Tim Burton On What He Had To Do To Convince Jack Nicholson To Take Role Of The Joker


Undoubtedly, the Joker stands as Batman’s most iconic adversary. Throughout Batman’s development over the years, this enigmatic figure relentlessly challenges Batman’s moral code, compelling the Dark Knight to confront the darker corners of his psyche. In the early stages of Tim Burton’s Batman pre-production, Warner Bros executives had a definitive choice for the crucial role of the villainous character, and it was no other than the renowned Jack Nicholson, who initially displayed a considerable lack of interest despite eventually portraying the character.

In a previous interview, Burton and Paul Guber, who produced the 1989 film, disclosed the significant efforts and negotiations it took to persuade the Academy Award winner to undertake the role of Joker.


Tim Burton says he was terrified during his visit to Jack Nicholson to have him play the Joker

BATMAN, Jack Nicholson, 1989, © Warner Bros. / Courtesy: Everett Collection

During an appearance on a segment in the 2005 Batman documentary Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight, Burton and Gruber recalled that to woo Nicholson to play the Joker, they had to engage in horseback riding, an activity that Burton did not find enjoyable.


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The director mentioned that he became anxious when his colleague proposed the idea. “I was terrified. There I’m out with Peter Guber and Jack Nicholson on horseback up in Aspen,” Burton admitted. “I didn’t realize horseback riding was in my job description.”

BATMAN, Jack Nicholson, 1989. ©Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection

Tim Burton had to get Jack Nicholson at all costs because his presence would get a buzz for the movie

Guber observed that although Burton might not have been a fan of horseback riding, as he rode with Nicholson,  they connected well and shared a common perspective on how the iconic role of the greatest Batman villain should be interpreted. “Jack committed to the project,” he noted. “I don’t know if was because of the horse riding, but I think they had a good bonding and that moved the project further ahead.”

BATMAN, Jack Nicholson, 1989. (c)Warner Bros./ Courtesy: Everett Collection.

However, Burton explained that the primary reason why they went all the way to get the Five Easy Pieces star was because having him in the movie would spark significant publicity for the project. “Once somebody like him gets involved,” he confessed, “it just raises the bar of everything else and just creates a buzz about it, an excitement that just permeates everything.”

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