There are a few surefire ways to get yourself noticed in Hollywood: No.1, embarrassingly brawl with the paparazzi, and No. 2, get yourself cast in a #Batman movie. Apart from the shootings, bombings, and general rampages perpetrated by mad supervillains, why anyone would turn down the chance to take to the mean streets of Gotham is beyond me. However, it now turns that the legend that is #JohnLithgow missed out — twice!
The Clown Prince Of Crime
From playing the cheesy Eric Qualen in Cliffhanger, to the tiny Lord Farquaad in Shrek, and the Trinity Killer in Dexter, you could say that Lithgow has somewhat of a knack for playing the bad guy. So, why would he turn down playing one of the best roles in cinema? Speaking to Vulture, Lithgow revealed that he was offered the chance to play the Joker in #TimBurton's 1989 classic but turned it down after a disastrous audition:
“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.”
We all know that the role eventually went to the smirking eyebrows of #JackNicholson, and some nifty profit-sharing made him a very rich man. However, Nicholson wasn't the first choice, and Burton was hot on the heels of Lithgow. Ironically, this wasn't the first time that Lithgow had narrowly missed out on playing Mr. J. In a time before Burton was even warming up the Batmobile, Gremlins director Joe Dante was attached to direct, and he too was measuring Lithgow for a purple suit:
“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.”
Behind The Laughter
Dante flipped the roles and promised to make Joker the focus of the film, while also wanting a darker take that moved away from the campy '60s era. Alongside an outlandish tale of revenge and giant props, it sounds like Dante's vision would've been very different to 1989's finished product. Sadly, Lithgow was just too good, and when Dante literally became obsessed with the honing in on Joker over Batman, he canned the entire project. Luckily, Burton was there to pick up the pieces and the rest is history. I like to imagine that out there somewhere in an alternate reality, Lithgow is dancing to Prince's "Partyman" and spouting nonsense about the Devil in the pale moonlight.
Even with Jared Leto's divisive performance in the #DCEU, there is no denying that playing Joker is one of the hottest tickets in town, so it really is a shame that Lithgow never got a chance to flex his villainous muscles. Mark Hamill has a firm grasp over the role in animation, whereas in film we have only really had notable performances from Nicholson and Heath Ledger. Many thought Nicholson would be impossible to replace, but Heath's part in The Dark Knight is just one of the many reasons it ranks as one of the best films of all time.
Given the gravitas of some of the names that have been attached to the role in the past — and coming after Heath Ledger's performance — Leto was always going to be a bit of a hand buzzer. Even now, there are those hoping that Leto isn't THE Joker and that an older version is knocking around Gotham somewhere. It is a long shot, but personally, my fingers are crossed for that one. Joining the likes Willem Dafoe or a live-action Hamill, we can slip Lithgow into the pack of Jokers that we would love but (probably) will never get.
Check out Joker in action from Batman 89 and don't forget our poll below!
Would Lithgow have been a great choice for Joker?