But Nicholson also felt that playing the Joker later came with its own set of problems.
Jack Nicholson had concerns about playing Joker in ‘Batman’
To many, Nicholson’s inclusion in Batman gave the film the credibility some felt was necessary for the movie. Peter Gruber, a producer on Batman, briefly spoke on how Nicholson’s casting helped Burton’s superhero flick.
“It changed the nature of the comic framework into a film — from a movie into a film with the inclusion of Jack Nicholson,” Guber once said on a featurette posted by JoBlo Superheroes. “There was something to be discovered there by the critics and by the media because they would find it intriguing that Jack wanted to do that.”
But Nicholson had a few concerns about playing Burton’s Joker that needed to be addressed before committing to the film.
“I was afraid because of my feel of the television series and the way movies tend to be done and talked about. I didn’t want this to go through the normal, ‘Let’s brighten it up for the kids,’ Nicholson said. ‘I thought this was a very strong — in every way — transitional movie about the genre, and really why they wanted me in there.”
So one of Nicholson’s goals for the film was to scare the children.
“My early experience in working for an audience full of children: the more you scare them, the more they like it,” he said. “The worse you are, the better, because that was my response to the Joker. After all, this is a hateful occurrence, this man, if you looked at it literally. Every kid loves this guy, I believe.”
Jack Nicholson questioned the film roles he was taking after ‘Batman’
Nicholson has often looked back at his time in Batman fondly. So much so that he has no regrets about his performance as the clown prince.
“I was particularly proud of my performance as the Joker. I considered it a piece of pop art,” he once said in an interview with Esquire.
However, the Joker wasn’t the type of movie he wanted to be associated with forever. In a resurfaced interview with Total Film, The Departed star explained why he wanted to move away from the character and characters like him.
“Around the time of Batman I realised I was fooling around career-wise. It was great work and a great film but I didn’t want to be seen as this crazy, Joker figure anymore. I think I had a conversation with myself, a real heart-to-heart, and decided I didn’t like people thinking of me as a fool,” Nicholson said.
This career realization made Nicholson feel that he wasn’t putting out his best work in the latter half of his career.
“I’d done such good work, whether it was Goin’ South or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or Easy Rider… But I think I was kind of losin’ it a little in the quality department. I was doing some movies that I should have backed away from,” he added.
Jack Nicholson was furious when Heath Ledger was cast as Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’
Nicholson still had a lot of sentimental value for his Joker character. So much so that when the late Heath Ledger inherited the character, Nicholson admitted he wasn’t too thrilled.
“I’m furious. I’m furious,” he once told MTV News about his feelings towards Ledger’s casting. “They never asked me about a sequel with the Joker. I know how to do that! Nobody ever asked me.”
Nicholson went on to share that he would’ve done a sequel if asked, and how his competitiveness with the Joker role stemmed from his childhood.
“Well, the Joker comes from my childhood. That’s how I got involved with it in the first place. It’s a part I always thought I should play,” he said.