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What Actor Regrettably Passed On Jack Nicholson's Joker?

Hint: He usually plays a nice guy, except when he killed Dexter’s wife.

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Tim Burton’s Batman was the movie that kicked off the modern superhero craze, which quite possibly has gotten out of control in the last several years. It also made Jack Nicholson a lot of money. The actor cut his then standard $10 million fee down to $6 million in exchange for a share of the film’s earnings. This decision ended up making him $50 million. Not too bad for the Clown Prince of Crime.

But Nicholson wasn’t Burton’s first choice to play Batman’s archenemy. The Beetlejuice director originally approached John Lithgow, who still regrets turning down the role.

“My worst audition was for Tim Burton for Batman,” Lithgow told Vulture this weekend at the Tony Awards. “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.”

The late Williams was also considered for the role of the Riddler in Batman Forever. But when both Burton and Michael Keaton left the project, Warner Bros. brought on board director Joel Shumacher, who ultimately chose Jim Carry for the iconic Batman villain.

This wasn’t the first time Lithgow turned down the same role. Gremlins director Joe Dante also wanted to cast him as the Joker in his famously unproduced Batman film. However, the Harry and the Hendersons star felt he was too busy at the time.

“I was doing M. Butterfly on Broadway and it was an exhausting show,” he said. “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.”

Had Lithgow taken the role, it would’ve created a six-degrees of separation type deal, but in the Batman universe. His Third Rock from the Sun co-star, Joseph Gordon Levitt, played a loose version of Robin in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Levitt then worked with the late Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You. Ledger of course took the role of the Joker to new heights in Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

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