When news broke that Warner Bros. was developing an origin story for The Joker and that legendary director Martin Scorsese would be attached as a producer, fans were delighted and confused. After stumbling numerous times with the DC Extended Universe, – most notably with the critical mauling of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad – it was clear that the studio needed a fresh direction to take their franchise. What better way to do that than to bring on board one of our generation’s best filmmakers?
Immediately, the name Scorsese brings critical prestige, commercial clout and a level of cultural cachet that the current iteration of DC struggled to capture until Wonder Woman reigned supreme this summer. Todd Phillips, the director of The Hangover trilogy, is said to be the director of the actual Joker movie project, but it’s Scorsese that the studio hopes will entice the talents to the backlot – and there’s no bigger name in Hollywood’s A List acting circle than Leonardo DiCaprio. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “Sources say Warners will make an ambitious attempt to use Scorsese to bring Leonardo DiCaprio into the world of comic-book movies.”
Any work taken to get the Oscar winning star of The Revenant and The Wolf of Wall Street on board will be mighty: The actor, who has made five movies with Scorsese, is a major power player in the industry, and one of its most beloved. He made the leap from child star to teen heartthrob to award-winning talent, and now with that long-awaited Oscar finally under his belt, DiCaprio has the freedom to essentially do whatever the hell he wants. He’s often been considered one of the few actors in the industry who would probably never sign onto a superhero franchise. After all, it’s not like he needs the exposure or money. If getting Ben Affleck on board as Batman was a coup, imagine what it would be like for DC to have DiCaprio as the clown prince of crime.
Of course, this is all rushing ahead of the ultimate deal. As noted by the Hollywood Reporter, no offer has been made yet, and sources say Scorsese’s deal as producer hasn’t even been secured, despite the studio rushing ahead to publicize it. The chances are that any sliver of possibility of DiCaprio signing on would require not only a hefty paycheck for the privilege but some level of creative control awarded to the actor as well. He’s avoided such roles for his entire career, so making the step to do one would need to seriously be worth his time. Whatever happens, the message is clear from DC and Warner Bros. – they want to play it serious and they’re willing to get the biggest names possible to make it happen.
This deal may not be great news for Jared Leto (who is reportedly upset by the notion of multiple Jokers under the current DC umbrella) but it’s a role that DiCaprio could do something really interesting with. While he is an undoubtedly talented actor, DiCaprio’s strength as an on-screen presence relies on his magnetic charm and definable personality as “Leonardo DiCaprio”. It’s the trait of an A-List model of old, one that doesn’t have much of a place in the modern era where stars matter less than the franchise, which leaves DiCaprio as a more classic mould of leading man. Indeed, this is something we’ve already seen explored a couple of times through the lens of The Joker. Tim Burton’s Batman saw Jack Nicholson, one of Hollywood’s most iconic actors, don the make-up and fully embrace the most Jack Nicholson of his traits for maximum lunacy. Then there’s Mark Hamill, who made even the most ardent geeks put Luke Skywalker aside once they heard his voice work in the role.
He has range but he’s always Leo, and that’s something which offers fascinating possibilities when he’s partnered with the right director. Scorsese is particularly excellent at teasing out those dark and more abrasive strains of his personality, something that offered a striking contrast to his other roles at a time when the shadow of Titanic loomed heavily over his career. Some of his best work has come from eschewing that clean cut heartthrob image of his youth and fully embracing monstrous acidity: Think the vile slaveowner with a twisted notion of Southern hospitality in Django Unchained, or the slapstick trip of a conman in The Wolf of Wall Street. His work in the latter is already decidedly Joker-esque in its approach, between the Quaalude induced contortions of his body to the manic motivational speeches that electrify and unnerve in equal measure. He often seems most comfortable playing, for lack of a more polite term, absolute bastards.
DiCaprio certainly possesses the necessary allure and versatility to embody the most infamous villain in comic-book history. There are many iterations of the character that the various adaptations of the Batman universe have yet to cover, so there would be room for DiCaprio, Phillips and Scorsese to explore their options. The rumoured plans lean heavily on a gritty, Taxi Driver style origin story, but DiCaprio wouldn’t look out of place in a more charismatic take on the character, or perhaps they would prefer The Joker in full psycho mode, inspired by the Scott Snyder run on the comics or Brian Azzarello’s popular one-shot.
DiCaprio would also wholeheartedly commit to the role, which seems to be tradition for the character, although the chances are he’d cause less trouble for the studio in the process than Jared Leto allegedly did while preparing for Suicide Squad. If Warner Bros. want the true prestige of an iconic actor in an iconic role, they need to be willing to let DiCaprio have some flexibility for the role, and that could be more beneficial for them as a result. The rumoured plan with these non-DCU canon films is to offer a fresh slate to explore characters and ideas without the weight of forced franchise building or the necessity of inter-connectivity. A one-off Joker movie, free from such constraints and in the hands of the industry’s most beloved leading man isn’t an opportunity that comes along very often, and even DiCaprio would probably be tempted by those prospects.
As always, this is all up in the air until anything is confirmed or denied. The odds are still not in the favour of Warner Bros. in terms of getting DiCaprio to sign on, and they already have the small problem of a multi-billion dollar franchise to deal with before they can make it to a solo Joker movie. Right now, the talk is just that, but it’s also a smoke and mirrors game that reveals immense ambition on the part of Warner Bros. and that’s something that could lead them to fascinating places most other franchises would never dare go. If that path leads them to Leonardo DiCaprio, it would be the coup of the blockbuster generation, and it could be one where everyone wins. At this point in time, DiCaprio can do as he pleases, so why not give it a go?
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