Film

Michael Keaton: "Immigration is an integral part of the American dream"

I'll have lies with that... Michael Keaton on playing Ray Kroc, the founder who didn't really found McDonald's, the American Dream and building wind turbines to annoy Donald Trump

Michael Keaton in The Founder

The Big Issue: Ray Kroc didn’t found McDonald’s – all he did was stumble across a restaurant operated by the McDonald brothers. So should the film be called ‘The Finder’ rather than The Founder?

Michael Keaton: Very possibly. That’s pretty funny. Initially I thought what you thought – even though I wasn’t clever enough to think of ‘The Finder’. But if I was Ray Kroc’s publicist, I think this would make for a good argument: he probably thought, yes you created the system of serving the food, and yes you came up with the Arches but what I made it into… I founded that. I could kind of understand his rationale. I don’t know if I buy it – but you know what I mean?

Whether the food or the franchising was more important to building the empire.

Right.

The McDonald brothers and Ray Kroc have two very different ways of working towards the American Dream – doing the right thing versus success at all costs. Achieving the Dream is also tied to working hard but by doing that do you inevitably stomp over others on your way up?

I would disagree that by working hard you have to stomp on other people. To work hard you have to work hard. But you’re right that it’s two different interpretations of the American Dream. They said they’d like to do quite well and Ray said, I want to do quite well more than you want to do quite well. And now that I’m doing quite well, I want to do quite weller. And then I think it became an issue of power and not about money. I don’t have a problem with capitalism. Greed and consumption and abuse of power – I’ve got a problem with that.

Growing up, I used to think McDonald’s was a Scottish chain of restaurants because I’m from Scotland and it seemed to make sense.

Glasgow is one of my favourite cities.

It’s a little rainy.

I know but I’ve never been to a city where the people make me laugh as consistently. It would be a challenge to go to Glasgow and never laugh once – it’s impossible.

People certainly wouldn’t last long if they didn’t have a sense of humour.

I was just fishing in Scotland a while back actually, fishing for salmon. Unfortunately they weren’t co-operating but I didn’t really care because I love rambling the countryside.

Apologies on behalf of the fish. But the point is, McDonald’s is obviously a foreign name, yet in the film they keep saying part of the chain’s success was because it “sounds American”.

I know, I know! You’re the first person to bring it up, which as a Scot you would. I love that scene because Ray seemed to have some disdain for his own heritage but when he says, “McDonald’s, that sounds American” – in the back of my head I’m thinking, actually it’s Scottish! I’m a half Scot myself, my real name’s Douglas. So watch yourself [he changed his name to Keaton early in his career as there was already another Michael Douglas registered with the Screen Actors Guild].

Around the world, McDonald’s represents America more than anything else.

In some ways, yeah…

Given where we are today, doesn’t it seem a bit ironic?

And you’re the single only person besides myself who’s said that. It’s the truth.

Essentially, the story of America is the story of immigrants but Ray Kroc thinks he’s the wrong kind of immigrant. He says: “Who’d want to eat at a place called Kroc’s?”

There is no wrong kind of immigrant. If you’re an immigrant who wants to enter the country and kill people – that’s the wrong kind of immigrant. Other than that, this country is built on immigrants. While it has to be monitored certainly, because the world’s a dangerous place, this is a movie about consumption and consumerism and capitalism and the American Dream – and immigration is an integral part to all that.

It’s not a question about being successful, it’s a question of what you do with it, to what end and what you do in order to get that

You could have played Ray Kroc as a hero or a villain. Does it matter if we like him, does it matter if we like the methods he used to achieve what he did?

It depends on who you are. It doesn’t matter to me, that’s not my job. I couldn’t have played him as one or the other. I played the character, the story that had to be told. He was what he was. I’m not remotely interested in trying to make it any sweeter.

What values do we prize more in society – is it better to be the good guy or better to be the successful guy?

Yeah, where do you take leave of your ethics and your values? I hope you become a billionaire – I hope everyone in the world gets to be a billionaire! But it’s not going to happen. It’s not a question about being successful, it’s a question of what you do with it, to what end and what you do in order to get that.

So Ray may not have founded McDonald’s but he did invent the power of the brand. Today our world seems to be ruled by brands, whether it’s Google or Apple or Trump.

I agree wholeheartedly. The world’s a big giant strip mall. The irony of the people who support him, he is so not one of them and yet they claim him as one of their own. It’s astounding. It’s logic-defying. One of my small heroes is the little farmer with the little farm next to Trump’s golf course in Scotland.

Michael Forbes.

This guy, I love this guy. I like what he said, ‘I don’t really care what you want to do, this is where I live, this is what I have, this is my life – I can’t be bought’. The obnoxious consumerism to think, I’m going to reshape some of the dunes to make this artificial thing. The beauty of links courses is to play as it lays, use the landscape, what God left and play that. Play the game with nature and not try to beat the fuck out of it.

I think Trump did whatever he wanted to do.

He totally beat the fuck out of it.

But he’s not happy about the offshore wind farm we’re planning to build next to it.

Please do. How much do you want? You know, I invested in wind farms in the ’70s and lost every cent. Back then I really believed in that technology, still do. I’ll come over and help put them up.

The Founder is coming soon to Blu-ray and DVD

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