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Cloning Comedy In ‘Multiplicity’ Michael Keaton Plays Four ‘Dougs,’ Each With An Entirely Different Persona

Philip Wuntch Dallas Morning News

Michael Keaton has always had a mind of his own.

After making his name with a light comic touch, he donned the brooding cowl of “Batman,” only to quit the blockbuster franchise at the height of its success. The choice wasn’t his on “The Purple Rose of Cairo”; he chuckles today at how Woody Allen canned him. The actor remembers crying when his 6-year-old son announced that he was too big to be kissed in public. But in case anyone jumps to conclusions, he sneers at such pop-psych labels as “sensitive New Age guy.”

Does all this sound like a guy with a split personality? Wait till “Multiplicity” opens today. In the cloning comedy, Keaton has to juggle four minds of his own.

When he first read the script, in which harried hero Doug Kinney is cloned three times to meet his myriad obligations, all four Dougs had the same personality. Keaton insisted on a different persona for each.

“Otherwise, there was just no movie,” he says. “Sure, it would have been easier to play. But where was the movie?”

Harold Ramis, the new movie’s director, says Keaton “was determined not to be categorized as another Chevy Chase.”

“He started off in audience-pleasing films and then made some really courageous choices. He took chances with ‘My Life’ and ‘Pacific Heights’ and ‘Much Ado About Nothing.”’

The actor says he’s never really had a career plan.

“I care how my films do commercially, but that’s not my major concern,” he says. “My next film is called ‘Desperate Measure,’ in which I play a lifer in prison. Andy Garcia plays a cop who wants me to be a bone-marrow donor so his kid can live. Sounds real cheerful, huh? I don’t know how commercial it will be, but it’s an interesting part.

“Look, Sean Penn has knocked me out in everything he’s done. Think of the way he used his eyes in ‘Dead Man Walking.’ But how many films has he done that have actually made bundles of profits?”

Of course, the first two “Batman” movies made bundles, but Keaton handed the cape to Val Kilmer for the third installment. George Clooney slides into the Batmobile driver’s seat next summer in “Batman & Robin.”

“‘Batman’ is a big enterprise, a big machine that means big income for a big corporation,” says Keaton. “I don’t mean that the companies involved with ‘Batman’ are heartless corporations who don’t care about people. But I do feel that probably the franchise is more important than the talent involved. I feel like George Clooney will do great in the role, but does it really matter who plays Batman?”

For much of the past year, Keaton has been occupied with “Multiplicity’s” four Dougs. The original model is a contemporary Everyman. The second, an aggressive, macho type. The third, a precise, gentle, nurturing soul. The fourth has the mind of a frantic child.

“A pop psychologist would say they all make up the average man,” the actor says, with a slightly dismissive shrug at the phrase “pop psychologist.”

“I know that Doug Three has prim, precise mannerisms, and some may think he represents being gay. That’s cool with me. He does have sex with Doug’s wife, but I considered him seducible by either male or female.

“But I think Doug Three is a great guy. All his actions are out of kindness. He wants to share and help, and he loves everyone. If people think he’s gay, that’s fine with me. He’s my favorite Doug.”

Movie technology has been transformed in the three decades since “The Parent Trap” clunkily showed Hayley Mills as split-screen twins. In the new remake of “The Nutty Professor,” for example, a makeup-laden Eddie Murphy plays all five members of a family sitting around the dinner table.

It might not match “Nutty’s” hot-grossing summer start, but “Multiplicity” took even more effort. Much of the footage has at least two Dougs, and frequently all four, interacting. In one scene, Doug actually bumps into a clone. The brief moment required a 12-person crew using split-screen photography, a computerized motion-control camera and a whole lot of techno-wizardry.

Each of the Dougs has slightly different hair, clothing and coloring. For one scene, Keaton had to change hair and makeup 25 times.

“But I’m used to clutter,” he says. “I was the youngest of seven kids. We were a big Catholic family, and I was an uncle when I was 6. It was a carnival, great comic experience.”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Multiplicity” Locations: Newport, East Sprague and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Harold Ramis; starring Michael Keaton, Andie MacDowell, Zack Duhame, Katie Schlossberg, Harris Yulin, Richard Masur and Eugene Levy Running time: 1:50 Rating: PG-13

This sidebar appeared with the story: “Multiplicity” Locations: Newport, East Sprague and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Harold Ramis; starring Michael Keaton, Andie MacDowell, Zack Duhame, Katie Schlossberg, Harris Yulin, Richard Masur and Eugene Levy Running time: 1:50 Rating: PG-13

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