By: Stephen Cogan
Suicide Squad’s release date is on single fingers now, and the excitement of seeing the squad itself can only be matched by the anticipation of the re-launch of Batman’s most powerful villain, the Joker, who will be portrayed by Jared Leto.
However, there is a lot of Batman fans and probably a few executives who are pulling at their ties and shirt collars about the critical reviews and the inevitable comparisons to Heath Ledger. The Joker hasn’t been in a live action film since The Dark Knight’s version performed by Ledger.
Ledger’s Joker deviated away from the 90s animated madman voiced by Mark Hamill and Jack Nicholson’s original crackpot. Ledger designed the face makeup himself, and the film team added scars on the corners of his lips, longer hair, lessened the use of his cackling laugh somewhat, and the classic lip smack that crept Nolan out so much they realized they had to have it.
Ledger’s performance is so mesmerizing and enjoyable that only the sternest of critics could be upset with the changes from the original Joker. His transformation was captivating and quite terrifying as he stalked his victims throughout the movie.
However, the biggest difference he had from any of the others was he was purely a dramatic character. He was more philosophical to fit the movie theme of chaos with lines like, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free,” and the even more potent quote “And you know the thing about chaos, Harvey? It’s fair.” These quotes instilled a different sensation into the audience along with the truncation of laughter at his unfunny cruel jokes.
This Joker was still well received because he stayed true enough to the original psychotic maniac as evidenced by his confrontation with the Batman. “I don’t, I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You… you… complete me,” and who can forget the Joker answering the never-ending question that millions of fans have had for years, “Oh, you. You just couldn’t let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”
Ledger accidentally overdosed and had a cardiac arrest incident which ended his life before he could even accept his eventual Oscar for the role. He is the last actor/actress to have posthumously won an Academy Award as a result and is sorely missed to this day.
Due to such an event, his performance became even more nostalgic, and many fans have felt that he cannot be replaced. The sentimentality is understandable since many feel his immersion into the darkness of the role is what led to his depressed mental state which resulted in a use of pills which led to his death. Ergo, in essence, he indirectly gave his life to make that performance.
Combine that with the fact that it was an amazing performance, transcendent even, and any person, expert or not, can see that any actor, director, executive, etc. is going to have a Mt. Everest to climb if they want a new Joker to make a massive impact.
Warner Bros. and DC Studios wanted to make Joker come back, and they knew the arduous challenges that would come with that. To face them, they cast Leto to play the new version and gave it not only a costume and physical body twist, but they’ve even altered the personality so dramatically to where it still is the Joker, but the differences will easily contrast and possibly rival Ledger’s Joker.
Leto’s Joker is thinner. In contrast to sloppy makeup, his skin is bleached pearl white, his lips reddened, and his hair dyed green as a result of the alternate origin story of falling into a chemical vat while committing a crime. A new addition is his teeth are capped which makes him scarier (while explaining where a lot of his money goes. His dentist must be rich if he’s not dismembered in a trunk somewhere).
The trailers and promos we’ve seen of the Suicide Squad suggest strongly that this Joker is more “mad” and quotes like, “Oh I’m not going to kill you. I’m just going to hurt you. Bad,” show his darkness has blood red mixed in the concoction. He’s more cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs than he is on a chaotic teaching mission. He lives in the moment like the original except his motives seem to be purely the sadistic, hedonistic, and cruelly self- humorous like the well-received animated version but a more sadistic version of him and a stark contrast to the Ledger version.
Assuming Leto pulls off this form and makes it a hit; this further level of versatility is a testament to the depth of the Joker. Characters like him, who are that deep to where multiple alterations of them can be believable are hard to come by. It’s almost hard to explain in a sense because he’s the Joker, but he’s not the same guy. It feels almost like a multiple personality disorder inside the character which the Joker pulls it off because he is quite literally certifiably crazy.
The reason fans should firmly trust in Leto is because he’s quite possibly the best method actor alive today with the presumed retirement of Daniel Day-Lewis. Lewis, the winner of three Academy Awards, is noted for his borderline insane commitment to the role of a character. For example, Lewis played Hawkeye for The Last of the Mohicans and to get into the character, he carried a long rifle with him at all times, lived in the woods and only ate what he hunted and skinned. He became an 18th-century wilderness man.
Jared Leto is cut from the same cloth. Leto played Mark David Chapman (the murderer of Beatles singer John Lennon) in Chapter 27, a negatively received film, but one where Leto’s performance was the lone bright spot. To prepare for the role he GAINED 67 pounds by eating microwaved pints of ice cream with olive oil and soy sauce every night (Only you would ruin ice cream, Jared Leto). He gained gout as a result and had to use a wheelchair to counter the stress of the weight he had put on his body.
He said this was harder than when he dieted himself into a skeletal body when he played a drug addict in Requiem for a Dream. He lost 28 pounds for that role. That was outdone by his 30-pound loss to play in Dallas Buyers Club as Rayon, a transgender AIDS-infected woman. To further make the performance believable, he waxed his entire body, shaved his eyebrows, and refused to break character during filming.
This earned him an Academy Award and brought him back into the national light to where Warner Bros. said, “Let’s get him,” after Ryan Gosling proved to be a bust. They got lucky for Gosling would’ve added another dimension to his acting profile, but it’s questionable as to his ability to pull off the Joker.
To get into character for the Joker, he read about shamans, and he listened to 1920s Gospel Music. He was interviewed by ComicBookMovie saying, “I always get the sense that The Joker may be much older than people think,” and he stayed in character to where Will Smith (Deadshot) has said that he never met Jared Leto. Topping all this off is his bizarre correspondences with his co-stars. He gave Margot Robbie (Harley) a live rat and a love letter. Smith got a letter that had bullets in it, and the entire cast received a dead hog and a video of him in character.
To further grasp the insanity, you, the reader, place yourself in their shoes. Only imagine this happened to you, and it was your co-worker, your neighbor or even a school teacher you knew who did this and not Jared Leto. It’s a bit different when you take away the aspect of “devoted actor doing his job,” from the equation. This is stuff that cops investigate, and Leto’s doing it because it’s part of his character.
This actor is the best bet any team of film people has at challenging Ledger for top Joker. Some of the fans may read this and say expletives, but that’s the truth. Just watch with an open mind and see what happens because another major thing that gives Leto an enormous advantage is the pairing of him and Harley. He’s always best when he’s with Harley.
Suicide Squad comes out on August 5. Get your popcorn ready.