Robin Williams is an incredible talent. He’s equally engaging in comedic roles as well as dramas, and has done everything over his illustrious career from stand-up to starring in a successful sitcom to playing psychos in numerous movies. He also happens to be one of the hairiest humans on the planet. How Robin Williams hasn’t been cast in at least one werewolf movie every decade is beyond belief. I’ve got $20 that says he grew that Jumanji scruff in less than 24 hours. But back to Robin Williams’ film career…
Williams has been working in film and TV since 1977 and in those four decades has been nominated for three Academy Awards (winning one), as well as two Emmys and four Golden Globes. Awards aside, there has been one achievement that has eluded Williams for some 25 years — Batman. Specifically, playing a part in a Batman movie. I actually feel a bit sorry for the guy; he’s a huge fan of the comic books and has been shafted by three different directors. Ouch.
With today being Williams’ 62nd birthday, let’s explore 10 roles the actor lost out on, four of them being Batman-related.
1. ¡Three Amigos! (1986) — There were actually a number of different amigo combinations in play before it was whittled down to Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Martin Short. Originally, it was Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd, and John Belushi. Then Belushi croaked and the project shifted to Steven Spielberg, who favored Steve Martin, Bill Murray, and Robin Williams (in the role of Ned Nerdlander). Spielberg didn’t stay on the movie for long, moving over to E.T. before production began. John Landis picked up the directorial duties and replaced Williams with Short.
2. Big (1988) — Tom Hanks was always the first choice to play the lead role of a boy who wakes up in the body of a man. But when scheduling issues with Dragnet and Punchline came up, other actors’ names were thrown on the table. Among those actors were John Travolta, Robert De Niro, and Robin Williams. De Niro’s asking price of $6 million was too high and John Travolta was viewed as “box office poison” by the studio at the time. Before Williams could sign on for the project, Tom Hanks cleared room in his schedule wand swooped back in to secure the part.
3. Batman (1989) — Tim Burton’s take on Batman marked the beginning of Robin Williams unfruitful quest to battle the caped crusader. As noted in our facts piece on Batman, Warner Bros. always wanted Jack Nicholson for the Joker role, but when he hesitated to sign on for the part the studio began looking into Robin Williams. Who knows how serious they really were about bringing on Williams for the film, but the rumor was enough to convince Nicholson to play the iconic villain.
4. JFK (1991) — Robin Williams was one of many actors considered for the lead role of New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison in Oliver Stone’s 1991 thriller, JFK. Before Hollywood’s then-prince Kevin Costner was locked in for the role, Williams, Jeff Bridges, Harrison Ford, and Mel Gibson were also being looked at for the part. After Costner’s Dances With Wolves cleaned up in Oscar nominations, the studio dumped every other actor in an effort to capitalize on Costner’s heat.
5. Philadelphia (1993) — This one probably stands out as the strangest lost role Robin Williams nearly had. Director Johnathon Demme was concerned that the story of a lawyer with AIDS was just too damn sad and could benefit from some comic relief. Demme was looking into casting Bill Murray or Robin Williams to play the role of lawyer Joe Miller, but dismissed the idea of bringing on a comedic actor when Denzel Washington expressed interest in the role.
6. Batman Forever (1995) — After losing the Joker role to Nicholson, Williams refused to do any Warner Bros. projects until he got an apology from the studio for basically using him as a pawn. When the Batman Forever project came up Williams was immediately considered for the role of the Riddler and was on board to play the part. That was before Tim Burton dropped out and Michael Keaton left the project. After negative feedback over the dark vibe of Batman Returns, Warner Bros. brought in director Joel Schumacher, who favored Jim Carrey for the part.
7. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) — Despite his success with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and budding The Office fame, Fox Searchlight was hesitant about casting Steve Carell and looking at more recognizable actors. Robin Williams and Bill Murray were considered for the role, but were obviously a lot more expensive. In the end, the studio’s decision to cast Carell paid off, as Carell’s performance earned universal praise.
8. Milk (2008) — In the early ’90s, Oliver Stone was attached to the biopic of gay rights advocate Harvey Milk, and Robin Williams was his top choice for the role. When the project — then-titled The Mayor of Castro Street — shifted from Stone to Gus Van Sant, Williams stayed on to play the part despite doubts from some that he could portray a gay activist. Via Philly.com:
“I grew up in San Francisco; I grew up around gay people,” he says. “I remember walking down the streets one day and the Sisters of Indulgence, specifically Sister Mary Boom Boom, looked at me and said, ‘There goes the neighborhood.’ I thought that was wonderful.”
The project failed to get off the ground for over a decade because of Van Sant’s issues with the script and in that time Williams moved on from the project, allowing Sean Penn to come in and snag the “Best Actor” Oscar.
9. The Dark Knight (2008) — After hearing that Christopher Nolan was developing the follow-up to Batman Begins, Williams publicly expressed his interest on a new take for the Joker role to IGN:
“Well, you want to do a different Joker. You know, if they do Arkham Asylum, it would be amazing. Arkham Asylum is one of the greatest, nastiest comic books ever. It’s truly, it’s like the Marquee de Sade on that level, and wonderfully damaged and quite tragic, in terms of when you realize [what happened to] create these characters.”
Williams had of course previously worked with Nolan on Insomnia, but unfortunately for him Nolan had a vision for the Joker that included Heath Ledger from the beginning.
10. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) — At this point Robin Williams’ attempts to land a part in a Batman movie are becoming a little embarrassing, but he doesn’t give up when it comes to playing a Batman villain. In 2010, Williams again expressed his obsession with playing the Riddler — or really any role in Christopher Nolan’s next installment of the trilogy. Williams gave an interview to Empire magazine that was essentially a desperate plea to Christopher Nolan for a part.
Years ago they offered me The Joker and then gave it to Jack Nicholson, then they offered me The Riddler and gave it to Jim Carrey. I’d be like, “Okay, is this a real offer? If it is, then the answer’s yes. Don’t pump me again, motherf*ckers.”
“I’m using this article as an ad. Chris, call me, I’ll do anything. I could be a great character — or some weird little man in the background in Arkham Asylum.”
Happy birthday, Robin. Maybe try calling up your Good Will Hunting buddy Ben Affleck?