The 'Batman' Role Robin Williams Never Got to Play

Robin Williams played countless colorful characters over the course of his career, but there was one especially flashy role that evaded him: the Batman villain. The late actor, who died Monday of an apparent suicide, told Empire Magazine in 2010 that he was twice offered jobs as iconic antagonists in the original movie series, first as the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), and then as the Riddler in Batman Forever (1995), but got “screwed” on both, with those roles ultimately going to Jack Nicholson and Jim Carrey, respectively. (A 1994 report from Entertainment Weekly suggested it was Williams who’d passed on the Riddler role because the conception of the character wasn’t funny enough.)

After Williams’s Insomnia director Christopher Nolan very successfully rebooted the Dark Knight franchise with Batman Begins (2005), the actor’s name was regularly batted about as one of the series’ possible rogues. His casting would’ve made perfect sense: While Williams is rightfully hailed as a master of both the comedic and dramatic arts, he could go into ‘creep mode’ in an instant (as evidence in not just 2002’s Insomnia, but also that same year’s One Hour Photo and Death to Smoochy). And of course was known for his unpredictable, manic edge, an essential trait for anyone who dares taunt the Dark Knight.

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In 2006, IGN reported that Williams could very well be in the running to play the Joker in Nolan’s Batman Begins follow-up, The Dark Knight (2008). The outlet asked him about the possibility: “Oh God, I’d love to do that one,” he said. “I think you can really explore how bright and how nasty-funny he is, just like I guess what Kevin [Spacey] did with Lex Luthor [in Superman Returns], made him really funny, but yet still damaged.” The role, of course, went to Heath Ledger, who died shortly after the film’s production and won a posthumous Academy Award for what many consider one of the all-time great screen villains.

After the release of The Dark Knight, Williams, who made no secret of his comic fandom and had a particular fondness for the Arkham Asylum graphic novels, suggested he could reteam with Nolan for the next installment: “I would work with Chris again in a second, playing anyone in anything,” he told Empire. “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.”

“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.”

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At one point Warner Bros., the series’ studio, did reportedly push for the final Christian Bale installment, The Dark Knight Rises (2012), to feature the Riddler, but their choice was another Nolan cohort, Inception star Leonardo DiCaprio. In the end, they matched Batman up against both Bane (Tom Hardy) and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway).

Williams never made it to Gotham City, but he leaves behind such an indelible body of work, that his legacy’s not the least bit less super-powered. Still, it’s another reminder of the inspired villainy that could’ve been, and of the marvelous performer we’ve lost too soon.

Photo: Getty Images/ Everett Collection