"You failed me with your painting!"

I wanted... I so wanted to become an artist. It just never turned out so well.
~ Walter, after his dark secret is revealed.
I'm gonna sue EVERYBODY! I'll sue that pansy critic! And the World's Fair! And -- Unicef! Yeah! I'll take down Unicef, and all their precious little boxes of dimes! But I can't sue you, can I? You were the ultimate betrayal! You FAILED me with that painting! You like making me look bad?? You enjoy people laughing at me??!
~ Walter slowly losing his mind.

Walter Stanley Keane, who's based on the real person of the same name, is the love interest-turned-main antagonist of Tim Burton's 2014 biographical drama, Big Eyes.

He is portrayed by two-time Academy Award winning actor, Christoph Waltz, who also portrayed Mandrake, Bert Hanson, Hans Landa, Léon Rom, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and Chudnofsky.


Walter is first seen when the widow Margaret hopelessly tries to sell her art. Keane is having no trouble selling his Parisian street paintings, but he seems to be charmed by Margaret's art. He compliments her, and the two artists fall in love. When Margaret discovers that she cannot live without a husband, Keane instantly proposes to her and they marry. Margaret attempts to have her paintings hanged on the wall of a jazz club and Walter manages to convince the club's owner to let them do it. To Walter's surprise, however, the customers appear to be interested in Margaret's painting, not his. Shortly after, Keane has a fight with the club's owner and ends up on the front page of a local newspaper.

This seems to work out for the better, since the publicity makes a lot of people interested in the art. When Keane shows up at the scene he realizes Margaret's potential and sells many paintings in his own name. When he gets home, he eagerly shows Margaret the money and explains that if he poses as the painter, they'll have an easy time selling these paintings. Margaret agrees to do this at first, but soon becomes frustrated when Keane continuously takes all of the credit for her work. Because of this, she develops a new style so that she can at least draw something and put her name on it. Walter is a bit insulted by this.

Eventually, Margaret makes a horrible discovery - the Parisian paintings were not by Keane at all, but by another artist with the signature S CENIC. She confronts Keane, and despite his desperate excuses, she broken-heartedly leaves the room. Keane gives up and admits that he'd always wanted to be an artist, but simply didn't have the talent to paint. This doesn't change his intentions, however, as Keane forces Margaret to create a "magnum opus" for the New York's World Fair. At this point, Jane, Margaret's daughter, discovers that she's the real painter, but they are both too intimidated by Walter to let everyone know the truth.

The finished painting, entitled "Tommorow Forever", recieves a scathing review from art critic John Canaday, which infuriates Walter. He has a drunken tantrum and starts throwing lit matches at Margaret and Jane, causing a large fire. This is the last straw for Margaret, and she leaves Keane and takes Jane with her. Margaret and Jane move to Hawaii, but Keane soon calls them and remorselessly asks for 100 paintings and for Margaret to sign the rights of all of her previous works over to him; If she doesn't deliver, he won't sign their divorce papers, leaving Margaret helpless. She cooperates and starts sending him paintings, but after encountering some Jehovah's Witnesses who tell her that honesty is in important, she starts signing the paintings with MDH Keane, much to Walter's annoyance.


Keane's defeat.

Margaret then unexpectedly reveals that she's the real artist on a random Hawaiian radio show, which makes national news. Walter responds by saying she's gone mad through the Gannett Company, but Margaret quickly charges him and the company with slander. Walter initially enters the courtroom with numerous lawyers, but they reveal that they are only their to assert that Gannett was only reporting on his claims in relation to a significant public event, and thus they are immune to Margaret's prosecution. With their case made, they leave Walter to fend for himself. However, when he's supposed to testify, he goes on a manic rant where he talks about how legitimate he is and how he's met countless celebrities. The judge then demands that they both draw a painting in one hour to prove who's the real artist. Walter is devastated. Instead of drawing anything, he emptily stares into the air while claiming to be "getting ready". When there's almost no time left he suddenly grunts in pain and claims that his arm hurts, rendering him unable to paint. The judge sees through his blatant lie and Margaret wins the lawsuit. Walter never admits that he's a fraud, and eventually dies of old age in bitter defeat.


That sounds a bit confusing, doesn't it? Keane means me.
~ Keane after he discovers Margaret's new painting idea
Quiet, don't raise your voice! (Margaret: Oh, I will talk as loud as I want.) No you won't! Or I'll have you whacked! (Margaret: What?) If you tell anyone, I'll have you taken out! I know people... Remember Banducci's cousin? The liquor wholesaler?
~ Keane threatens to have Margaret killed


  • The real Walter Keane's family are certain he created the paintings - even to this day.
  • It is unknown if Walter Keane simply lied about the paintings in the end, or if he was so delusional that he ended up thinking he was the true artist.
  • Despite Keane's antagonistic role, Christoph Waltz does not think of him as a villain.
  • Originally, Keane's last scene would end up with a close-up on his eyes, big, sad and full of tears, much like the waifs.