Of all the movies Michael Keaton has done so far, he claims it is the Harold Ramis comedy "Multiplicity" which was the most challenging. A critical and commercial disappointment upon its 1996 release, it has since been considered (in the words of the Aero Theatre's emcee that evening) as "one of the most underrated comedies of all-time." Keaton plays Doug Kinney, a man so overwhelmed by work that he doesn't spend enough time with his family. Doug ends up cloning himself to balance out his work and family life, but being a comedy, things don't exactly go as planned.
In "Multiplicity," Michael Keaton plays four different versions of Doug, and at times shares the frame with one or all of the clones. Granted, Eddie Murphy did the same thing earlier that year with "The Nutty Professor" to great acclaim, but Keaton's work is every bit as good as his. Furthermore, there was a lot less makeup involved in "Multiplicity" (Rick Baker must have been really busy).
When Keaton was at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for a screening of "Multiplicity," he said cloning had become a big issue when they were making it, especially with the media's obsessive focus on "Dolly the Sheep" (the first mammal to ever be cloned). Both Michael and Harold felt that the issue had to be addressed in a comical way while being more or less serious about it.
Harold told Michael that he didn't want to use any "big tricks" in making "Multiplicity," and that was fine as both agreed each copy of Doug will be worse than the last. To keep track of each character he was playing, Keaton said he got a huge chart and divided them into #1 (the real Doug Kinney), #2 (Clone 1 -- the overly macho Lance), #3 (Clone 2 -- the sensitive and thoughtful Rico), and #4 (Clone 3 -- the childlike Lenny). While they attempted to shoot the movie in sequence as much as possible, they were not always able to, and that's when the chart became a huge help, Michael said.
Keaton did brilliant work in individualizing the clones from one another to where it didn't feel like you were watching the same actor. He also freely admitted that he did his version of Jerry Lewis when he portrayed Lenny, and that playing dumb onscreen is not that hard. But I believed it when he said that in regards to difficulties of playing multiple characters, he essentially "set my own self up."
The funniest story regarding "Multiplicity" that evening was when Keaton talked about Ben Stiller dropping by the set. Ben was directing "The Cable Guy" starring Jim Carrey at the time, and Michael took the time to show him the big chart and all he was doing. He said Ben looked at him like he was crazy and said:
After that, Michael said he didn't see Ben again for 6 years.
I never got around to seeing "Multiplicity" when it first came out in theaters, but watching with a sold out audience at the Aero Theatre made me believe that I picked the right time to check it out. The laughs come fast and furious, and in some cases it plays better today than it did back in 1996. Michael Keaton has given a wealth of great performances over the years, and the ones he gives here prove to be among his best.
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- Dolly the Sheep
- Ben Stiller
- Eddie Murphy