it was — and you know, he’s a nice enough man, he’s passed away, so I wouldn’t speak ill of him even if he were alive — he, at one point, after more than a couple of meetings where I kept trying to rationalize doing it and hopefully talking him into saying, ‘I think we don’t want to go in this direction, I think we should go in this direction.’ And he wasn’t going to budge.”

Eventually, Val Kilmer was cast as Batman alongside a cast of supporting players and villains played by Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Drew Barrymore, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, and Debi Mazar.

Though Keaton harbours no ill will towards Schumacher (who passed away in 2020) he says he remembers “walk[ing] away going, ‘Oh boy, I can’t do this.’ He asked me, ‘I don’t understand why everything has to be so dark and everything so sad,’ and I went, ‘Wait a minute, do you know how this guy got to be Batman? Have you read… I mean, it’s pretty simple.'”

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For Keaton, “It was always Bruce Wayne. It was never Batman,” he says, describing his approach to the character.

“To me, I know the name of the movie is Batman, and it’s hugely iconic and very cool and cultural iconic and because of Tim Burton, artistically iconic, [but] I knew from the get-go it was Bruce Wayne.

“That was the secret. I never talked about it. [Everyone would say] ‘Batman, Batman, Batman does this’, and I kept thinking to myself, Y’all are thinking wrong here. [It’s all about] Bruce Wayne. What kind of person does that?… Who becomes that?”

Keaton will get his chance to reprise his iconic superhero role in the upcoming “The Flash” movie, due in theatres in November.

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