Edward Norton and Michael Keaton will star in the black comedy 'Birdman'

Edward Norton and Michael Keaton have signed on to appear in the comedy 'Birdman,' in which Keaton will play an actor famous for portraying a superhero who tries to revitalize his career. Edward Norton is the stage actor who attempts to stop him.

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
Edward Norton will star with Michael Keaton in the comedy 'Birdman.'

It would be unfair to describe Michael Keaton as being out of work. He recently signed on to star in the adaptation of video game series Need for Speed, alongside Dominic Cooper and Aaron Paul – and though nothing has officially been announced by Disney, it’s suspected that he’ll reprise his role as Ken in the next Toy Story movie.

Perhaps it’s because his career is relatively healthy at the moment that Keaton is willing to deliver a self-deprecating performance in another of his upcoming projects. Fox Searchlight has announced that principal photography has begun this week on Birdman (alternative title: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), a new comedy from Alejandro González Iñárritu. Here’s the official synopsis, courtesy of the press release:

“[Birdman is] a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Keaton) – famous for portraying an iconic superhero – as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself.”

Also appearing in the film is Edward Norton, who, according to Deadline, was cast as an “egotistical lead stage actor” who disrupts Keaton’s attempts to create the Broadway play that will rejuvenate his career. Norton has something of a reputation for being difficult to work with – so much so that Kevin Feige more or less explicitly stated this as the reason for dumping him in favor of Mark Ruffalo when casting Hulk in The Avengers. It will be interesting to see whether Norton is willing to indulge in a little self-parody for his role in Birdman.

Norton and Keaton aren’t the only superhero movie veterans on the cast list. Emma Stone, a talented comedy actress who took on the role of Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man, will play Keaton’s daughter – an actress who has just gotten out of rehab and who is hired as an assistant by her father. Stone has never been at the center of any drink or drugs scandals, so it’s possible that her character is a bit of a dig at starlets like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. There are a couple of photos of Stone filming Birdman over at Just Jared, if you want to get a sneak peek at what she’ll look like in the movie.

Iñárritu is a Mexican director, best known in English-language cinema for drama film 21 Grams, which starred Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts, and his 2006 global drama, Babel. Watts is also listed as one of the stars of Iñárritu’s new film, along with Oblivion‘s Andrea Riseborough and Gone Baby Gone actress Amy Ryan. The final name on the cast list is comedian Zach Galifianakis, who displayed a skill for slightly darker comedy in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s 2010 indie It’s Kind of a Funny Story, in which he played a long-term resident of a psychiatric ward.

The great cast that has been assembled, and the high quality of Iñárritu’s past films, definitely make Birdman a project to look out for in the future – as does the potential for in-jokes and wink-wink references. Let’s just hope that it turns out a little better than My Name is Bruce.

Hannah Shaw-Williams blogs at Screen Rant.

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