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John Lithgow Still Regrets Passing on Playing the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman

John Lithgow at the Tony Awards. Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Tony Awards Pro

Tim Burton’s Batman kicked off our modern superhero craze, and, thanks to a fortuitous profit-sharing arrangement, ended up making Jack Nicholson a very rich man. But as it turns out, Nicholson wasn’t Burton’s first pick to play the Joker. First, he approached John Lithgow, who says he still regrets turning the director down. “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.”

It was the second time Lithgow missed out on the role: Before Burton, director Joe Dante had planned to cast the actor as the Joker in his own never-made Batman film. But at the time, Lithgow felt like he just didn’t have the bandwidth. “I was doing M. Butterfly on Broadway and it was an exhausting show. 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.”

John Lithgow Still Regrets Passing on Playing the Joker