The Inspiration Behind Mark Hamill's Signature Joker Voice

For Bat-fans introduced to Gotham City via "Batman: The Animated Series," Mark Hamill will always be the No. 1 Joker. He strikes the essential balance of zany and scary — often within the same scene. Sometimes his Joker is content to just poison the fish of Gotham Harbor with laughing gas; other times he's torturing Robin, then brainwashing the broken Boy Wonder into becoming his sidekick.

The only thing predictable about the Joker is that Hamill will give an excellent performance whenever he voices the villain. No Joker is complete without a trademark laugh, and Hamill's is downright bloodcurdling no matter the register it arrives at. The story of how Hamill devised his voice for the Clown Prince of Crime, not to mention how he even got the part, is a great tale in and of itself.

How Hamill got the part

The usual PR talking point for actors involved in comic book adaptations is to talk about what fans they are of the material. At best, the truth usually seems closer to "I liked it in passing as a kid." However, by all accounts of the casting process for "Batman: The Animated Series," Mark Hamill genuinely was a Batman fan. As he told

"I had read about them doing the animated series and the benchmark they were aiming for were the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons. And Paul Dini was involved, so I said, 'Oh, boy, they're going to get this right.' There were 65 episodes ordered so it would be able to go beyond just the villain of the week. He could be a detective, he could do mysteries, he could do gothic horror, he could do all kinds of things. So I said to my agent, 'I just want to be on that.'"

Hamill wanted to voice a villain, ideally, a more obscure one where he could easily leave his mark. He name-dropped Clayface, Hugo Strange, and Two-Face (parts ultimately played in the series by Ron Perlman, Ray Buktenica, and Richard Moll). Hamill's enthusiasm paid off, and he got a part in the series — just not what he'd been aiming for.

For "Heart of Ice," Hamill was cast as Ferris Boyle, the CEO who turned Victor Fries into Mr. Freeze; Hamill voiced the villain with a slimy Phil Hartman impression. Still, he wanted more. In an interview with Back Issue! magazine, voice director Andrea Romano recounted how after the recording for "Heart of Ice" wrapped, Hamill pulled her aside and stressed he wanted to be a part of the series as a regular, not just as a guest. Luckily, Romano had an opening.

The audition

The original voice actor for the Joker, Tim Curry, had been let go. Curry would claim it was because he had come down with bronchitis, but according to Andrea Romano and series co-creator Bruce Timm, producer Alan Burnett vetoed Curry's casting. Timm added that Curry's performance and laugh came off as unnatural. "It never really sounded like he was genuinely amused by anything," Timm told Back Issue! magazine. "It just sounded like this weird, inorganic laugh." Curry's loss was Hamill's gain. 

Hamill was thrilled at the chance to audition for the Joker, but went in thinking he wouldn't get the part. As he told The Hollywood Reporter

"I figured there was no way they'd hire Luke Skywalker as the Joker. So, in a way it was very freeing. I had great confidence at the audition because I thought there was no way I could get it. I thought, 'I'm going to give them the best damn Joker they've ever heard and they're really going to regret not being able to cast me.'"

Instead, swinging for the fences is what got Hamill the part. Crew members were wowed by his audition, and he was hired as the voice for the Clown Prince of Crime. In an interview with, Romano in particular said:

"[Hamill] was stunning! Absolutely remarkable. His timing was right on, he came up with this terrifying voice and an iconic laugh and I think that's the voice everybody hears when they think of the Joker. Even when they're seeing on-camera performances, they can't help but reference Mark Hamill in their minds."

So did Hamill just pull his Joker voice out of thin air? No. His inspiration came from a most surprising source: the animated Beatles musical "Yellow Submarine."

The influence of 'Yellow Submarine'

During his audition, Mark Hamill had two papers from the producers in front of him. One was a note saying "Don't think Jack Nicholson," who Hamill hadn't been planning on emulating in the first place. As he told "I wanted to deliver an old-school comic book interpretation of the Joker. He's a theatrical guy who really has fun; the joy has to come across in his battle with Batman."

The other was a black-and-white concept drawing of the Joker. The villain's look influenced how Hamill modulated the voice:

"[The Joker] had those teeth and, just based on that drawing, it really meant a lot, because I thought, 'I've gotta make.. whatever voice I come up with sound like it's coming out of that character.' And I thought, 'Teeth, teeth, teeth, he's all teeth!' I threw in a little, the Blue Meanies from 'Yellow Submarine,' 'Hello, lovey-dovey,' I wanted to alter him so that he didn't have just one sound... Visual representation is really important, especially in animation."

In "Yellow Submarine," the Blue Meanies are a music-hating race who conquer the utopian Pepperland. The Joker's design in "Batman: The Animated Series," from the long nose to the pointed jaw to his square, toothy grin, is indeed quite reminiscent of the Blue Meanies. Paul Angelis, who also voiced the film's narrator and the animated Ringo Starr, played the leader of the Blue Meanies. Listening to his performance oscillate from flighty to scary, the genesis for Hamill's Joker is clear. As Hamill explained:

"I wanted [the Joker] to feel like he was teetering on the edge of losing it any moment, like it was an effort for him to maintain some sort of sanity because he's so unpredictable."

So if Hamill's Joker voice comes from the Blue Meanies, then what about his trademark laugh? That emerged from one of Hamill's past roles.

Hamill finds his laugh on Broadway

One of Mark Hamill's first roles after "Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi" wasn't in a film, but on the stage. Specifically, he played Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in a 1983 run of Peter Shaffer's "Amadeus." Hamill toured the United States for six months before playing the part for three months on Broadway.

He auditioned to reprise the role when Miloš Forman adapted the play to film a year later, but he didn't get the part. As Hamill recalled Forman telling him to the Associated Press, "no one is going to believe that Luke Skywalker is Mozart." While "Amadeus" didn't give Hamill a big-screen reinvention, playing the part on the stage did give him a tool that proved invaluable in his switch into voice acting, where audiences recognizing Luke Skywalker's face wasn't a problem. That tool? Bone-chilling laughter.

A signature trait of Shaffer's Mozart is his annoying laugh. Experimenting to find the right laugh for Mozart meant Hamill came pre-equipped with a perfect Joker laugh. Hamill explained to Vulture: 

"Mozart had this sort of ghastly laugh that threw everybody. I played with that laugh a lot ... I'm telling you this because, in retrospect, after getting the part, I asked Andrea Romano, 'How did I get it? What was the process? How did you know that you wanted me?' And she said, 'The laugh.' I didn't want to get pigeonholed into a specific laugh. With the Joker, I said, 'This is like an artist with a very big palette. I want a range of laughs.'"

When a character has been around as long as the Joker has, the joy becomes seeing how artists will reinvent the role through their own lens of experiences. For Hamill, that meant drawing on his memories of "Yellow Submarine" and his experience playing Mozart to bring the Joker to life.