When Warner Bros. announced their plans to develop a Joker movie separate from the DCEU, the internet quickly became flooded with dream casting choices that would protect the Joker’s place as one of the greatest villains in any medium. The role, pioneered by Ceasar Romero in the 1966 Batman series, was cemented by Heath Ledger (Dark Knight 2008), Jack Nicholson (Batman 1989), and even voice actors like Mark Hamill, who all gave notable performances. 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 and given the negative reception of Jared Leto’s recent portrayal in Suicide Squad, fans are expecting more. Between his varied acting career, real-life experiences, and the gritty tone, this film is aiming for, we believe that Phoenix is meant to be the Joker, and here’s why.
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His Lived Experience
Although some fans would argue that the Joker works best as an enigmatic figure with an ambiguous backstory, Arthur Fleck will reportedly be taking a page from The Killing Joke, and depicted as a failed standup comedian who’s driven to insanity and devotes his life to crime. It was “one bad day” that sent him down a dark path, and this darkness and tragedy mirrors Phoenix’s own life as his family was at one point a part of a sexually abusive cult known as “Children of God,” with his siblings performing on street corners to make money. Phoenix also 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.
His Wild Side
Like the Joker, Phoenix has also developed a reputation for being somewhat of a wildcard, for example in 2008 when he suddenly announced he was quitting acting to pursue a rap career. Phoenix raised even more eyebrows during an awkward appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman where he sported his new look and persona, only to return to The Late Show a year later with a clean shave, revealing that his erratic behaviour was part of his 2010 mockumentary, I’m Still Here. What a clown!
His Previous Roles
Phoenix’s diverse filmography also demonstrates why he’s the ideal candidate to play the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime naturally has to be funny and 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. Phoenix also has a knack for playing villains, earning an Academy Award nomination for his gleefully evil performance as Commodus in Gladiator, which is useful experience given the Joker’s tendency to balance humour with a dark edge. If we had to single out one role that proves why Phoenix is meant to be the Joker, it would have to be Joe from You Were Never Really Here. As different as Joe and the Joker are, both have been driven to the point where they have nothing to lose, making them dangerous, unstoppable forces who will destroy anyone or anything that gets in their way.
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