The Simple Reason Jack Nicholson Became The Joker For Tim Burton's Batman

Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" is now widely regarded as one of the best superhero films of all time, particularly for its gruesome update of Batman's ultimate villain, the Joker. Heath Ledger delivered a jolting take on the villain in question, one that's overshadowed every Joker performance before or since. Surprisingly though, not everyone was in love with Ledger's update: Jack Nicholson, who played the villain in Tim Burton's "Batman," was reportedly "furious" over it. He's understandably protective over the role, telling MTV in 2007, "The Joker comes from my childhood. That's how I got involved with it in the first place. It's a part I always thought I should play."

Though Nicholson always had a connection to the character, and even wanted to portray the Joker again in a sequel, it was Burton who first inspired him to take the part in the 1989 film. "Tim Burton's a genius," the actor said. "That's why I did the movie. I did the movie based on a single conversation with him."

'[The Joker] should have a humorous dark side to him'

For Nicholson, there was a clear appeal to working with Tim Burton, and it began with their shared history in animation. Burton's tenure with Disney's animation division is well known, but Nicholson also got his start as an office assistant for MGM Animation. As a result, they both had "similar ideas" about their version of the Joker. "Tim said [the Joker] should have a humorous dark side to him," Nicholson explained. That's pretty much the common thread that unites every Joker performance, but Burton's direction was apparently the secret ingredient.

"I don't think they ever really captured Tim Burton's spirit [since he stopped being involved]," Nicholson continued. "They kind of drove the franchise into the ground." One has to wonder what the actor thought of Joel Schumaker's sequels, or whether he's seen any other Joker performances since. It's been 15 years since Heath Ledger took his place as the Clown Prince of Crime, and the role has been recast three times over — through Jared Leto, Joaquin Phoenix and Barry Keoghan, respectively. 

At the time, it didn't seem like Nicholson didn't enjoy any of the Caped Crusader's films after "Batman Returns," and though he hadn't completely written Nolan's films off, he wasn't in a huge rush to check out "The Dark Knight," either. "I'm not inclined to watch it because of what I said. But if it's a good movie, I'll catch up with it somewhere." Probably depends on how well the Los Angeles Lakers are doing.