Sean Penn Was Never Offered The Joker Role In The Dark Knight


Even with many comic book movies having followed The Dark Knight since it arrived in cinemas nearly a decade ago, it could be argued that very few villains – if any – have reached the bar set by Heath Ledger’s Joker. To his credit, the late actor lost himself in the role, as I never once saw Ledger when I looked at the screen – I saw only the Clown Prince of Crime. Really, one need not strain themselves wondering why he was awarded a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

But, if we’re to look back slightly further, I’m forced to recall a time when rumors were swirling regarding who would land the role of the Joker in the period separating Batman Begins from The Dark Knight. Seriously, before Ledger was formally announced as having gotten the part in mid-2007, everyone from Paul Bettany to Lachy Hulme had been rumored to embody the Caped Crusader’s greatest nemesis.

Speaking of which, an urban legend existed that Sean Penn had been director Christopher Nolan’s first choice for the coveted spot, which Penn himself recently shot down when appearing on the Happy Sad Confused podcast:

“I don’t recall that. If he did, he never told me himself. Between the indelible one that Jack [Nicholson] did, and then when Heath Ledger came along and made it a new kind of rock and roll. Listen, yes, over the years I’ve been offered a couple of things that became extremely successful genre pictures, and in most cases when I looked at them I think with me in it, they would not have been extremely successful genre pictures.”

Well, now that we can put that to bed, we can’t even ponder an alternate universe in which Penn starred as the Joker, unlike those where someone like Willem Dafoe or Robin Williams played opposite Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s Batman.

Still, there’s much for you Joker fans to look forward to in the not too distant future, such as Jared Leto returning for Suicide Squad 2 and the solo flick directed by Todd Phillips that’ll be headlined by a different actor. Personally, I’m more excited to see Cameron Monaghan finally claim the mantle of the Ace of Knaves on Gotham this spring, but that’s just me.

Additionally, if you’re looking for a more nostalgic alternative, you could simply catch a tenth anniversary screening of The Dark Knight this summer.