Sean Penn Says He Was Not Offered Heath Ledger's Joker Role

heath ledger joker the dark knight sean penn

The late Heath Ledger has become fundamentally linked with Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, but when The Joker was teased at the end of Batman Begins in 2005, nobody knew who would play the legendary bad guy. Casting rumors swirled for quite some time, including the possibility that Mystic River star Sean Penn would step into the role. However, during a recent appearance on the Happy Sad Confused podcast, Penn denied those rumors and explained:

I don't recall that. If he did, he never told me himself. Between the indelible one that Jack did, and then when Heath Ledger came along and made it a new kind of rock and roll. Listen, yes, over the years I've been offered a couple of things that became extremely successful genre pictures, and in most cases when I looked at them I think with me in it they would not have been extremely successful genre pictures.

It looks like we can put that rumor to bed. For over a decade, some fans have believed that Sean Penn declined the role of The Joker in Christopher Nolan's second installment in The Dark Knight trilogy. In his own words, it sounds like Penn wasn't nearly as close to the project as some had previously assumed -- though he does seem to hold the performances of Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson in high regard.

With that said, Sean Penn's remarks during his appearance on the Happy Sad Confused podcast are also tempered by the fact that he merely knows that he was never offered the gig. Christopher Nolan may have actually considered him for the role before giving it to Heath Ledger; this just means an offer was never officially extended to Sean Penn to accept or turn down.

Of course, aside from this particular story, it's a well-known fact that the hunt for a new Joker is currently in full swing. Suicide Squad star Jared Leto remains Mr. J in the DCEU, but outside of the DC Extended Universe's continuity, The Hangover's Todd Phillips is also in the process of developing a Joker origin movie that will explore the early years of the classic DC villain. Joaquin Phoenix may be the frontrunner to sign on for the film, but as this story clearly shows us, a lot can happen until an actor officially hops onboard.

Sean Penn was apparently never offered a chance to portray The Joker in The Dark Knight, but there's still plenty to look forward to in the DC world. CinemaBlend will bring you more information about the future of the DC slate (which will continue with the release of James Wan's Aquaman later this year on December 21) as new information becomes available to us! As for all of the other films debuting on the big screen this year, check out our comprehensive premiere guide to help get your moviegoing calendars filled out.

Conner Schwerdtfeger

Originally from Connecticut, Conner grew up in San Diego and graduated from Chapman University in 2014. He now lives in Los Angeles working in and around the entertainment industry and can mostly be found binging horror movies and chugging coffee.