Steven Seagal was once in consideration to star in Tim Burton’s Batman. In the late 1980s, Seagal was on top of the world and his career saw greater success continuing on into the early 1990s. Taking on the role of Bruce Wayne could have made a huge difference in the actor’s career trajectory at that point in time, and one has to wonder if Burton’s big screen take on the Dark Knight would’ve been as successful as it ended up being had Seagal starred. Looking back, it would be really weird to see Seagal acting opposite Jack Nicholson’s Joker.
Before Warner Bros. agreed to have Michael Keaton star in 1989’s Batman, they were out looking for someone to take on the more action-oriented aspects of the character, potentially overlooking the Bruce Wayne aspect. “There were a lot of people at Warner Brother who wanted to cast it with an action star,” says screenwriter Sam Hamm. One of the original picks Warner Bros. had was Steven Seagal. Hamm had this to say.
“You have to make Bruce Wayne work, because Batman is, for the most part, going to be a stunt guy, or it’s going to be somebody running around in a costume in long shot. You don’t need the martial arts expertise of, say, Steven Seagal or somebody like that because you can fake all of that kind of stuff. Seagal was one of the people that was suggested to us.”
Steven Seagal is better known for his action sequences than he is for his acting chops. That’s not to say he is a terrible actor, far from it actually, he just arguably doesn’t have the natural ability of someone like Michael Keaton. With that being said, Seagal knows his way around all of the martial arts techniques and could have left a huge mark on the action scenes. When it comes down to it, Sam Hamm doesn’t think the actor made it to the audition process. Hamm explains.
“Believe it or not. He had just kind of appeared on the scene, people thought holy cow, this guy’s badass. He could be Batman. I don’t think it ever got to the point where he read for it. He was just one of the names that was floated.”
Michael Keaton is not who the studio saw taking on the role of Batman in 1989. The fact that they were thinking of someone like Steven Seagal proves this point. Keaton was mostly known for comedies at the time, so he was a hard sell, but he was the one who Tim Burton and Sam Hamm wanted for their version of Batman. This version of the character is still learning to figure everything out while still holding on to some major past trauma. Hamm had this to say about their Bruce Wayne.
“He was rich. He came into possession of great wealth. He had no apparent authority figure in his life, except his employee. As far as everybody knows, the guy that raised Bruce Wayne was his butler. So if the butler says, ‘Master Bruce, this is crazy. You can’t put on a suit and go out and fight crime,’ then Bruce could just say, ‘Alfred, you’re fired. I’ll find another butler.’ So he didn’t have any kind of steadying influence telling him, ‘You got to get over this. You got to put it all behind you and figure out something productive to do with your life.’ He was just able to sort of nurse his wound over all these years.”
Michael Keaton fit this mold almost too perfectly for Batman. It was something new for Bruce Wayne and it was also something new for Keaton and it was a gamble that paid off. Keaton is still brought up thirty years later when fans discuss the best version of the Dark Knight to hit the big screen. One has to wonder if the movie would be held in such high regard had Steven Seagal taken on the lead role. The interview with Sam Hamm was originally conducted by Syfy.