The Mayor Of Gotham Speaks

OPINIONS OCCASIONALLY VARY about Joel Schumacher's movies (review), but everyone agrees the man's got a mouth on him. He's been a window dresser for Bendel's, a costume designer for Woody Allen and, as of 1981, a director with a long list of credits. Lately he's been spearheading two of the most high-profile franchises around, interpreting both John Grisham (""The Client,'' ""A Time to Kill'') and Batman (""Batman Forever,'' ""Batman & Robin''). Schumacher spoke with NEWSWEEK'S Los Angeles bureau chief, Mark Miller.

MILLER: You loved the Batman comics as a kid. What did you like about Batman?

SCHUMACHER: It's so hard to understand childhood obsession, but my father was dead so I'm sure I identified with that. Also, when my father died, my mother had to go to work. She worked six days a week - and three nights. She was a wonderful woman, but, in a sense, I lost my mother when I lost my father. I grew up in a poor neighborhood in Long Island City, and by the age of 7 or 8 I was on the street and taking care of myself. I spent a lot of time reading Batman comics and going to the movies whenever I could. Those were my two biggest obsessions before I discovered alcohol, cigarettes and sex. Then my obsessions changed a little bit. I started drinking when I was 9. I started sex when I was 11. I started drugs in my early teens. And I left home the summer I turned 16. I went right into the beautiful-people fast lane in New York at the speed of sound. I've made every mistake in the book.

Let's talk about the '60s.

I was a ""big star'' in the fashion world. I was everybody's darling. I was sleeping with half the planet. And I was getting a taste for serious drugs. I starting shooting speed and acid. Acid - the drug all drugs wanted to be. I tried heroin. I didn't like it, thank God. And then my mother died, instantly. She died overnight. I was insane after my mother's death. I just plunged deeper and deeper into drugs, deeper and deeper into the night life. I had a life like a vampire in a sense. I was afraid to be seen in the light so I would go out at night, and I had blankets over my windows. Then, on Jan. 3, 1970, I walked into Central Park. There was snow everywhere, and I dug a hole - a very deep hole so no one would find them and use them - and I buried all my needles and my works. Then the problem was that I thought, ""Well, what's a few drinks? What's a little recreational drugs?'' So that was when that problem began because I was not real with myself about what was going on.

You weren't fully clean and sober until 5^ years ago. What convinced you to give it all up forever?

I was becoming more successful and more depressed, and I started to feel suicidal for the first time in my life - although one could track my behavior as being quite suicidal all along. I think I was spiritually dead.

""Batman Forever'' was an enormous hit, but would you have done another ""Batman'' if Val Kilmer had returned?

That was my dilemma: how am I going to make this movie and work with someone I don't want to work with? But then Val made it very, very easy because he wanted to do ""The Saint'' instead, and we really, really, really wanted him to do ""The Saint'' instead, too. I wanted George Clooney badly, and so it really has a happy ending.

There was a lot of meangossip about [Batgirl] Alicia Silverstone's weight.

It was horrible. I thought it was very cruel. She was a teenager who gained a few pounds - like all of us do at certain times. I would confront female journalists and I'd say, ""With so many young people suffering from anorexia and bulimia, why are you crucifying this girl?''

Did you talk to Alicia about it?

She was hurt. It was terrifying to her. I tried to explain to her that, unfortunately, when you're in the public eye your life is in a fishbowl. And I explained to her that, if she wanted to be a movie actress, her beauty and her body were certainly part of - but not all of - her assets, and that she was going to have to take care of those assets. But I also said, ""You don't have to be an actress in Hollywood if you don't want to. I'll still love you, and I'll still support you.'' I always say this to my friends when we bitch and complain: the guards at the movie-studio gate are not there to keep you in. If you can't handle the high profile of success, you should get away from it.

The Batman movies are full of superstars. Do they insist on a big entourage?

Jim Carrey was at the peak of his celebrity when we did ""Batman Forever.'' He had one assistant. Nicole Kidman is Mrs. Tom Cruise. She had one assistant. But I think some people need paid friends. I think the expense is probably insane, but that's really none of my business. From my own perspective, the problem with entourages is that the bigger the entourage the more the star is protected from reality. And that is very, very, very dangerous. There is a certain concept in Hollywood: ""Don't tell the star about the Oklahoma bombing. It'll upset them.'' You know? ""Don't ever talk about Vietnam. It'll upset them.'' I don't know who started the trend of treating the highest-paid people in the entertainment business as if they're demented, retarded children. But from my own experience, the only thing that ever keeps you sane is a very, very, very deep symbiosis with reality.

You're open about your past, but not your present. You don't discuss whom you're dating or if you're straight or gay.

It's hard to talk about your sexuality when you're not having any sex. I don't really know how to have a private life yet, to really be honest. I damaged that part of my life to such a ridiculous degree that I'm not sure what a private life means for me anymore. I'm not in love. And sometimes those of us who are bad at relationships should do everybody a favor and stop.

How do you know you're bad at them?

Trust me. I have great friends. I have a great relationship with my godson. I love my work, and I really don't have much time to date. Dating at 57 - it's not for me.

But you're not ashamed of who you are.

I'm not ashamed of my life, but I certainly am ashamed of some of my behavior. I mean, how can you be a drug addict and an alcoholic for most of your life and not be ashamed of some of your behavior? I'm ashamed for stuff I can't even remember.

Would you want your godson to live the life you've lived?

No, I wouldn't. I mean, I think I've had one of the greatest lives in the world, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone.