Tommy Lee Jones Wasn't Given Much Of A Choice In His Batman Forever Casting

Despite how "Batman" set up Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent, the role of Dent's villainous alter ego, Two-Face, went to Tommy Lee Jones in the 1995 sequel, "Batman Forever." By then, the "Batman" film franchise had undergone a major tonal shift, with director Joel Schumacher taking over from Tim Burton and infusing the world of Gotham City with brighter colors and quips, not to mention the infamous rubber nipples on Batman and Robin's costumes. Lines like, "Holy rusted metal, Batman!" harkened back to the campiness of the 1966 "Batman" TV series, while Jones was left to share the spotlight with Jim Carrey's Riddler, who ran amok with his own spastic one-liners like, "Joygasm!"

Two-Face was an atypical role for Jones, who did not necessarily relish the opportunity of playing a scene-chewing supervillain the way actors like Carrey, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Uma Thurman might have. In fact, Carrey once related how he ran into Jones at a restaurant before filming their "Batman Forever" scenes together, only for his costar to tell him: "I cannot sanction your buffoonery." At the time, Carrey was on the rise in Hollywood, having broken out as a movie star and comedic lead the year before in "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," "The Mask," and "Dumb and Dumber."

Jones was clearly not thrilled about working with Carrey, but he was also coming off the success of an Academy Award win in March 1994 for "The Fugitive." The late Peter Macgregor-Scott served as a co-producer on the film, and since he had worked with Jones on "Under Siege" and was also co-producing "Batman Forever," he managed to twist the notoriously gruff actor's arm and convince him to play Two-Face.

'He calls me up and he says, "I don't get it"'

"Batman Forever" also reunited Tommy Lee Jones with Joel Schumacher, who had just directed him in "The Client," a straight-faced legal thriller adapted from a John Grisham novel. Before he passed away in 2017, Peter Macgregor-Scott participated in a 20th anniversary retrospective on "Batman Forever" for The Hollywood Reporter, where he related how Jones became involved in the project while he and Schumacher were still filming "The Client." He said:

"Joel was in the Carolinas shooting 'The Client.' I go to see Joel on set and got Tommy Lee [Jones] and all of his principle actors working. Tommy Lee and I were quite good friends. I'd done 'Under Siege' and 'The Fugitive' with him. And I remind him that he got the Academy Award for 'The Fugitive.' 'F*** you,' he said (laughs). He's a great guy. Difficult but wonderful. Later when we were working on 'Batman,' I said to Joel, 'Tommy would be a fantastic Harvey/Two-Face.' He said, 'Go get him.'

"So I sent Tommy Lee the screenplay down in Texas, and two hours later, he calls me up and he says, 'I don't get it.' I said 'Why don't you reread the f****** thing and remember that the Academy Award-winning actor Tommy Lee Jones is playing the f****** role!' And I hung the phone up. (Laughs.) A few hours later, he calls back and says, 'OK, I'll do it.' And then he got on a plane and flew into Burbank the next day, and we went to work. No management. No nonsense."

The faces of Harvey Dent

While the casting of Tommy Lee Jones in "Batman Forever" may have been a no-nonsense deal, the movie itself is full of all sorts of nonsense. When we first meet Two-Face, the villain is already fully formed, complete with bank-robbing henchmen and a lair with two "good" and "bad" girlfriends, Sugar and Spice, played by Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar.

Years later, Aaron Eckhart would try to wrench more pathos out of the character's transformation from Dent, the upstanding Gotham district attorney, into Two-Face in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight." However, for a certain generation of Batman fans, the definitive screen version of Two-Face may still be the one voiced by Richard Moll in "Batman: The Animated Series."

One thing's for sure: While Michael Keaton and other stars have signed on to reprise their legacy superhero roles in recent years, we probably can't expect to see Jones as Two-Face again. At a certain point, he may have just found himself in a position where he had signed on for "Batman Forever" because of his working relationship with Macgregor-Scott and Schumacher, and was then contractually obligated to appear in the film despite his misgivings about it.