Of all the villains in the comic book universe, none looms as large as the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime is easily one of the most recognizable fiends in modern American fiction, and he has been brought to life by a number of ridiculously talented actors. One of the most prolific and impacting of those actors was Mark Hamill. Even though he had cemented himself in the hearts and minds of fans due to his portrayal as the Jedi knight Luke Skywalker, Hamill became even more important to an entire generation of Batman fans when he accepted the role of the Joker in the landmark cartoon Batman: The Animated Series.
For many people (myself included), Hamill’s interpretation of the Harlequin of Hate is the definitive take on the character. However, things could have been a whole lot different if the producers of the show decided to go with their original casting choice: Tim Curry.
Yes, Dr. Frank-N-Furter himself was once tapped to play Batman’s archnemesis. It makes plenty of sense considering Curry was coming off a stellar performance as Pennywise the Clown in the television miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s It. Jumping from one homicidal clown to another probably seemed like an obvious choice.
Curry recorded lines for at least four episodes before the producers decided to recast the role. There were a number of unconfirmed reasons for this recasting, but the most widely spread rumor was that Curry’s performance was deemed “too scary” for a show intended for younger audiences. This was later debunked by series writer Paul Dini in the excellent book Batman Animated. Dini explained that Curry’s take on the character was a little too straightforward in terms of his menace. The producers wanted to capture a more chaotic and playfully twisted version of the Joker, and Curry couldn’t quite bring that manic quality to his performance.
But, there may be a remnant of Curry’s version of the character in one of the episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. In the season one episode “The Forgotten,” Bruce Wayne suffers temporary identity loss (comic books, people) and is taken prisoner as part of a slave labor camp. He starts having dreams about who he is, and one of these dreams involves a confrontation with the Joker. While he never talks, he does laugh in a way that sounds nothing like Mark Hamill’s distinctive giggle. It’s tough to tell if this is Curry for sure (it might be Batman’s own voice actor Kevin Conroy), but it’s definitely not Hamill.
Will we ever get to see Tim Curry’s take on the Ace of Knaves? Batman: The Animated Series showrunner Bruce Timm has screened the episode “Joker’s Favor” for fans at conventions, and it was a version that had Curry’s vocal recording. It’s a very cool peek into what could have been. Would Curry have made as big of an impression as Hamill eventually did? If things had run their original course, would Tim Curry have portrayed the character as frequently and consistently as Hamill? It’s something we’ll never know, but at least we can add Tim Curry onto the list of actors who helped bring the greatest comic book villain of all to life.