Mark Hamill says that Michael Keaton's unexpected casting as Batman inspired him to pursue the role of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series.
When Tim Burton‘s Batman was cast in 1988, Michael Keaton was quite the controversial pick for the titular role. Having come from a comedy background, fans of the caped crusader didn’t think Keaton had it in him to flex his dramatic muscle. Mark Hamill recalls having similar doubts about himself when he auditioned for the role of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, and says it was Keaton’s fish out of water story that inspired him to pursue the role with confidence.
Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Batman has since stood the test of time, and his performance is widely considered by fans to be the best iteration of Batman that has ever graced the silver screen. When he was initially cast for the role, over 50,000 letters were sent to the Warner Bros. offices from disgruntled comic book fans expressing concern that the guy from Mr. Mom wasn’t worthy of residing in the Bat Cave. But Tim Burton clearly saw something in Keaton after they worked together on Beetlejuice because Keaton was able to show off his range, much like Mark Hamill was able to just a few years later when he auditioned for the voice-acting role of the Joker on Bruce W. Timm’s iconic animated series.
Mark Hamill figured that he had nothing to lose by showing up to do a reading for the Joker in the sense that the worst thing that could happen was he wouldn’t land the role. After all, if Michael Keaton could break through into such a memorable part despite the initial controversy that surrounded his casting, then Hamill might as well bravely pursue his own dreams without fear of consequence. And we’re so glad that he did, because it’s been proven that nobody could deliver such a sardonic cackle as well as Hamill could.
Though Mark Hamill didn’t see the same kind of public backlash that Michael Keaton did, he still had his own doubts. In Hamill’s mind, his portrayal of Luke Skywalker was the ultimate embodiment of good in the Star Wars franchise, so why would he be the right fit to portray an unhinged psychopath like the Joker? Knowing that he might not get the part, he vowed to himself that he would show up and confidently deliver the best reading he possibly could, and just wait for the rejection call.
Thanks to Michael Keaton’s indirect inspiration, Mark Hamill must have been confident enough at his audition because he ultimately got the part. And just like Keaton surprised us all with his deadpan delivery as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Hamill surprised himself with his own performance. Hamill’s version of the Joker is widely celebrated, and after The Animated Series, he went on to voice the chaotic clown in Mask of the Phantasm, New Batman Adventures, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and Justice League.
Though Mark Hamill has suggested that he’s retiring from the Joker role after the passing of longtime partner Kevin Conroy (Batman), it’s clear that the Joker has been one of his favorite roles to date. Michael Keaton on the other hand is suiting up once again to reprise the role of Batman in the upcoming Flash film which will premiere on June 16, 2023.