Want to feel old? Batman: The Animated Series turns 25 this week. The Caped Crusader's fan-favorite show raised the quality bar for classic DC animation and introduced audiences to an entirely new generation of legends like Kevin Conroy's Batman and Mark Hamill's Joker -- both of whom set new standards by branching out in innovative ways with their characters. Mark Hamill recently revealed that the folks behind the series specifically had one slice of direction for him, which was to not to dance with the devil by the pale moonlight by channeling the recent big screen Joker. Hamill explained the producers' note:
'Don't think Jack Nicholson.' . . . I remember going in and they gave me the Nicholson note, which wasn't anything I wanted to do. I wanted to deliver an old school comic book interpretation of the Joker. He's a theatrical guy who really has fun; the joy has to come across in his battle with Batman.
Perhaps more than any other depiction of The Joker in film or television, Mark Hamill's work as The Clown Prince of Crime arguably does the best job of combining the absurd silliness of the Silver Age iterations with the hard-edged psychosis of portrayals from Jack Nicholson and (eventually) Heath Ledger. Where Nicholson's Joker voice is mostly a carryover from his Jack Napier persona, Hamill's version of the character has an almost inhumanly comical quality, albeit while still being terrifying. Now, it seems that was exactly the right direction for all involved, because the folks behind the series didn't want to hear Nicholson, and Hamill didn't want to play Nicholson.
Besides, Jack Nicholson already has one of the most recognizable voices in Hollywood. If Mark Hamill did a knockoff of the 1989 character, people would likely catch on. (Now, had they cast Christian Slater...)
That said, Mark Hamill's admission to THR about the direction of his Joker is surprising when we consider just how much Batman: The Animated Series borrowed from the game-changing Tim Burton era of Batman films. From Shirley Walker's score (which echoes Danny Elfman's score) to the gothic noir tone of the stories, the cartoon never directly adapted anything from the movies, yet still feels like an homage to Burton. In fact, Batman: The Animated Series even directly acknowledged Joker's real name as "Jack Napier," the actual name of Jack Nicholson's Joker. And if you don't think Harley Quinn is a character tailor-made for Burton's production designers, then I don't know what to say.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that Mark Hamill had some extra confidence going into his audition to replace Tim Curry. He didn't think guys like Bruce Timm or Paul Dini would want a Star Wars franchise icon as their Joker, which gave Hamill the boost he needed actually to land the part. Hamill continued:
I figured there was no way they'd hire Luke Skywalker as the Joker. So, in a way it was very freeing. I had great confidence at the audition because I thought there was no way I could get it. I thought, 'I'm going to give them the best damn Joker they've ever heard and they're really going to regret not being able to cast me.'
In the end, Mark Hamill obviously got the job, and we honestly cannot imagine any other Joker voice in Batman: The Animated Series. The series may have ended years ago, but there is still plenty of great television (superhero and otherwise) left on the horizon, though we all know Gotham Season 4 is what Batman fans want. On that note, check out our fall TV premiere guide for more information on all of them!