Jack Nicholson’s performance in Batman (1989) successfully captures the indelible, recognizable personality characteristics of the Joker from the comics: He is an eccentric criminal with a sadistic sense of humor. Nicholson, however, amplifies the traits most concerned with ego: A ballooned sense of self, an overt grandiosity, and the inability to tolerate others in the spotlight. This Joker is larger than life – and requires an audience. His bright purple suits are well-coordinated and impeccably tailored. His bold, perfectly set clown makeup draws all eyes to him. When we see Nicholson sashay through the Flugelheim Museum, laughing wickedly beneath his silk beret to Prince’s “Partyman,” we can’t help but respond the way Vicki Vale does: Freeze in disbelief at the spectacle but keep watching.
The Joker smile from the 1989 Batman was created by Nick Dudman. It took a little over two hours and they had to use a silicone adhesive, due to Nicholson’s allergies to spirit gum, according to 1989Batman. There were 5 different original molds and the Tim Burton chose the one that had thought also was the best looking one.
“There was no reference apart from the comics. The brief was clear. The makeup had to be achieved in 2 hours. Any longer, and it wouldn’t be workable. Oh, and Jack would have the final say on the look.
“I went to Burbank to get Jack’s lifecast. I took one smiling, one neutral, plus plenty of pictures to see how he smiled. We did it all at Tom Burman’s shop (he and his wife were brilliant). I then sculpted five different looks from subtle to extreme and showed them to Jack (since he had final say). Luckily, he chose the one I hoped he would.
“The process usually took 2 hours. There were no issues really. It was glued on with 355 silicone adhesive so no gum allergies would arise. The hardest thing was arriving at a “white” that worked on a dark set next to a guy dressed in black rubber. That took some testing. In the end, we heavily shaded it with a metallic gunmetal.
“I applied the whole Joker white makeup and then painted a layer of food grade silicone liquid over it. This is the same stuff they polish fruit with which means nothing will stick to it. I then stippled on old-fashioned foam rubber grease paint over it. The grease paint was flesh-colored and would move about as it could not key to the silicone liquid. We then soaked Jack’s handkerchief in alcohol. He wiped the flesh-colored makeup away, while the white pax paint was protected from the alcohol by the silicone. For the museum scene, It was just handled by clever editing. Jack was made up in white, then I dressed some flesh color over in places and he smeared it about with his gloves.”