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How American Assassin convinced Michael Keaton it wasn’t propaganda

Michael Keaton - American Assassin
Michael Keaton as Stan Hurley in American Assassin

With 16 books and counting, American Assassin hopes to turn Mitch Rapp into a new Hollywood action hero.

Dylan O’Brien plays the character created by author Vince Flynn. Rapp turns to Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) for training after a terrorist attack claims the life of his fiance.

Keaton gives an intense performance as Hurley, but the actor was concerned that American Assassin not glorify violence. Certainly, he did not want to show that enhanced interrogation and other violent methods spelled victory for the heroes.

“I was a little nervous about how it leaned, frankly,” Keaton said at a press conference for the film. “Dylan and I and probably other people sitting here, one of our main concerns when we first read the script or were talking about making this movie, was that it wasn’t simplistic black and white.

“You didn’t go down the traditional, I would say stupid, path of these kind of people from this part of the world or these kind of people who are only these things and those things aren’t complicated.”

Director Michael Cuesta and screenwriter Stephen Schiff heard Keaton’s concerns.

American Assassin - Michael Keaton
Michael Keaton is ready for action in American Assassin

“They not only took our notes but I think Michael was a step ahead of us,” Keaton said. “This always sounds superior when you say this: he created nuance. His idea just to create people who don’t really have a philosophical or religious stake in things just makes it more interesting, for one thing.

“So I thought they really did a good job of making it a little more complicated, more interesting, not as cliched. It was more palatable to me once they accomplished that.”

Hurley does cross into moral gray areas, including a torture scene. Once he committed to the role, Keaton agreed not to hold back, the same way he didn’t pull back when he played Ray Kroc in The Founder.

Don’t miss: How American Assassin gave Dylan O’Brien his first ‘grown-up’ role

“If you’re a certain kind of person, I’m not a fan of justifying that it’s actually kind of lovable,” Keaton said. “I think it’s not the most courageous thing as an actor. He is what he is but also work within the framework: what’s this story? What’s the picture? What are you trying to accomplish?”

Nor does Keaton mean that he’s playing Hurley as a bad role model, to hold up a mirror.

American Assassin - Dylan O'Brien
L-R: Shiva Negar, Michael Keaton, Neg Adamson and Dylan O’Brien

“By the way, there’s a lot of Stan Hurley I like a lot and I probably agree with,” Keaton said. “So when you say the [torture] scene for instance, right then and there, that’s what this person, it ain’t me, is doing.

“That’s what he’ll do so you commit totally to that. I just don’t believe in the other.”

So any conversations or questions happened before Keaton signed on. Once he was on the set, he was making American Assassin.

“To me, in this case it wasn’t really complicated,” Keaton said. “After talking to these guys [the producers] and Michael, they were pretty clear on basically what kind of movie they wanted to make.

“So once you sign on to say I’m in that type of a movie, then you say okay, I’m all in. It’s foolish as an actor or anybody else in any department to say, ‘I’m going to make my own movie here.’

“You sign on for the movie, we’re all telling the same story. Right then and there, things get real simple for me.”

American Assassin is in theaters September 15.

Fred Topel has been a journalist since 1999. Over the decades he’s written for About.com, Hollywood.com, CraveOnline, Rotten Tomatoes and Slashfilm. Fred brings Monsters and... read more

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