If you ask Mark Hamill, there’s a reason we call them classics.
The acting legend revealed that Claude Rains’ riveting performance in the 1933 Universal horror film The Invisible Man served as his primary source of inspiration for his iconic take on DC Comics’ the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series.
“I would imitate the old Universal horror films and I realize, in retrospect, I wasn’t doing it consciously, but Claude Rains as The Invisible Man… [mimicking Rains’] ‘Crazy? You think I’m crazy? I’ll show you who’s crazy!'” Hamill told Sway's Universe this week (starts at 23:30). “So he had sort of the grit that I incorporated into it, and I said to voice-over people later, I said I would do a character, and I would say, ‘It’s sort of like Howard Cosell meets Jay Leno, is that a cheat?’ And they said, ‘No, we do that all the time.’ "
Hamill also elaborated on how the ex-Tonight Show host impacted the voice part as well.
“People don't even realize, you take elements... I don't do a very good Jay Leno, but just [imitating Leno], 'Ya know, that cadence,' and I'll use people all the time," the Star Wars star added. "So I have lots of influences.”
Of course, many an actor has put his stamp on the Joker in different ways. The Dark Knight's Heath Ledger famously channeled the anarchist air Malcolm McDowell brought to Alex in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. And more recently, Jared Leto admitted drawing on David Bowie for his elegant rendition of the role in Suicide Squad.
Hamill notes that every time he stepped up to the mic, it allowed him to bring a wealth of influences, some from places you wouldn’t expect.
"I would say, with the Joker, he's different every time you play him. You try and play him like the first time you've ever done it," he acknowledged. "In one script he's meant to be really menacing, and another was a parody of Thelma & Louise, where Harley and Ivy teamed up and Joker was left shuffling around the apartment in furry slippers and totally cuckolded, so he was played as kind of a goof in that one. So he's different every time. That's the way I look at it. But, boy, I've had so much fun doing it.”
And fans can celebrate that legacy when Batman: The Animated Series comes out on Blu-ray later this year to mark the classic 'toon's 25th anniversary.