In August, film fans got a reminder of the extraordinary talent of the late Heath Ledger, and the darkness he immersed himself to deliver one of modern cinema’s most iconic performances. “He pretty well locked himself up in a hotel for a month or so, to galvanise the upcoming character in his own mind,” the actor’s father Kim explains of Heath’s 2008 turn as The Joker, in a clip from forthcoming German documentary series Too Young To Die. Glimpsing inside the Australian’s personal diary from the making of The Dark Knight, it stirred up still-raw memories of his portrait of Batman’s famous nemesis – how he ran away with every scene he appeared in and how the world lost a talent in his searing screen prime. The definitive movie Joker? Many would say so.
How do you follow a performance like that? That is the question you imagine Jared Leto will have spent most of his recent waking hours puzzling over, ahead of his turn as The Joker in next year’s Suicide Squad – DC Comics’ hotly anticipated super-villain extravaganza, pegged for release next year. And Will Smith yesterday (October 5) gave some insight into his performance, revealing that he’d “never actually met Jared Leto” because he was always in character on set.
“We worked together for six months,” said Smith, “and we’ve never exchanged a word outside of ‘Action!’ and ‘Cut!’ We’ve never said ‘Hello,’ we’ve never said ‘Good day.’ I’ve only ever spoken to him as Deadshot and him as the Joker.” But with Ledger’s precedent hanging over the character of The Joker, it remains to be seen how the 30 Seconds To Mars frontman – an Oscar winner and celebrated actor in addition to his career as a best-selling rock frontman – will find his own breathing space within the role.
The Joker is as enduring a character as Batman himself, bigger than any one actor, portrayal or depiction. Gotham’s caped crusader first appeared in May 1939. Since then, Batman as an entity, an icon, has survived the hundreds of different storylines, the countless artists that have drawn him, Dick Grayson taking over the mantle and that godawful George Clooney film. It would take a force stronger than Ben Affleck to sink Batman. It would also take a lot more than Jared Leto getting The Joker slightly wrong in Suicide Squad to stop DC’s greatest villain in his tracks. But he doesn’t have to – here’s a few ways he can make the role his own…
FORGET ABOUT THOSE BEFORE HIM
Those who remember Jack Nicholson’s appearance as The Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 blockbuster will suggest maybe the best way forward for Leto is to forget all about his Clown Prince Of Crime predecessors. After all, if Jack had worried about topping Cesar Romero’s campy take on the Gotham’s green-haired villain in the original TV series, he wouldn’t have delivered one of his career-best performances opposite Michael Keaton in Burton’s telling of Batman’s genesis.
IMMERSE HIMSELF IN THE CHARACTER’S CRAZINESS
What’s certain is that Leto needs a crystal clear vision of the character’s mindset. Given he’s reportedly been sending roadkill to fellow members of the Suicide Squad cast while filming, it sounds as if he’s exploring the character’s twisted psyche quite thoroughly already.
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MAKE THE MOST OF THE DIFFERENT SOURCE MATERIAL
He’s helped by the fact the source material is so wildly different – the Joker of Suicide Squad is rumoured to come from John Ostrander’s comic 1980s reboot of the team, whereas Ledger’s Joker was loosely based on the Joker depicted in Alan Moore’s ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’ and Grant Morrison’s ‘Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth’.
TAP INTO CURRENT FEARS
The last great Joker scared people in a very contemporary way – Nicholson’s Joker was a classic, unpredictable psychopath, but Ledger operated as a silent threat and created the sort of crude videos we’re more used to seeing from terrorist organisations. The result was the quintessential post-9/11 villain. How Leto does this is the key to his character’s success – whether it’s the anarchy of ISIS or something even more sinister he mines…