Many of today’s Dark Knight fans associate the Joker with Jack Nicholson thanks to Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman. With his huge mouth and psychotically arched eyebrows, Nicholson stole the show in the film and set the bar for future Jokers. Nevertheless, Nicholson wasn’t Burton’s first choice: John Lithgow was. Speaking to Vulture, Lithgow revealed that he deeply regrets passing on the part.
At this past weekend’s Tony Awards, Lithgow mentioned that he was asked to audition for the role and deliberately sabotaged his chances to avoid getting an offer. “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,” he explained.
At the time, Lithgow was about to wrap up a year performing in M. Butterfly on Broadway and he felt he’d be too exhausted to immediately jump into a movie production. What’s more, it’s not surprising Lithgow underestimated the significance of the role. Burton was essentially reimagining what superhero films — especially ones about The Dark Knight — could be. His Batman was much darker and grittier in tone than some prior versions of the character.
These days, the Joker has a different look. Played by Jared Leto, the Clown Prince of Crime starred in 2016’s Suicide Squad, which is part of the current DC Extended Universe.