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Robin Williams was used as bait to get Jack Nicholson to play Joker


Robin Williams was used as bait to get Jack Nicholson to play Joker


In the days before pop culture websites, film and television enthusiasts had to search for movie news in obscure places. I vividly recall discovering a rumor in a TV Guide that involved Robin Williams and “Batman,” which has always remained in my memory.

At that time, we knew that Tim Burton was planning a sequel to the 1989 blockbuster, but the storyline was unclear.

The TV Guide journalist was convinced that “Batman 2,” as it was referred to, would feature The Riddler, portrayed by none other than Robin Williams.

I couldn’t help but imagine the electrifying dynamic between Williams’s Riddler and Michael Keaton’s somber Batman.

However, when Danny DeVito was announced as The Penguin, I was initially disappointed.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been, since “Batman Returns” only grows more remarkable as more superhero movies emerge without the charm, allure, and gothic peculiarity of Burton’s sequel.


Nevertheless, I can’t help but look back on those pre-internet days with nostalgia.

It wasn’t until later that I learned this wasn’t the first time Williams had been part of the “Batman” casting conversation.

He had been in talks for the initial film, but it seems Burton never genuinely considered him for the Joker role.

In the 2018 book “Robin” by Dave Itzkoff, the author discusses the casting process for the Joker and cites Williams’s account of his dealings with Burton and the film’s producers.

According to Williams, they made him an offer but never intended to cast him. They had their sights set on Jack Nicholson, who needed a nudge to sign on.

To expedite Nicholson’s decision, the producers employed a classic tactic: initiating negotiations with another actor.

Williams stated that they asked for a response by Monday, but when he replied before the deadline, they informed him that Nicholson had already committed over the weekend.

Williams recounted: “I replied, but they said I was too late. They said they’d gone to Jack over the weekend because I didn’t reply soon enough. I said, ‘You gave me till Monday, I replied before the deadline.’ But it was just to get Jack off the pot.”

Was it an underhanded move? Absolutely, but it worked. Nicholson agreed to the role, and the rest is history.

This scenario does prompt an intriguing “what if” question.

Would Tim Burton’s “Batman” have been as successful without Nicholson’s iconic portrayal of the famous comic book villain?

It’s an interesting thought, particularly when considering Williams’s later, darker roles in films like “Insomnia” and “One Hour Photo.”

Would he have embraced the darkness or opted for a comedic approach?

We’ll never have the answer, but one of the joys of being a comic book movie fan is pondering these hypotheticals and imagining what might have been.

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