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Why Joaquin Phoenix Is Meant To Be The Joker

VO: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
Warner Bros. is making a Joker movie separate from the DCEU. Joker could've been Leonardo DiCaprio, but instead it's Joaquin Phoenix. Here's why we think Joaquin Phoenix is destined to be the Caped Crusader Batman's nemesis and is worthy of the legacy of such great actors as Cesar Romaro, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger.
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When Warner Bros. announced their plans to develop a Joker movie separate from the DCEU, the internet quickly became flooded with dream casting choices, and although Leonardo DiCaprio seemed to be at the top of everyone’s list, Joaquin Phoenix officially landed the role in July 2018. This casting caught some people off-guard, as a comic book adaptation didn’t seem like it’d up Phoenix’s alley. Between his varied acting career, real-life experiences, and the gritty tone this film is aiming for, however, we believe that Phoenix is meant to be the Joker.

Before we delve deeper into Phoenix’s qualifications, let’s look over the other actors who’ve brought the Joker to life on the silver screen. Cesar Romero’s over-the-top performance fit the tone of the campy TV series and theatrical film from the 1960s, but Jack Nicholson took the Joker to a more menacing place in Tim Burton’s 1989 blockbuster. Nicholson is another actor who was basically born to be the Joker, seeing how nobody plays crazy better than him. His take on the Joker was thus regarded as the definitive portrayal… that is until Heath Ledger was cast in the “Dark Knight” almost two decades later. Ledger created a Joker that felt more like a terrorist than a supervillain, bringing a layer of realism to the iconic character. Ledger’s haunting performance was not only adored by the public but also won him a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Since Ledger’s performance transcended everything we thought the Joker could be, Jared Leto had big shoes to fill when he inherited the role in “Suicide Squad.” Despite being a driving force for the film’s marketing campaign, Leto’s performance generally wasn’t well-received by fans or critics. Where Ledger transformed himself into the embodiment of anarchy, audiences were always aware that Leto was playing a character. Aside from trying way too hard to be edgy and damaged, Leto’s Joker simply felt underdeveloped compared to past interpretations. So nobody was complaining when the news broke that Leto would have no involvement in this new standalone Joker movie. While Leto set the bar pretty low, Ledger, Nicholson, and even voice actors like Mark Hamill have all cemented the Joker’s place as one of the greatest villains in any medium. With so many memorable predecessors, can Phoenix offer anything new?

Phoenix stated in an interview that he wouldn’t classify this project as a “superhero movie, or a studio movie.” He emphasized that this would be a “unique” outing that touches upon “real life struggles.” Given that Phoenix has been

It’s clear that this film is going to be more grounded than some previous incarnations based on the early footage of Phoenix as the Joker, aka Arthur Fleck. Taking a page from “The Killing Joke,” Fleck will reportedly be depicted as a failed standup comedian who’s driven to insanity and devotes his life to crime. Some fans would argue that the Joker works best as an enigmatic figure with an ambiguous backstory. Since this movie is striving to distinguish itself from other versions, however, a more detailed look into the Joker’s beginnings sounds like an intriguing approach, especially considering the depth Phoenix can bring to the role.

Although the Joker prefers his origins to be “multiple choice,” it’s evident that he had “one bad day” that sent him down a dark path. Phoenix’s own life has seen its fair share tragedy, as his family was at one point a part of a sexually abusive cult known as “Children of God” and his siblings had to perform on street corners to make money. Shortly after turning 19, Phoenix witnessed the death of his older brother River, who suffered a drug overdose. While he’s certainly drawn from his tragic past in other roles, there’s obviously something about playing the Joker that brings out the darkness in the few actors who’ve had the chance to play him.

Like the Joker, Phoenix has also developed a reputation for being something of a wildcard. Nowhere was this more apparent than in 2008 when Phoenix suddenly announced he was quitting acting to pursue a rap career. Phoenix only raised more eyebrows during an awkward appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman” where he sported his new look and persona. Phoenix returned to “The Late Show” a year later with a clean shave, revealing that his erratic behavior was part of his 2010 mockumentary, “I'm Still Here.” Talk about fully committing to a joke.

Outside of his personal life, Phoenix’s diverse filmography demonstrates why he’s the ideal candidate to play the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime naturally has to be funny. Phoenix has exemplified his comedic chops as the lonely Theodore in “Her,” dazed P.I. Doc in “Inherent Vice,” and real-life cartoonist John Callahan in “Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot.” Granted, none of those films are laugh-per-minute comedies, but the Joker has always balanced humor with a dark edge. On that note, Phoenix also has a knack for playing villains, earning an Academy Award nomination for his gleefully evil performance as Commodus in “Gladiator.”

Above all else, Phoenix has played a wide variety of lost, troubled souls, ranging from Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line” to Freddie Quell in “The Master.” If we had to single out one role that proves why Phoenix is meant to be the Joker, however, it would have to be Joe from “You Were Never Really Here.” In this crime drama, Phoenix plays a man haunted by his violent childhood and the atrocities he witnessed in the military. If you were skeptical about Phoenix’ ability to channel darkness and violence, look no further.

As different as Joe and the Joker are, both have been driven to the point where they have nothing to lose. This makes them both dangerous, unstoppable forces who will destroy anyone or anything that gets in their way. These two characters are so far gone that they don’t even care if they survive in the end. Speaking of which, Phoenix asserted in another interview that he “could care less” about the public’s reaction to his performance as the Joker. While his comments might come off as brash, you could argue that Phoenix’s attitude is in line with the Joker’s devil-may-care mindset. Whether Phoenix bombs hard or puts a smile on our faces, one thing’s for sure: his Joker will get the last laugh.
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