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Michael Keaton talks about addiction, new Hulu series ‘Dopesick’

On his Montana ranch, there is no talk of box office. Sure, there’s a pile of scripts in his office, but he also hangs out in flip-flops on his back deck taking in the scenery. Batman has pretty much left the building.

Michael Keaton, the laid-back version, has owned this land for more than 30 years, and it provided the perfect retreat from Hollywood. At age 69, he’s found it’s a sanctuary and a place for him to get to the marrow of a character before he hops on a plane.

Yes, he still likes the work. His criteria for leaving nature? “I just want to be in the good ones, man,” Keaton says.

“The other night, I was watching some of ‘Dopesick’ with cast members, and we would look at each other and go, ‘Are you kidding me? How do you get better than that?’ That doesn’t happen a lot in this business, and I’ve been in some good ones, man.”

His new Hulu miniseries, “Dopesick,” is based on the 2018 nonfiction book “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company That Addicted America” by Beth Macy. Keaton plays Dr. Samuel Finnix, an old-school doctor from Virginia who has bought a new, supposedly nonaddictive drug called OxyContin that he’s now prescribing to patients. It soon becomes apparent that Oxy isn’t just another pill.

The story takes viewers from a distressed Virginia mining community to the rooms of OxyContin’s creators to the halls of the DEA and then to the offices of Big Pharma in Manhattan. In his streaming debut, Keaton also executive produces the eight-episode drama that co-stars Peter Sarsgaard and Rosario Dawson.

Next up, he will do another stint as Batman in 2022’s “The Flash.”

Did the ease of how a drug like Oxy became an epidemic surprise you in any way?

Shocker. The way it became a national epidemic kind of knocked me out. It seems almost too simple that this happened in this way. Honestly, I’m reading the script for this series and thinking, “Well, this is too on the head.” Then, I read the book the series is based on and did some research independently. The ease is not an exaggeration in the slightest. The ease of how all this happened is actually sickening.

What boggles your mind the most?

An actual addiction was created and it infiltrated every class group. This has affected everyone from all walks of life. It’s a tragedy.

You play an honest doctor from a small town. Did you identify with his values?

Yeah, this felt very familiar to me. The town in West Virginia is not too far from where I grew up outside of Pittsburgh. Just to get familiar with the landscape, I took a little road trip and drove really deep into West Virginia to see why this doctor went there. He wasn’t born in Virginia, but this is where he chose to live his life. He followed the woman he loved and then fell in love with the place and the people.

How do you describe him?

He’s a man on a mission — and I can relate to feeling that way about your work. This is what he chose to do with his life and he’s committed. I can relate. My father was like him. I’m somewhat like him. I think it’s about having a high degree of decency.

In 1988, you did a movie about addiction called “Clean and Sober.” Are you a bit freer now to tell a gritty addiction story?

Addictions are as old as time. They’re nothing new. The difference between now and then is the awareness now is much greater. Also, the stigma has changed about addictions in general. The story in “Dopesick” is on a much bigger canvas. The info out there makes it feel bigger. It shines a light on white-collar America and the damage done.

From McDonald’s Ray Kroc in “The Founder” to editor Walter Robinson in “Spotlight,” you’ve been on a successful run playing real-life people brought to the big screen. Is there an added responsibility?

Well, sure there is the responsibility of getting it right. I guess, personally, there is this extra quest ego-wise to make it as honest as possible.

You’ve also done films that can bring about social change.

It’s satisfying to be in a fortunate position where what I do for a living can possibly change things or affect people in some way. Without sounding really pretentious, I have a job that might actually change something or make people look at it different. I’m thinking about “Spotlight” here or “Clean and Sober.” I’m for it. I look at it as a perk. I’m not necessarily seeking these things out, but they certainly get my attention.

You’ve done a few TV guest appearances but haven’t had much of a TV presence until now.

Forget about all the TV-v.-movies debates. Pound for pound, TV has gotten so good over the last 10 years that I want to be there, too. Good quality is good quality. The writing is so good on TV. It just gets very obvious when you read something where the words just jump off the page. It doesn’t matter what medium.

How do you choose what to do at this age?

I do things for different reasons, but mostly, I’m just looking for good material. It’s hard to nail something real quite often in a 90-minute movie. The beauty of TV is you can really develop it over time. That gives it the edge.

You played Batman again in “The Flash.” How did that feel?

It was fun. Playing him again was like riding a bike.

Finally, what’s a great Sunday?

I’m home in Montana. It’s blue skies and my dog is running around. The kids are around. Hell, yes! What else do you need?

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