Heath Ledger as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008)
DC Comics // 2008 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved
While taking on the role of any iconic comic book character comes with a lot of expectations and pressure, no character is as daunting to an actor as the Joker. The legendary DC villain has been portrayed by Hollywood heavyweights such as Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill, but the bar was officially set when the late Heath Ledger took on the part for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008), and earned a posthumous Academy Award for his portrayal. Actors have tried to do the role justice since, most notably Jared Leto, but have failed in the eyes of critics.
Though Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the character in Todd Phillips’s upcoming standalone Joker film looks promising, it's hard to imagine anyone capturing the character in the same slightly-charming-but-definitely-psychotic way that Ledger did. Still, a variety of actors have come close to landing the ultimate villain role over the years. Here are just a few of them.
1. Ray Liotta
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For Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, Ray Liotta was eyed to play either the Joker—a role that ultimately went to Nicholson—or the Caped Crusader himself, which Michael Keaton ended up playing. The Goodfellas actor reportedly turned down the opportunity to join the cast, but seemed to later regret the decision.
"I remember right after a movie I did, Something Wild, Tim Burton wanted to meet me for Batman,” Liotta told The Playlist in 2011. “And at that time, I said, ‘What are you kidding me? I’m an actor.’ But now it’s changed; now it’s good because if you do that you get other movies.”
2. Adrien Brody
For The Dark Knight (2008), Academy Award-winning actor Adriene Brody was reportedly passed on in favor of Heath Ledger. And when 2017’s Justice League was announced, the actor expressed interest in the role again. When asked about the possibility of finally wearing that menacing grin, Brody told Metro:
“I would do it if I feel I can contribute something valuable and that the role would be interesting to me. To me, the villains are way fun! But [studios] don’t offer me those roles. If there is an opportunity to do something like that and play a comic book hero or villain, that’s not something I’m fundamentally opposed to.”
Ultimately, Justice League did not include the Joker.
3. Tim Curry
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Batman: The Animated Series famously featured Star Warshero Mark Hamill as the Joker, but The Rocky Horror Picture Show starTim Curry was originally cast as the villain. While there have been a number of rumors over the years as to why Curry abandoned the role, the actor set the record straight in 2017. “I did play Joker for a while, but I had bronchitis and they fired me—and hired Mark Hamill. That’s life,” Curry told ScreenGeek.
4. Willem Dafoe
Fans have rallied for Academy Award-nominated actor Willem Dafoe—who went on to play the Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man—to play the Joker for years. And in fact, he was considered for the role in Burton’s Batman, however was never officially offered the part. While talking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2017, Dafoe stated, “[Screenwriter Sam] Hamm said something about how physically I would be perfect for the part, but they never offered it to me."
5. Ryan Gosling
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Though Ryan Gosling never addressed the reports, it’s believed he was offered the role of the Joker for David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (2016). The Wrap claimed in 2014 that Jared Leto—who eventually won the role—was being eyed for the part only after Gosling turned it down due to not wanting to sign a multi-film contract. Considering how poorly the film did with critics, Gosling was smart to say no.
Many of the iconic settings of animated Disney movies were modeled after real places around the world. Ussé Castle in France’s Loire Valley, for example, is widely rumored to have been the inspiration behind the original Sleeping Beauty story. (Although the castle in the movie more closely resembles Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle.) Likewise, the fictional island in Moana was made to look like Samoa, and the Sultan’s palace in Aladdin shares some similarities with India's Taj Mahal.
If you’ve ever dreamed of exploring Agrabah or Neverland, then you’ll probably enjoy getting lost in these Disney-inspired travel posters from the designers at UpgradedPoints.com, an online resource that helps individuals maximize their credit card travel rewards. Only one of the posters features a real destination ("Beautiful France"), but these illustrations let you get one step closer to scaling Pride Rock or plumbing the depths of Atlantica.
All of the images are rendered in a vintage style with enticing slogans attached—much like the exotic travel posters that were prevalent in the 1930s.
“A few of our designers wanted to capture that longing to experience the true locations of these fantastic films, and the inner child in all of us couldn’t resist seeing how they interpreted the locations of their favorite films,” UpgradedPoints.com writes. “The results are breathtaking and make us wish we could fall into our favorite Disney movies.”
Keep scrolling to see the posters, and for more travel inspiration, read up on eight real-life locations that inspired Disney places (plus one that didn't).
“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.
1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.
For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”
2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.
In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.
3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.
One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.
4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.
Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.
5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.
Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.
6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.
The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.
7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.
Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.
8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.
Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.
Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)
10. A recent revival included hip hop.
In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.
11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.