In an interesting bit of behind-the-scenes trivia relating to Tim Burton’s Batman, renowned actor John Lithgow disclosed that he had auditioned for the role of the Joker in the 1989 superhero film.
Some of the most interesting tidbits that are learned from reading about the history of famous movie productions are the alternate casting choices that could’ve happened if things had gone in a different direction. In different universes, Will Smith played Neo instead of Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, Miles Teller and Emma Watson sung and danced their way through La La Land instead of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and Tom Cruise led the Avengers as Iron Man instead of Robert Downey Jr.
In an interview with Vulture before Sunday’s Tony Awards, John Lithgow revealed that he was in consideration for the role of Jack Napier/the Joker in Tim Burton’s wildly successful and influential Batman. Before Burton even entered the picture, Lithgow originally was the top choice for the role when Tremors director Joe Dante attempted to get his own adaptation off the ground for Warner Brothers in the mid-1980s. Other commitments got in the way, however, and Lithgow turned the consideration down:
“I was doing M. Butterfly on Broadway and it was an exhausting show. It would have meant leaving that show and going right into a movie, and I said, ‘I just don’t think I can’. How about that for stupid? Actors are not necessarily smart people.”
Lithgow got another shot at the role when he auditioned for Burton’s film, but the read didn’t go well for the actor. In fact, he went on record to say that it was the worst audition that he ever had done:
“I have never told anyone this story, but I tried to persuade him I was not right for the part, and I succeeded. I didn’t realize it was such a big deal. About a week later I heard they were going after Robin Williams and Jack Nicholson.”
Of course, the role eventually went to Nicholson, a choice that seems like the right one in hindsight. Not only did Nicholson earn around $50 million by negotiating a deal to earn a portion of the film’s final box office total, his work is considered by many to be one of the best super villain performances ever. For his efforts, the actor earned a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Actor – Musical or Comedy category (whether Batman is a musical or comedy is up for debate). Lithgow may have passed up the opportunity, but there’s no guarantee Batman would’ve been a hit without the iconic work of Nicholson, and that may have significantly changed the history of the superhero film genre.