Jack Nicholson's performance as The Joker in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman is iconic, sure. But it's also rubbed some fans the wrong way. Perhaps the character would have been a little less cartoonish and a whole lot more maniacal had the director gotten his way. Because as it turns out, Tim Burton originally wanted a certain horror icon for the role. And it would have been a slightly more realistic take on the character, on par with what Heath Ledger did with the villain.
When Batman arrived in the summer of 1989, it was an instant cultural phenomena, and it rang out this era in filmmaking with great aplomb and bombast. But the next few films quickly diminished in quality, taking on the campy aspects of the original 1960s TV series before it was all said and done, bat nipples and all. But one thing that remained consistent was the franchise's early ability to pull in top tier talent like Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Uma Thurman, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman...I mean, the list just goes on and on. But it almost wasn't this way.
While Tim Burton always wanted superstar Michael Keaton in the role of Bruce Wayne, he was aiming for someone a little less well known to play The Joker. Though, this guy is quite well known to horror fans as the voice of Chucky in the Child's Play films. Yes, that's right, Tim Burton's first choice for The Joker was Brad Dourif, who has his own distinct laugh, which could have created a very interesting take on the iconic DC Comics villain.
Brad Dourif dropped this bit of trivia while attending a 25th Anniversary panel for Child's Play at New York Comic Con. The actor explains that he was directly approached by Tim Burton himself. Alas, it was never meant to be.
"Tim Burton saw me on a plane and wanted to cast me and they [the studio] said no."
This response came after one of the fans in attendance asked if he'd ever wanted to voice the Joker in an animated movie. After another actor sitting on stage with Dourif mentioned it was actually Jack Nicholson who walked away with the role, Dourif joked, "He takes all my roles." As it turns out, this isn't the only time the actor has been approached to play a part in one of the many Batman movies.
Tim Burton, at one point, was going to direct Batman Forever, which would have been the third in his trilogy. Before the dreaded Joel Schumacher took over. While Burton was attached, he had once again approached Dourif to come take part in the sequel. He was wanted in the role of the Scarecrow, according to Business Insider.
While Jack Nicholson is a big get, and probably trumps any unknown actor for most roles, it was actually producer Michael Uslan's sketch of Jack Nicholson as The Joker that convinced Warner Bros. and DC that the Oscar winner was the perfect choice for the clown prince of crime. Uslan had used a photo from the Shining to make his concept art, a practice which has become more commonplace amongst fans imagining any given actor in a superhero role, taking an iconic performance and manipulating it in photoshop.