Back when Marlon Brando was cast in “Superman,” his presence was enough to inspire hushed reverence among everyone else involved, including star Christopher Reeve. As Donner said in the THR piece, “I remember how nervous Chris was, working with Brando. But Brando was nice to him. He was nice to everybody. They had dinner; he was Chris’ hero. He was a doll.”
At the close of the following decade, Michael Keaton would be similarly nervous to work with his on-screen hero, Jack Nicholson. In 1989, Keaton appeared on “Late Night With David Letterman” to talk “Batman,” and brought up Nicholson as “the number one” actor he’d always wanted to work with. What’s particularly interesting, though, is that he talked about how Nicholson also went through the same experience as a younger actor. As Keaton explained:
“When [Nicholson] did a movie called ‘Missouri Breaks’ with Brando, he had always loved Marlon Brando and wanted to work with him but he almost didn’t take the movie because he thought ‘I’m not sure I wanna blow it on this one if this isn’t the right one.'”
Just as his hero would go on to give Superman a hand, so too would Nicholson help the Dark Knight reinvent himself for a new generation. In doing so, he also had a direct hand in reviving superhero movies, generally proving to be every bit as distinguished and capable of lending respectability to his movie as Brando was to “Superman.” By bringing some much-needed gravitas to Tim Burton and Warner Bros.’ big gamble, Nicholson proved himself to be the real superhero. If anyone was worth the obscene amount of money that “Batman” yielded, it was him.