Birdman sits on a rather privileged perch as a favorite for film industry awards, but director Alejandro Inarritu can only laugh at the irony that he, like his protagonist in the show biz satire, is caught up in the quest for validation.
“I'm doing this interview; I feel like Riggan Thomson trying to sell my own shit,” the Mexican filmmaker said, referring to the film's lead character.
Birdman, Inarritu's first foray into comedy, follows former superhero actor Riggan, now washed up in New York and desperately attempting a comeback by trying to stage a Broadway play.
Shot in seemingly one continuous take in the claustrophobic confines of a theater's backstage, Riggan, played by Michael Keaton, deals with tense relationships with family, friends and colleagues while preparing his play.
The film leads nominees for Sunday's Golden Globes and could replicate that position with Oscar nominations next week.
Inarritu set the film in a surreal world that marries Riggan's reality with his surreal consciousness, which takes the form of his former superhero on-screen alter-ego, Birdman.
“It's basically a film about mediocrity, about ego and his ambitions,” he said. “Those things in a way are very subjective, very internal process of the voices we have inside.”
While the Fox Searchlight film offers a biting commentary on the current entertainment industry - from the superhero franchises dominating the box office to audiences' obsession with social media - Inarritu said the real message came down to the value of art versus celebrity “This character's lost in a sea of shit, trying to find himself with art,” he said.
Suspicious of nominations'
As Riggan races towards the opening night of his play, he battles with society's notions of fame and success, including a showdown with a newspaper critic who will determine his triumph or failure.
“The big battle here is what is art and what is commerce,” Inarritu said.
Keaton was one of the director's best choices for the lead role, and not just because he played Batman in the 1989 and 1992 films.
“His character can be ... not likable, selfish, but I need somebody that people can really relate to, not judge but to empathize (with),” he said.
Inarritu, who co-wrote the script, found inspiration for Riggan's connections to women from his own life.
“He got admiration in a time of his life but that admiration didn't fulfill him,” he said. “What he needed was affection, but he didn't know that he needed that.”
Sparring with Keaton is Edward Norton as the younger, more famous star in Riggan's play and Emma Stone as his recovering addict daughter. All three have been nominated for Golden Globes in the actor and supporting actor categories.
“I'm suspicious always about nominations because always they are basically coins of two sides and if you fall on one side, you become from winner or nominated to loser, which I am an expert about,” Inarritu quipped.
“To take this seriously, I think is a huge mistake.”