While taking on the role of any iconic comic book character comes with a ton of expectations and pressure, arguably none is as daunting as the Joker. The frightening DC villain has been portrayed by Hollywood legends such as Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill, but the bar was officially set when the late Heath Ledger took on the part, earning a posthumous Academy Award for his portrayal. Actors have tried to do the role justice since, namely Jared Leto, but have failed in the eyes of critics.
Though Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal in Todd Phillips’ upcoming standalone Joker film looks extremely promising, the role might not ever be as good again. Many actors have been close to playing the infamous psychopath over the years, however. Here are five.
1. Ray Liotta
For Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, Ray Liotta was eyed to play either the Joker—a role which ultimately went to Nicholson, or the Caped Crusader himself—a role that went to Michael Keaton. The Goodfellas actor turned down the opportunity, but seemingly regretted it years later.
“I remember right after a movie I did, Something Wild, Tim Burton wanted to meet me for Batman,” Liotta told The Playlist. “And at that time, I said, ‘What are you kidding me? I’m an actor.’ But now it’s changed; now it’s good because if you do that you get other movies.”
2. Adrien Brody
Academy Award-winning actor Adrien Brody apparently wasn’t good enough for the role of the Joker. For Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008), Brody was reportedly passed on in favor of Ledger, and when 2017’s Justice League was announced, the actor expressed interest in the role again. When asked about the possibility in 2014, Brody shared:
“I would do it if I feel I can contribute something valuable and that the role would be interesting to me. To me, the villains are way fun! But [studios] don’t offer me those roles. If there is an opportunity to do something like that and play a comic book hero or villain, that’s not something I’m fundamentally opposed to.” The film, however, ultimately did not include the Joker.
3. Tim Curry
Fan-favorite adaptation Batman: The Animated Series famously featured Hamill as the Joker, but Tim Curry was originally cast as the villain. While there have been a number of rumors over the years as to why Curry abandoned the role, the actor set the record straight in 2017. “I did play Joker for a while, but I had bronchitis and they fired me—and hired Mark Hamill. That’s life,” Curry told ScreenGeek.
4. Willem Dafoe
Fans have rallied for Academy Award-nominated actor Willem Dafoe—who went on to play the villain Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series—to play the Joker for years. And in fact, he was considered for the role in Burton’s Batman, however was never officially offered it. While talking to The Hollywood Reporter last February, Dafoe stated, “[Screenwriter Sam] Hamm said something about how physically I would be perfect for the part, but they never offered it to me."
5. Ryan Gosling
Though Ryan Gosling never addressed the reports, it’s believed he was offered the role of the Joker for David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (2016). The Wrap claimed in 2014 that Leto—who went on to play the role—was being eyed for the part only after Gosling turned it down due to not wanting to sign a multi-film contract. Considering how poorly the film did with critics, Gosling was smart to say no.
This article also appears on Mental Floss.