In an interview with Vulture before Sunday’s Tony Awards, John Lithgow revealed that he was in consideration for the role of Jack Napier/the Joker in Tim Burton’s wildly successful and influential Batman. Before Burton even entered the picture, Lithgow originally was the top choice for the role when Tremors director Joe Dante attempted to get his own adaptation off the ground for Warner Brothers in the mid-1980s. Other commitments got in the way, however, and Lithgow turned the consideration down:
“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.”
“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.”
My take: I just don’t see him in the role, to be honest. He looks nothing like The Joker and doesn’t have even the slightest of the Joker’s comedic stylings. I think it would have been a disaster to put him in the clothes and cosmetics. A bullet dodged, then.