Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime remains one of the best versions of the character we’ve yet seen. The “Chinatown” star brought his characteristic ability to play crazy a little too well to the role, imbuing his portrayal of Jack Napier with a quiet menace that eventually exploded into maniacal psychopathy once the character was transformed into The Joker. Nicholson always wanted his Joker to be dark in a way that left kids scared, and he certainly came through on that front.
But before Burton could secure the perfect Joker for his dark vision of Batman, he had to convince Nicholson to take the job. As Peter Guber explained in the making-of featurette, he and Burton traveled to Aspen to meet with the actor. Guber continued, “Jack says, ‘Let’s go riding’ […] Tim says ‘I don’t ride’ and I said to him, ‘You do today.’ There’s a picture of him on the horse with Jack, and Jack’s a really good rider, and Tim Burton looks like he discovered god on that horse.”
Burton recalled the episode, adding, “I was terrified and I’m out with Peter Guber and Jack Nicholson on horseback up in Aspen, I’m going ‘I didn’t realize horseback riding was part of my job description.’ But that was a surreal moment.” Guber explained that while Burton “was not a happy camper,” he did follow through with Nicholson’s request and the star ultimately committed to play Jack Napier. Guber added, “I don’t know [if it was] because of the horse riding but I think that they had a good bonding there and that moved the project yet further ahead.”