Director Tim Burton and star Christoph Waltz talked about Big Eyes after a Weinstein Company screening at The May Fair Hotel on December 7.
The film tells the story of how Walter Keane (Waltz) had taken credit for his wife Margaret’s (Amy Adams) popular paintings for decades.
Burton remembered growing up in Burbank, California, where “we didn’t know the difference between a painting and a print,” but he remembered seeing Keane or Keane-style paintings everywhere from his grandmother’s house to the dentist’s office. “I found it disturbing even as a child,” he remembered.
Yet he later met Margaret Keane and even commissioned a piece of work from her. Meanwhile, his Ed Wood writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski brought him a script about the Keanes they’d quietly been working on for years.
Waltz said he too remembered the style of painting from growing up in Vienna, but admits as an adult he “considered it kitsch.” But after talking to Burton about the role he realised “my snobbism is worthless in storytelling.”
Burton said he enjoyed more straightforward live-action storytelling compared to his recent films; he particularly enjoyed working with actors like Waltz and Adams. “Doing something with actors not special effects was a real joy to me. It reconnected you to the reasons why you love makings things. Working with Christoph and Amy is like watching silent movie actors, just watching them create.” He tried to leave his animation storyboarding behind — “You like to let people discover it and show you. It’s a two-way energy from everybody on set.”
Margaret Keane worked with Alexander and Karaszewski while they were writing early drafts, and she came to the set one day. But Burton says she’s “one of the shiest, most private people I’ve ever met. It’s a challenge to portray someone so internal and private.”
The director is proud she was moved to tears after watching the film for the first time. “She trusted us to tell her story…we have her blessing.”
And Waltz now has a less snobbish approach to Keane’s work, saying it “represents a very specific segment of a very specific culture in a very specific time in San Francisco.” He even owns a Keane original, after Margaret Keane generously let him choose any painting in her gallery. He said: “I picked a really scary painting, it’s an atypical Margaret Keane, it’s one face with 50 eyes. I said, ‘Can I have this one?’ and she smiled at me and said, ‘I knew you would pick this.’”