'Batman': The Joker's Makeup Design Was No Laughing Matter to Jack Nicholson

The actor clashed with director Tim Burton over one aspect of the character's look.

When Jack Nicholson signed on to play the Joker in 1989's Batman, he had no intention of portraying him as a campy comic book villain, so the look needed to be right. The Tim Burton-directed film turned 31 on Tuesday. 

In a behind-the-scenes featurette, it was revealed that Nicholson had final say over the Joker's makeup design — and he took it quite seriously. "We had a lot of talks," the actor said of meetings with Burton and the makeup team led by Nick Dudman. "Creatively, it was very specific."

Nicholson noted the character in the comics had an elongated chin, which he was interested in toying with as seen in some photos shared in the featurette. The actor also said he knew how he wanted the hair, which he clashed with Burton over. 

"When you look at the comics, his hair is not bright green. You also might see it as a lighting effect," Nicholson explained, saying he wanted the hair understated whereas Burton wanted it bright green, or "Clarabelle," as Nicholson called it.

"You don't want that level of clowning," the actor said, adding that he told the director, "Don't worry, I will try to be humorous, He is the Joker." Still, Nicholson said they tried Burton's idea. "We did the test on the wig and immediately he saw it was too bright," Nicholson said. "Change the wig. Much less green area. Much less fright wig element." 

The actor also noted the makeup process was even more challenging due to an allergy he has, saying, "One of the ironies of my life is I am allergic to spirit gum, the basic unit to movie makeup."

Watch the entire segment below.