Joaquin Phoenix is in talks to star in the Joker origin movie that The Hangover trilogy and War Dogs filmmaker Todd Phillips is directing, in addition to cowriting. The film will reportedly take place outside of the DC Films continuity (colloquially known as the DC Extended Universe), where Jared Leto plays the Clown Prince of Crime in the Suicide Squad movies.
Leonardo DiCaprio was previously rumored as being the top pick to play the Joker in Phillips' movie, but a deal failed to materialize with the Oscar-winner (whose involvement was always seen as something of a pipe dream, anyway). Phoenix himself has been courted for comic book movie roles in the past, including that of Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios' Doctor Strange solo movie and the villainous Lex Luthor in Zack Snyder's DC film Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. However, it seems that third time might be the charm for the Oscar-nominee, when it comes to comic book and/or superhero movie projects.
Variety is reporting that Phoenix has yet to begin negotiations with Warner Bros. Pictures and DC proper, but that he has been discussing the Joker origin movie with Phillips and that the latter has made it clear that Phoenix is his top choice for the film. The movie will reportedly take place in the 1980s and adapt the look and feel of a gritty crime drama, as it explores how an ordinary man (played by Phoenix) evolves into the maniacal Clown Prince of Crime.
The plan is for Phillips' movie to kickoff an as-yet untitled DC Comics movie banner that will take place outside of the shared DC live-action cinematic universe that includes films like Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad. That will allow Leto to reprise his role as the Joker in the upcoming Suicide Squad 2 (as Variety reports he is expected to do), without creating continuity problems in the larger DC movie franchise in the process. It's not clear yet which other DC Comics movies that have been reported as being in development over the past year could also be included as part of this separate film banner, if any.
Another benefit built into the "alternate" DC Comics film banner is that it will allow filmmakers to come in and put their own one-off spin on iconic DC properties and characters, without necessarily intending to jump-start a new sub-franchise or film series in the process. That means that the role of the Joker in Phillips' movie won't require Phoenix to make a multi-movie commitment, in order to sign on for the project. Phoenix's hesitancy to sign on for comic book adaptations in the past is believed to have partly been motivated by his concerns over having to agree to such an arrangement, which is why the final outcome could be different this time around.
With that in mind, The Wrap's Umberto Gonzalez is also reporting that Phoenix and Phillips have only met once to discuss the Joker movie, meaning a deal may be far from finalized at the stage in the game. As always, we will keep you posted.