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Jack Nicholson knew immediately how he was going to play the Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman; it was going to be the only way the film would have been taken seriously.
The multi-winning Oscar actor, who turned 85 on Friday, explained in a previous making-of featurette that the classic DC comic book villain could not be a bombastic cartoon incarnation. If he were, the picture would be dismissed before it even got out of the gate.
“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 previously. “I thought this was a very strong — in every way — transitional movie about the genre, and really why they wanted me in there.”
In the same featurette, Batman producer Peter Guber noted that Nicholson’s involvement legitimized the picture within the industry.
“It changed the nature of the ‘comic’ framework into a film — from a movie into a film with the inclusion of Jack Nicholson,” Guber said. “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.”
Compared to Marlon Brando lending his acting gravitas to 1978’s Superman by Guber, Nicholson said he took the Joker role more seriously than anyone else involved in the project. And he knew kids would respond to a darker version of the character.
“My early experience in working for an audience full of children: the more you scare them, the more they like it,” Nicholson said devilishly. “The worse you are, the better, because that was my response to the Joker. This is a hateful occurrence, this man, if you looked at it literally. Every kid loves this guy, I believe.”
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