In the storied pantheon of DC Comics, it's fair to say that no villain's shadow looms larger than that of the "clown prince of crime," The Joker. In fact, it could be argued that no bad guy in the entire history of the comic book medium has succeeded in carving a deeper niche into pop culture at large. Naturally, many actors have tried their hand at bringing The Joker to life on screen, both on TV and in film. Cesar Romero set a campy tone for the character in the 1960's Adam West Batman series, Jack Nicholson mixed some darkness into things in Tim Burton's 1989 revamp, Heath Ledger won an Oscar for his work in The Dark Knight, and Mark Hamill has spent decades establishing himself as the premiere animated rendition of The Joker.
The latest actor set to undertake the challenge of putting their own stamp on such an iconic villain is Jared Leto, whose tattooed, visibly manic take on the character in David Ayer's forthcoming Suicide Squad initially drew derision, only to become steadily more accepted as more and more footage of his intriguing performance hit the net.
Leto was recently asked by Deadline about what fans can expect from Suicide Squad, and more specifically how he feels about stepping into the shoes of The Joker:
"You can anticipate a lot of chaos and a hell of a lot of fun. And, I think, something completely different than other movies in the genre. ... It was a role of a lifetime. Really, it was an incredible honor to be asked to play the part. Look, there have been so many incredible performances of the Joker over the years. Then there’s the wonderful artists that have drawn this character and the writers that have written the Joker for 75 years and more through television and film and animated projects. I found it a real honor to be asked to continue the tradition. I’m so grateful that I had the chance, that’s my honest answer and my thoughts on it."
Having appeared in films as varied as American Psycho, Requiem for a Dream, and Dallas Buyers Club, it's clear that Leto is not an actor fond of playing it safe with his choice of role or the material he tackles. When one combines that with his evident admiration for the character of The Joker, it would appear that producers made a wise casting choice, despite initial online backlash. While it's true that Leto's performance in the finished film could still conceivably end up underwhelming audiences, his track record as both an actor and overall artist would suggest that if he somehow fails, it definitely won't be due to lack of trying.
Will Leto end up getting an Oscar nod for his Joker? Probably not, as the odds of that happening are always small for a genre film. Either way, that doesn't mean he won't end up becoming the latest actor to etch their name into the legacy of - as Harley Quinn would call him - Mr. J.
Suicide Squad opens in U.S. theaters on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 2, 2017; Justice League on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League Part Two on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020.
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