Director denies sinister angle to 'Batman' theatrics


Director Joel Schumacher surveyed the expectant faces of reporters gathered around him and pledged to clear up all the rumors about why Michael Keaton left "Batman Forever."

"The inside story?" Mr. Schumacher asked, then paused. "I had Tonya Harding break Michael's leg."

Mr. Schumacher can be forgiven such kidding.

When he signed on to direct the third "Batman" -- Tim Burton helmed the first two -- he knew he would come under scrutiny. But he had no idea how intense it would be, or how many casting crises would wrack his production.

"It's scary," he confessed later in a private interview. "I'm not going to sit here and pretend it isn't."

Although Mr. Schumacher was meeting the news media to promote his adaptation of "The Client," which opens next Wednesday, he spent almost as much time doing damage control for "Batman Forever," which hasn't even begun shooting.

Several months ago, amid much publicity, Robin Williams dropped out of consideration for the role of the Riddler, which went to Jim Carrey.

Last week, it was announced that Mr. Keaton had fled and would be replaced by Val Kilmer. Some reports cited tension between Mr. Keaton and Mr. Schumacher as a cause.

Mr. Schumacher denied the split was personal.

"His considerations were financial, contractual [and] lifestyle considerations about scheduling and timing of things," said Mr. Schumacher, whose credits include "Falling Down," "Flatliners" and "St. Elmo's Fire."

"When someone has a lot of considerations, you start having considerations about whether you want somebody who has too many considerations. You want somebody who's going to give 100 percent."

Mr. Schumacher said it's been clear since late last year that Mr. Keaton and Warner Brothers Pictures might not reach agreement. When he saw Mr. Kilmer in "Tombstone" around Christmas, he pegged him as a possible stand-in.

"Val just blew me away," he said.

Mr. Keaton has been mum about his decision. According to some reports, it was prompted when Warner balked at salary demands in the $15 million range. According to others, Mr. Keaton worried that in this "Batman," as in the previous two, the villainous characters would steal the show from him.

In addition to Mr. Carrey as the Riddler, Tommy Lee Jones plays Harvey (Two-Face) Dent.

Mr. Schumacher said Mr. Williams opted out of "Batman Forever" after the studio gave him a final deadline for his decision -- "he kept saying he wanted more time" -- and wouldn't budge.

There's still one bit of casting in doubt. Rene Russo ("In the Line of Fire") had been signed to play Batman's love interest, but there's rumor that at 40, she's too old for Mr. Kilmer, who's 34. (Mr. Keaton is 42.)

Mr. Schumacher said Ms. Russo may indeed leave the film, but not because of her age. Before "Batman Forever," he said, she was committed to "Outbreak," a film about a deadly virus starring Dustin Hoffman, and its shooting schedule has been delayed, presenting a possible conflict with Mr. Schumacher's production.

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