Willem Dafoe was once considered to play the Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film, but he was never actually offered the part. Burton’s film, starring Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, ranks as one of the most influential comic book movies ever been made – and that’s partly because of Nicholson’s portrayal of the iconic DC Comics supervillain.
Prior to casting Nicholson as the Clown Prince of Crime, Burton and his casting team looked at a number of top-tier actors at the time to bring the character to life on the big screen, such as James Woods, John Lithgow, and Tim Curry (who eventually did voice the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series), but many of them had either passed on the role or simply weren’t the right fit for the project. And when it came to casting the Joker (and Batman), the decision needed to be ideal. Interestingly, Dafoe has always been a fan-favorite to play the Joker based on his physical appearance alone, and the fact that he’s an exceptional actor only makes the choice even more sensible. The thing is, one of the writers on the original Batman movie agrees with fans.
In a recent profile interview with THR, Willem Dafoe mentions that Batman 1989 screenwriter Sam Hamm thought he was the perfect person to play the Joker based on his appearance (specifically his cheekbones), and his name was even tossed around at one point, but he was never actually offered the gig. He said: “[Screenwriter Sam] Hamm said something about how physically I would be perfect for the part, but they never offered it to me.”
Nicholson went on to play the Joker admirably in Burton’s Batman, and Dafoe eventually picked up the role as the Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, so it all worked out in the end. But still, fans may wonder what Burton’s film would’ve been like if Dafoe had been cast as the iconic supervillain instead of Nicholson.
While Dafoe never got the chance to play the Clown Prince of Crime, it’s not too late for the actor to still join the DC universe. He was originally supposed to appear in Zack Snyder’s Justice League as Nuidis Vulko – one of Aquaman’s trusted advisors – but his role was, unfortunately, excised from the final product, as were many cameos. Still, he’s slated to make his official DCEU debut as Vulko in James Wan’s Aquaman, which is due out in theaters later this year.
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