EXCLUSIVE: First, a short video featuring Big Eyes painter Margaret Keane, and Amy Adams, who plays her in the Tim Burton-directed film scripted by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. Below that is an op-ed penned by Margaret, who at 87 is getting her due for all that artwork for which her late ex-husband Walter Keane stole credit and acclaim.
Margaret Keane On Her Movie Close-Up:
At 87, it’s hard to believe that a movie just came out about my life. Granted, it would be strange to have happen at any age, but to be reliving so much of my past right here and now has been equal parts of strange, cathartic and humbling.
As exciting as it is to see it all unfold on a big screen, I’d never have let it happen in the wrong hands. Given the bizarre nature of what happened between my husband and me, and how our art empire evolved, there have naturally been a lot of people over the years who have asked about making a film on us. I’ve always been a very private woman, though. My ex-husband Walter was a glutton for headlines and gossip columns, but I was (and still am) quite the opposite.
But when Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski came to me about Big Eyes, every reservation I’d felt with other filmmakers went out the window. They were so enthusiastic, so trustworthy and so invested in making a movie with both humor and tragedy in it, which was exactly how I pictured it too. I was even more excited once Tim Burton agreed to direct; I’ve known Tim quite a while and have painted several portraits for him. Knowing what a loyal fan he was of my work, I was confident that I’d put my story into trustworthy hands with him.
A lot of people fantasize about what actor or actress would play them if their life were to be a movie. I have to admit to you that it’s not something I’d ever contemplated. Amy Adams told me recently that when she first read the script for Big Eyes, she didn’t feel she was right for the part. But Scott and Larry didn’t relent, and a few years later when they approached her again, things had changed. She’d become a mother by then, and had a new understanding for how I’d behaved all those years ago and why I’d made the decisions I’d made. She knew my decision to stay and play along with Walter’s delusions wasn’t as simple as lacking confidence. It was a lot more complicated than that. I couldn’t believe what a beautiful grasp she had on the complexities of being a woman in the era I’d lived in, despite the fact that she’s come of age in a world that much friendlier to women. I feel so blessed that Amy decided to take on the challenge, because I can’t imagine anyone but her playing the part now that all is said and done.
In the beginning, Amy did a lot of research into our story. She read what Walter said about me, and then what other people said about me, but eventually came to find there wasn’t a great deal out there in my own words. Walter had been a regular on television during the height of our popularity, but I barely ever did media appearances until after I divorced Walter, so Amy had very little footage to base her portrayal upon.
Rather than dive into the performance blindly, she came all the way to San Francisco and spent two days with me at my gallery. Amy’s devotion to playing me in the most accurate, nuanced way possible was so touching, because she soeasily could have just made me into a character she’d imagined. She’s too talented and respectful to have crafted a cartoon version of me, though. She was so down to earth, I felt a comfort with her that I never anticipated the moment she walked into the room. It makes me nervous when people look at me, but she wanted to watch me paint; I couldn’t help but be flattered at her attention to detail. To think, she wanted to learn something as small as how I hold a paintbrush!
Amy based so much of her performance on that first meeting. She asked me why I’d be willing to tell my story after all this time and really listened. It was amazing to me how she understood that I have a very strong belief, being a Jehovah’s Witness, that testing things can happen in our lives but that we can find redemption at the end of it and strength within ourselves. So many actresses in Hollywood are talented and impress me all the time, but it tends to be those who take on the flashier roles that catch our attention. Amy’s brilliance is quite the opposite in this movie. When I first saw her with that vintage blonde wig on, it was a shock. It was like seeing myself fifty years ago! She was absolutely perfect – and not just in the way that she looked. She understood the importance of playing me in a subtle way, because that’s who I am. Walter, after all, was sensational enough for the both of us. And Amy hit just the right note. I feel like I’m being showered with blessings, having this movie. It’s like a dream.