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How Robin Williams was screwed out of playing The Joker and The Riddler
Photo: © ANP

How Robin Williams was screwed out of playing The Joker and The Riddler

How Robin Williams was screwed out of playing The Joker and The Riddler
Photo: © ANP

The late, great Robin Williams had a career packed with iconic characters.

Though he was primarily known as a comedic actor, he was one of the most celebrated dramatic actors of his generation and was nominated for an Academy Award on four occasions for Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King and Good Will Hunting.

It was 1997's Good Will Hunting which saw him claim the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Some of his other iconic roles were in projects like Mrs Doubtfire, Hook, Jumanji, Aladdin, The World According to Garp, Flubber and Insomnia.

Interestingly, he twice had the opportunity to play roles that might actually have defined his legacy.

A comic book fan, Williams campaigned hard to play The Joker in 1989's Batman, directed by Tim Burton.

The studio's first choice for the role was Jack Nicholson, who initially passed on the project. Warner Bros. then spoke to Williams about the role, but this was apparently a plan to leverage Nicholson into accepting as once he heard Williams was being considered, he accepted the role of The Joker as well as a healthy $6 million paycheck.

That amount was actually less than Nicholson usually demanded back then, but he negotiated himself a percentage of the movie's box office earnings as well as a cut of merchandise sales. Biographer Marc Eliot has speculated that Nicholson might have earned as much as $90 million from his connection to Batman.

Williams was irate at Warner Bros. for effectively using him as a pawn in the negotiations with Nicholson and demanded a public apology from the studio or he would never work for them again.

Robin Williams as The Riddler

Unfortunately for Robin, history would repeat itself for Batman Forever.

Before The Riddler was cast, Williams was quoted as saying:

“I loved Batman when I was growing up because we didn’t have Barney then.  I am just waiting to see the script, and if it’s right, then I’ll sign on.”

There have been numerous stories that have circulated as to why Williams didn't play the Riddler

  • He didn't like script changes by writer Akiva Goldsman
  • He had a clash of visions with director Joel Schumacher
  • He took too long to decide
  • He wanted to get his own back on Warner Bros. for the Joker snub years previously

Williams passing on The Riddler meant that the studio acted quickly to hire Jim Carrey, one of the hottest actors in the world at the time following the enormous success of Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura and The Mask, all of which were released in 1994.

It is hard to know whether Williams actually passed on the role or whether the studio preferred Carrey, but judging from an interview with Empire, it was the latter.

Robin worked with director Christopher Nolan on Insomnia, who would go on to make The Dark Knight trilogy.

"The extraordinary thing about him is that he's still growing as a director," Williams said of Nolan.

"The Batman films engage you so heavily as a viewer because the detail is all there. Even the small characters are interesting, and you can absolutely see how Heath Ledger could create a character as crazy and fascinating as The Joker with a director like Chris, who is totally in control but lets you go wild.

"I would work with Chris again in a second, playing anyone in anything. I'd play The Riddler in the next Batman, although it'd be hard to top Heath as the villain, and I'm a little hairy for tights.

"Plus, the Batman films have screwed me twice before: 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."

In Williams' eyes, the story is clear - he was screwed out of both The Joker and The Riddler.

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