The Joker, the clown prince of crime, the harlequin of hate, an agent of chaos and the only one that seems to get the joke… It’s fair to say that the Joker is one of the most iconic super villains that has ever graced the movie screen, from the quirky and strange criminal to be stopped by the Adam West Batman to the raging psychopath capable of holding an entire building hostage. Yes, the Joker should not be taken lightly. In turn it is understandable that many people are very critical of actors that dare to step into the shoes of him as a character, as he needs to be played just right, there is a very fine margin for appealing the Batman (and Joker) fans.
So lets have a look at the Jokers that have entertained and given us a insight to the Joker’s mind on screen…
#1 – Cesar Romero
Cesar Romero was the first actor to play the icon onscreen when he took on the role in the original “Batman” series in 1966
Cesar Romero played the Joker way back when the original batman T.V series was on screen, in 1966. Cesar Romero set the bar for who the Joker was and what to expect of him in the future. Adam West himself was even quoted saying “Romero brought an enormous amount of energy to the role…I don’t know how he did it”. However Cesar himself said that he found the role easy! He was quoted in saying “When [you] get in an outfit like that…you fall right into it.” So even from the very start we could already see how the role influenced the actors that played this character so much that you can “fall into” the mindset of the Prince of Crime in Gotham. However what makes Cesar Romero so unique to the other actors that will play Joker in the future is that Romero simply listened and played the role, he did not go through extensive mental training to get into the role, he simply jumped into the role. A true master of Cinema indeed.
#2 – Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson played the first theatrical iteration of the Clown Prince of Crime in 1989’s “Batman.”
Jack Nicholson was the first Joker to be on the “big” screen. So much so that he agreed to do the film over one single conversation with Tim Burton the visionary for “Batman”. Yet Jack Nicholson did something that other Jokers have not done, instead of playing the Joker he more or less played Jack Nicholson playing Jack Nicholson playing the Joker. So it was pure acting and changing how he represented himself yet it was not THE Joker which caused some controversy in later years as many critiques both professional and fan based thought that Nicholson did not portray the “true” Joker. Nevertheless Jack Nicholson played the role expertly and found comfort in the costume as saying in an interview with Michael Keaton in 1990 or thereabouts; in which he recalled meeting Jack early one morning at the studio during filming when they both started the day with an extensive make-up session. Nicholson was reading a paper and glanced over to Keaton and said and I quote “We just gotta let the wardrobe do the acting, Kid”. As simple as Nicholson’s method was, it worked and provided another argument among the fans of the future of who the “best” Joker was.
#3 – Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger became the first actor in almost 20 years to play the iconic character on screen in 2008’s “The Dark Knight.”
Heath ledger’s Joker is one of the most memorable and iconic Joker’s to have ever been played. Heath ledger was even the only actor to receive a academy award for his role as the Joker which was awarded to him shortly after his very unfortunate death at 28 years old. Ledger had a very strong interest in the character and in turn showed on screen the director of “The Dark Knight” Christopher Nolan was quoted in saying “He just had a vision for something, and the way he termed it to me at the time was, he really didn’t like to work too much, he liked to do a character and then stop working then let enough time go by. He wanted to be hungry for it. And when he came to me, he was clearly in that state: Very hungry. He was ready to do something like that and just own it — which is what he did. ”
In the build up to his role Ledger got advice from Jack Nicholson and he told him that he will literally go crazy when he fit into the role. Ledger took what people saw the Joker for, a crazy sociopath who does terrible things just for the sake of some fun and Ledger knew this, he just amplified it ten fold. Ledger even knew that he would have to reach some sort of level of insanity and madness in order to truly play THE Joker, not as an actor but as if the character himself came into the real world. He did this by locking himself in a hotel room for four weeks and let his insanity muster itself, sleeping only two hours each day and even took medicines that kept him awake and refused to talk to anyone during that time too. He could not even sleep after the wrap party when filming finished and ended up taking sleeping pills to try and come back to reality which some people suspect of being the reason for his sudden death.
Ledger went above and beyond to truly give us a character to be remembered for a long extensive time. Such a talent and such dedication to provide us with a perfect performance… but at what cost…
#4 -Jared Leto
And finally, Academy Award winner Jared Leto.
Jared Leto knew that after Heath Ledger he had some big shoes to fill, being met with countless criticisms stating that no one can or will ever out do Ledgers performance. So when Leto was given the opportunity to take the iconic role Leto knew of the pressures and took them on by preparing for his role in similar fashion as ledger. Leto stayed in character through the entire time “suicide squad” was being filed, on and off set, so much so that Will Smith even stated that he is yet to actually meet Jared Leto as he only knows the Joker. Leto intimidated his fellow co-stars so much that even Scott Eastwood was afraid to approach him at all, Scott said “I was sort of afraid to approach him because I didn’t want to mess with his thing going on,”. He even freaked out the director! David Ayer was quoted in saying “The hairs stand up on the back of your neck. If you’re a Batman fan, you have to love/hate the Joker because he’s the best nemesis ever. Just to have him on one of my film sets, it was a very memorable thing for me.” Leto went even further by sending some rather disturbing gifts to his co-stars such as sending a love letter to Margot Robbie (Harlequin) accompanied with a box that contained a live rat! Which she even kept as a pet! Other examples of such gifts are sending a box of bullets to Will Smith (Deadshot) along with a letter too. But the one that was most memorable for the cast was when he sent the rest of the cast a…wait for it… a dead pig. Yes a whole dead pig to the rest of the cast. Can’t get much more strange than that.
When it came to the final performance Leto was met by mixed responses, some praising him for his performances and providing a different take on the Joker and playing him very well in his own way. However some people did not like his performance as Leto did not represent the Joker as Heath Ledger did and was more of a underground gangster as opposed to a sociopath that does horrid things for fun. But in Leto’s defense the Joker was to be represented differently due to a different director with a different vision and probably highest reasoning of all, suicide squad is not a Batman film so thus there was no need for the gritty harsh character that was shown in the “Dark Knight”.