The release of Batman Begins, in 2005, began a lot of things: a new trend in superhero movies; the elevation of Christopher Nolan from arthouse filmmaker to household name; a shift in Christian Bale’s career. It also started the fruitful collaboration of Nolan and Cillian Murphy, who played Scarecrow in Nolan’s Bat-film—and went on to also appear in Inception, Dunkirk, and Oppenheimer for the director.
But there was someone else who wanted to play Scarecrow. In a Q&A following a recent Oppenheimer screening in Los Angeles, Robert Downey Jr. told the audience that he met with Nolan for the role. The director, however, was not hugely receptive.
In the video, Downey Jr. says that he heard of the role and had an understandable reaction: “I’m Scarecrow.” (It makes sense, you have to admit.) But his subsequent meeting with Nolan did not go as the actor may have wished. “He was polite and all that,” Downey Jr. says in the video above, “but I mean, you know, you can tell when someone is kind of like, ‘It’s not gonna go your way.’”
It all came out in the wash: Downey Jr. is also in Oppenheimer. And if Cillian Murphy had gotten the Batman Begins role that he first had his eye on, we might not be having this conversation at all. Murphy initially auditioned to play the Caped Crusader himself, but as he told Entertainment Weekly last summer, “It was clear to me from the beginning that I wasn’t Batman material.” Still, Nolan really wanted the actor in the film, and so cast him as Scarecrow—a change-up from previous Batman films, which had huge movie stars (think Jack Nicholson as the Joker) as their villains.
The rest is history—or at least historical filmmaking, in the case of Oppenheimer, which is currently nominated for 13 Oscars. As for Downey Jr., I think it’s safe to say he did okay for himself without ever having to put Scarecrow’s creepy bag over his head.