While Burton had worked with cult figures like Pee-Wee Herman before, his two “Batman” movies were his only experience with a top-tier cast. He admitted the idea was appealing:
“I really wanted to try something different. The only time I had ventured to bring together several high-profile stars was for the Batman movies and there I wanted to repeat that experience on an even bigger scale. He There are over 20 lead roles in ‘Attacks from Mars!’ so it was quite a challenge for me to put together that cast.”
First, Burton cast his then-girlfriend, model Lisa Marie, as a Martian assassin. (Marie, who also played Vampira in “Ed Wood,” worked with a movement coach to interpret her character’s ethereal, undulating walk.) Then Burton heard from Nicholson, who was desperate to pitch in. Indeed, Nicholson was so pleased with the script that he couldn’t choose just one role he wanted to play. As Burton recalled:
“I remember at first Jack wanted to create a multi-role stunt. When I asked him what role he wanted to play, he said, ‘How’s it going ALL? That’s how we developed the two characters of Jack: that of the president and that of this decadent Las Vegas tycoon trying to set up a new Martian-themed hotel franchise. There’s no better actor to take on the Martians than Jack. I have been very lucky. I like to see someone who’s really strong at what they do and go for it. Jack is ready for anything, as crazy as it sounds. This is the biggest and to see it in two parts. It’s incredible.”
Avoiding the “inspiring” presidential character played by Bill Pullman in “Independence Day” – released only five months before “Mars Attacks!” – Nicholson played a more sardonic leader who would eventually lose his mind trying to stop the unstoppable Martian menace. (Yeah, he dies.) To balance that out, Nicholson also played Art Land, a greasy, money-hungry real estate hustler who tries to open a space-themed hotel in Las Vegas. It was probably a parody of the Stratosphere Hotel (now called – eye roll – The Strat), an actual Las Vegas hotel that opened in April 1996.