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John Lithgow turned down playing the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman and still regrets it

John Lithgow shares how he regrets turning down the opportunity to play the Joker in two Batman movies

John Lithgow turned down playing the Joker in DC's Batman and still regrets it

John Lithgow has had an impressive career in Hollywood, having starred in hit films such as Terms of Endearment, the recent Pet Sematary remake, and the animated movie Shrek voicing short king Lord Farquaad. However, the actor regrets never appearing in a superhero movie despite being asked to in the past. It turns out that Lithgow was initially approached to play the ultimate DCEU supervillain, the Joker – and says he was “stupid” for turning the opportunity down.

In an interview with Vulture back in 2017, Lithgow shared how he was considered to play the part of the caped crusader’s arch-nemesis in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie. In the end, the star decided that the part wasn’t right for him, and legendary actor Jack Nicholson scored the Joker role alongside Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne instead. One of the reasons Lithgow cited for turning down the role of the clown king of mayhem was due to the audition he gave Burton.

“My worst audition was for Tim Burton for Batman. I have never told anyone this story, but I tried to persuade him I was not right for the part, and I succeeded,” the actor explained before revealing that he didn’t know what he was giving up at the time. “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.”

Lithgow turned down another chance to play the Joker when Gremlins director Joe Dante asked him to play the part in his (never-made) Batman movie. This was before the whole Burton audition Cuffuffle. But like Burton, Dante was ultimately turned 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’,” Lithgow shared. “How about that for stupid? Actors are not necessarily smart people.”

Although Lithgow never got his Joker debut, the star did get a chance to embrace his inner villain in the popular TV series Dexter as ‘The Trinity Killer’. He may not be appearing in a Batman movie anytime soon, but fans can see Lithgow reprising his role as serial killer Arthur Mitchell in Dexter: New Blood – which is available to watch now on the streaming service Hulu in the US and on Sky Atlantic in the UK.