How Cillian Murphy became Jonathan Crane, aka The Scarecrow, in Batman Begins is one of those bits of Hollywood lore. The actor auditioned for the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne initially, even though he and director Christopher Nolan pretty much knew it wasn’t the right fit when they met. Little did they know this audition would earn Murphy the role of Crane, and Nolan would see to it.
“When we had our first conversation I think both of us knew that you weren’t going to wind up playing Batman,” Nolan explained to Entertainment Weekly. “But I really wanted to get on set with you, I wanted to get you on film. We did those screen tests very elaborately, on 35mm, with a little set. There was…electric atmosphere…when you started to perform.”
This was a ploy by Nolan to convince Warner Bros. executives to hire Murphy for the villainous role. “We did two scenes – there was a Bruce Wayne scene and a Batman scene – and I made sure that executives came down and watched what you were doing on set,” Nolan continued. Murphy got a favorable reaction from them and Nolan saw his opening.
“Everybody was so excited by watching you perform that when I then said to them, ‘Okay, Christian Bale is Batman, but what about Cillian to play Scarecrow?’ There was no dissent,” he said. “All the previous Batman villains had been played by huge movie stars: Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Carrey, that kind of thing.” The director wanted to buck that trend.
That was a big leap for them and it really was purely on the basis of that test,” Nolan added. “So that’s how you [Murphy] got to play Scarecrow.” Murphy would take it from there. “It was clear to me from the beginning that I wasn’t Batman material,” he said, adding he felt Christian Bale was right for the cape and cowl.
A majority of moviegoers agreed, despite Bale’s questionable choice of voice under the cowl, and turned Nolan’s trilogy into a billion-dollar success. The star would ride off into the sunset after The Dark Knight Rises, but Murphy’s working relationship with Nolan would continue with Inception, Dunkirk, and this summer’s epic biopic Oppenheimer about the man who created the A-Bomb.