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Jack Nicholson wanted to play every single role in this sci-fi movie

When Tim Burton called up his old Batman buddy Jack Nicholson for a role in his new comedy science fiction movie, Nicholson was a little too enthusiastic.

Jack Nicholson

After making Ed Wood, about a real director of schlocky B-movies, Tim Burton was inspired to make his own. The result was Mars Attacks! which fortuitously ended up being released just a few months after big-budget disaster movie Independence Day. Mars Attacks! basically functions as an Independence Day parody, and is a hilarious comedy movie that features loads of big Hollywood stars meeting grisly ends.

Burton ended up persuading Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Pam Grier, Jack Black, Martin Short, Natalie Portman and more to take part. Burton also called upon his Batman villains – Danny DeVito and Jack Nicholson – to take roles. Nicholson liked the script so much, that he ended up being a little too enthusiastic.

As Burton told Arts Beat LA in 1996; “I remember that at first Jack wanted to create a multi-role tour de force performance. When I asked him which part he wanted to play, he replied, ‘How ’bout ALL of them?'”

The director managed to talk Nicholson down to two characters, and this led to one of the best Tim Burton movies; “This is how we developed the two characters for Jack: the one of the President and the one of this decadent Las Vegas mogul trying to set up a new hotel franchise with a Martian theme. There is no better actor to go up against the Martians than Jack. I was very lucky. I enjoy seeing someone who is really strong at what they do and who just goes for it. Jack is willing to do anything, no matter how crazy it seems. He’s the greatest and to see him in two parts is amazing.”

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Funnily enough, the concept of the ‘one man show’ has got more traction on stage in the last year or so – with Suzy Izzard doing a one-man Great Expectations, Andrew Scott doing a one-man Uncle Vanya, and Succession cast member Sarah Snook doing a one-man Picture of Dorian Gray. It feels like it won’t be long before the concept makes the leap from the West End and Broadway to movies. So, Nicholson was just ahead of his time.

Check out our guide to the best science fiction movies and the best alien movies.