Over the years, the Joker has become one of the most iconic villains of any medium, and on the big screen in particular, we’ve seen some extremely memorable portrayals of the Clown Prince of Crime. From Jack Nicholson’s take on the character back in 1989’s Batman to Heath Ledger’s Academy Award winning work for The Dark Knight, whenever Mr. J shows up, it’s always worth taking notice of, and that’s usually because of the individuals chosen to bring him to life.
While nowadays we’re most familiar with the two aforementioned actors’ work in the role, if things had turned out differently, we may have seen John Lithgow in the purple suit. That’s right, the actor flirted with the part at one point in his career, ultimately choosing to turn it down – something he still regrets to this day. And really, can you blame him?
In an interview with Vulture this past weekend, Lithgow revealed that he was in the running to play the Joker in 1989’s Batman and was apparently the top choice. This was actually before Tim Burton even got involved, as Tremors‘ Joe Dante was originally going to direct. That version of the project never got off the ground, obviously, but Lithgow says that turning down the offer wasn’t the smartest thing he’s done.
“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.”
Interestingly enough, he got another chance to play the part when Burton came on board, though according to him, the audition didn’t go too well. In fact, as he tells Vulture, it was one of his worst ever.
“My worst audition was for Tim Burton for Batman. 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, everything ended up working out, as Lithgow has forged an extremely successful career for himself while Burton’s Batman went on to become one of the greatest comic book movies of all-time, boasting an iconic performance from Nicholson as the Joker that earned the actor much acclaim – not to mention a massive payday.
Still, it’s hard not to wonder what Lithgow could have done with the role. We’ve seen him play deranged villains many times in the past and there’s no doubt he would’ve made an excellent Joker. That being said, could he have done as good a job as Jack? What do you think? Sound off in the usual place with your thoughts!