John Lithgow could have been the Joker in Batman, but talked Tim Burton out of casting him

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Jan 17, 2020, 1:51 PM EST (Updated)

What would Indiana Jones have been like had Tom Selleck taken the role? Would Toy Story have become the classic it is today if Billy Crystal accepted the voice of Buzz Lightyear? And do you think we'd continue to religiously quote Forrest Gump assuming that John Travolta hadn't turned down the title role? It's fun to speculate the repercussions of a movie, TV show, or franchise going in a wildly different direction in terms of its casting choices.

Take John Lithgow. The Crown actor recently appeared on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen with Will Ferrell while doing press for Daddy's Home 2 and revealed some extremely iconic roles that he turned down. For instance, feeling himself above episodic television, he refused the main role in the Cheers spin-off, Fraiser. Nevertheless, he'd go on to do the sci-fi comedy series 3rd Rock from the Sun just three years later. 

Even bigger than that, he revealed that he was sought out for the role of the Joker in Tim Burton's 1989 film Batman, a soon-to-be iconic part that ultimately went to Jack Nicholson.

"I didn't exactly turn it down," Lithgow told Cohen as Ferrell yelled out in dissapointed frustration, holding his face in his hands. "I was actually put forward by the great casting director Marion Dougherty. It was her choice [for me] to play the Joker [and] took me to Tim Burton. I was working my ass off on Broadway in M. Butterfly at the time and I just couldn't imagine going from that into a movie, besides which, at that point, I though, 'Who is gonna wanna see a movie about Batman?' So I basically talked Tim Burton out of even considering me." 

Not your best call, Mr. Lithgow, but given Nicholson's quintessential performance, it's hard to imagine anyone else making it great.

We don't have to feel too sorry for Lithgow, though, as he got his own lionized villain role in 2001's Shrek as Lord Farquaad. He also won an Emmy this year for his role as Winston Churchill on Netflix's The Crown, so, all in all, he doesn't have to regret too much about the way his career has turned out. Like the character he almost played, his smile need not falter. 

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