“The Founder” star, Michael Keaton dissects his character Ray Kroc and the American dream

By: Julian Blythe   January 27, 2017


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Michael Keaton masterfully takes on the role of internationally known businessman, Ray Kroc and entices audiences with the story behind Kroc that is not so well-known.

We chat with Keaton who shares everything from his ranch in Montana, his take on billionaires, and what he took away from the project. As he dives deeper into Ray Kroc, he shares why The Founder has a deeper meaning to his generation.

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Were you familiar with the story of Ray Kroc?

I would say I fall in the middle range of people maybe 40 and up. I would guess that you think you know Ray Kroc, (whispering) until you’ve seen the movie. If someone asks you, “Who is Ray Kroc?” And you’d say, “Yeah, McDonalds.” But you want them to be more specific and you do the Jackie Gleeson, “homina homina homina.” Because you don’t really know what (the story is) and I knew a little bit. I’m a curious person; I read a great deal and I thought I got it, but I didn’t get it at all. I just find the brothers in that story really interesting. I found the whole general story extraordinarily interesting, and it kept unfolding through Robert (D. Siegel, writer) and John (Lee Hancock, director), (who) keep supplying information, (allowing it) to get more and more interesting.

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It changed culture beyond food. It became a portable society. When you stop to think of it, you have to hire machinists to build an assembly line. Just think of that in and of itself as a portable society and a disposable society. That’s not over blowing this whole thing. Not to go on too long, but this was so interesting to talk about with Nick (Offerman, who plays Dick McDonald) about this. I’ve got a ranch. Part of the year, I live in Montana on what I’d consider a large ranch, by Montana standards, but a ranch that I lease out cattle to the guy down the road who runs his cattle on it. We rotate how we graze, but people don’t realize what the impact that (raising cattle) has. Not only the methane, but if you overgraze, environmentally it exponentially affects everything. I don’t think we talked about (that aspect). It’s really interesting. (Quips) I didn’t mean to go off on a tangent, because that’s usually Nick’s job.

Hearing everybody speak, we’re fortunate to have such eloquent (cast). These guys to my left (referring to cast), you would think the questions in a conversation like this wouldn’t come up if you thought about this movie on its face. I was asked by foreign journalists on the phone yesterday and probably today (and) these kinds of things come up. It’s layered in there; all of this stuff. It’s an amazing accomplishment. We just show up and are the scouts who go out. We show up and say, “Okay, what do you want us to do?” He wrote it (to Robert Siegel) he directed it (to John Lee Hancock), and these guys found it (to producers). Good job.

founder_still_michael-keaton_lgRay Kroc is a very complicated character. Did your feelings about Ray change while making the movie?

I did some press early on in Europe. I was working on press for the movie. I heard it there and I heard it from a few journalists outside the (United States) yesterday and this morning on the phone they bring it up. It’s interesting because the US journalists don’t bring this up and that is the issue with the American Dream. That’s fascinating to me unless I missed something. I can go on and on about consumerism, waste, greed, etc. There’s a missed connection to what they think the American Dream is. Let me be a little more specific, not to miss the issue with such a generalization. When they refer to the American Dream, they do it in relation to billions and mansions.

They kind of make this assumption that (it is) an extravagant lifestyle of private jets and owning islands. It’s fascinating to me because the American Dream, unless I missed something, is in its simplest form is, work hard enough and you can buy an affordable house. You can have a car to get you back and forth from work so that you can afford that house, and a have couple of kids who can attend a good school. Then you get a vacation, maybe, and maybe a second car. Unless I missed something, that isn’t a bad thing. I think that’s what it was, (but) that’s not what the perception is.

It’s this other thing that’s not (what) I would call an ugly thing because I have no problem with billionaires. Especially billionaires like Bill Gates who do the things that they do – like my friend Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) or name/pick one. There’s a bunch of them out there. There’s this perception out there that that’s what it is. People out there think that’s what it is? Am I nuts? That’s not what the idea was.

20170112HNW_TheFounder_PressConference_20Do you share any ideologies or emotions with this character, Ray Kroc, like how he says “If you were drowning I would stick a hose in your throat”?

I actually have stuck a hose in someone’s mouth, I think that’s next. I was just listening when John was speaking, and honestly I don’t have to say a thing. He nailed it. Let me see if I can find another way to talk about this, since I’ve talked about it a lot. In a lot of ways, and we talked about this from the get-go, we both said, “There’s a lot to admire in a person like Ray Kroc.” Specifically Ray Kroc, John pointed out the reasons at the time in history when this occurred. What knocks me out is that this guy did it back then 52 now. It was 52, right? 52 was a different story.

I’m a fan of hard work. I don’t think there was a time in my life when my dad didn’t have two jobs and we all worked and worked. I am not a fan of sadistic greed [laughs]. I don’t think I’m alone here, but man as an actor it is intriguing and is a magnet looking at these guys. You would agree right? Looking at these guys [points to other actors]; I couldn’t wait for the day we shot that scene. Those words are out of Ray Kroc’s mouth, “If you were drowning I would stick a hose in your throat.” I thought, “Man I hope I nail that. I can’t wait to do that scene.” Either I’ve got severe problems, or I just like what I do for a living. I have a weird job that I look forward to that. I admit it.

I was just fascinated the more I thought about it, and I was fascinated because what kind of person does this. He stuck by his word. By the way, it’s that John had the same intention saying, “I’m not backing off. I’m not going to back off; I just don’t have an interest in being superior in anything I do.” Even if there are a zillion other people who can do this better than I can, I’m just fascinated by it the more I thought about it and did it. The more I hear about these things as people bring them up. I actually thought about it more when I was (actually) doing (my role) frankly.

20170112HNW_TheFounder_PressConference_34Ray Kroc took the entire spotlight for himself. Do you see any parallels to Steve Jobs and Ray Kroc?

The only thing I can think of off the bat, at this time in the day… I’m trying to think because everyone was so good in that movie. It seemed to be a lot up here (pointing to his head) with Steve Jobs, and I don’t know if that’s true or not, and he was removed. Ray Kroc seemed to be down in his guts a lot. That worked out of here a lot to me. Not that (his brain) wasn’t clicking, because it was clicking all the time. He was “mensch-y” to me. There’s a word that’s probably not used frequently, mensch [laughs]. It felt a little bit like that to me. You didn’t miss anything by the way [referring to his microphone not working]. One thing I’d like to add maybe in the film that I’m in is that it has no words in it. This relates to excellence, and doing a little bit, and detail, when he’s cleaning up at night and everybody is gone. He is making sure that everything is clean and brushed aside. I find it admirable, and I don’t know why. When we did it, somebody, I think it was him [points to John Lee Hancock], said “Slow down.” Because I was [angrily muttering curse words], I was too much. Even though I’m this big, I believe it and I get it, because the visual says so much without one word. That’s it.

The Founder is currently in theaters.

Interview by Izumi Hasegawa – @HNW_Izumi

Edited by: Jody Taylor – @RealJodyTaylor

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