Picture this: Joaquin Pheonix in a Batman film, but instead of playing the emaciated and disturbing Joker, he is instead playing the buff and battle-hardened Batman. That was the vision proposed by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky back in the early 2000s, as he revealed in an interview with Empire. But the studio wanted something different.
"The studio wanted Freddie Prinze Jr. and I wanted Joaquin Phoenix. I remember thinking, 'Uh oh, we're making two different films here.' That's a true story. It was a different time. The Batman I wrote was definitely a way different type of take than they ended up making."
It is hard to imagine a bigger difference in the vision for a Batman movie than a director that wanted The Dark Knight to be played by an actor who's biggest role at that time had been as the sociopathic villain from Gladiator, and a studio that wanted the character to be played by the guy behind Freddie in the Scooby Doo movies.
Besides, there is little chance that Joaquin Phoenix would have even accepted the role of Batman, since he has made a habit of staying away from comic book movies, and has gone on record saying that he chose to act in the Joker movie because it was so far removed from a traditional CGI action-heavy superhero film. Still, it is interesting to consider that the actor who won an Oscar for playing Batman's arch-enemy was once in the running to play Batman himself.
In a strange bit of coincidence, a similar trajectory was followed by Heath Ledger in the Batman movies that Warner Bros. made with Christopher Nolan after Aronfonsky passed on the project. The late actor had come to Nolan's attention through his earlier work, and the director offered him the part of Bruce Wayne aka Batman in Batman Begins.
Ledger passed on the film because he was not interested in being a part of a superhero film. But then he saw the gritty realism Nolan brought to his first Batman film and his interest awakened. Ledger then reached out to Nolan and expressed his desire to play Joker in the next Batman film. The rest is history, with the actor also winning an Oscar for playing the Clown Prince of Crime, just like Phoenix.
So we guess the lesson here is if you ever get the offer to play Batman, refuse, and ask to play the Joker instead. Even Christian Bale once admitted that he felt limited while playing Batman opposite Ledger, just because of how much fun the actor was clearly having playing the Joker, and it made Bale feel his own work was less interesting by comparison.
It is fun to imagine the kind of Batman film Darren Aronofsky would have made. Known for films like the Oscar-nominated The Wrestler and Requiem For a Dream, the filmmaker would have surely bought an interesting twist to the superhero's mythology, and who knows, his script may even have convinced Pheonix to play Batman long before becoming the Joker. This was first reported by Empire Online.