How Robin Williams Was Almost The Joker And The Riddler

When it comes to comic book movie performances, few are more iconic than Jack Nicholson's role in 1989's "Batman." While Nicholson would go on to earn nearly $90 million for playing the Joker (via Screen Rant), the Academy Award-winning actor wasn't initially interested in the role. According to Far Out Magazine, Warner Bros. producer Jon Peters attempted to get Nicholson involved in the project as early as 1986, before Michael Keaton was attached in the title role, or even before director Tim Burton signed on. The reasoning behind nailing down Nicholson was simple: The producers of "Batman" were pulling a page out of 1978's "Superman: The Movie" playbook, by tempting a large star to their new production in order to have an instant draw for moviegoers (via Critical Hit).

With Nicholson's apparent lack of interest in the role of the Joker, the producers for "Batman" opened up their search for another possibility for the role. According to Screen Rant, the role of the Joker was offered to the likes of Ray Liotta, who would decline the role, instead opting to star in "Goodfellas"; Oscar-nominated James Woods; as well as the actor who voiced Chucky in the original "Child's Play," Brad Dourif.

Will the real Joker please stand up

Early in "Batman's" search for their Joker, producers brought in John Lithgow ("3rd Rock from the Sun") to try out for the role. Completely uninterested in the role, Lithgow stated in a 2017 interview with Vulture that he spent a good portion of the audition trying "to persuade [Burton] I was not right for the part ..." (He also said that his audition was his worst, and that ultimately he regrets that refusal.) Burton and crew had another backup plan at the ready: Robin Williams. Fresh off an Oscar nomination for his performance in 1988's "Good Morning, Vietnam," it was well known throughout Hollywood that Williams, a huge comic book fan (particularly of Batman) wanted to star in the role of the Joker (via Screen Rant). With his Academy Award nod sealing the deal, Warner Bros. offered the comedian/actor the coveted role of the Joker.

As it turns out, however, the offer was a ploy. Warner Bros. offered the role to Williams in hopes of making Jack Nicholson jealous. The tactic worked, with producers telling Nicholson that if he didn't sign for the role, Williams had already accepted. Nicholson relented, ultimately deciding to accept the role as the Joker. Williams was quickly dropped thereafter (via Screen Rant). Reportedly angry about the "bait-and-switch," Williams publicly demanded an apology from the studio.

Not again

Warner Bros. attempted to make amends to Williams in the form of another role in their "Batman" series. This time around, the studio was offering the actor the role of the Riddler in 1995's "Batman Forever." According to "Batman Forever's" screenwriter, Lee Batchler, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Williams was always the choice for the role. "...we wanted to do the Riddler, it was going to be Robin Williams. With the Riddler, we wrote it with Robin's voice. He read our script and loved it ..."

The problem with Williams playing the Riddler came down to director Joel Schumacher, however. Schumacher had other ideas for the role, specifically in the form of Jim Carrey. The director told The Hollywood Reporter, "Getting Jim to play the Riddler — I don't think I got him to play the Riddler. I think we raced into each other's arms. No one else could wear the suit. I think the audience has to feel with the Riddler that he could outsmart you." When Williams caught wind of the change, the actor was reportedly once again furious.

However, according to Screen Rant, that may not have necessarily been the case, either. Early reports tell of Williams ultimately declining the Riddler due to still bitter feelings about the debacle over his proposed role in 1989's "Batman." As history has it, Jim Carrey would be awarded the job as the Riddler, ultimately leaving the Williams without the superhero role he craved. Robin Williams died on August 11, 2014.